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“A Raisin in the Sun” Play by Lorraine Hansberry Essay

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Updated: Jun 8th, 2021


The author of the play is Lorraine Hansberry, the first African American female playwright whose work was performed on Broadway. The work which was written by Hansberry and produced on Broadway in 1959 (Veal 2) is the play discussed in this essay called A Raisin in the Sun. Even though it seems that the U.S. today is a country of equal opportunities, there are reasons which would resonate with this optimistic opinion. The play is about an African American family from Chicago whose life is about to change as the mama gets a quite big cheque. A Raisin in the Sun is divided into three acts and five scenes. This paper is discussing the character of the relationship between mama and her son Walter together with the problems which are brought up in the interaction of these two characters in the play.

The Analysis of Dialogues

Mama lives together with Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, grandson Travis, and daughter Beneatha. The day when mama is expected to get the cheque for 10000 dollars is a big day for the entire family, but especially for Walter, as he has got a business idea of his own. Walter wants to invest this money in a liquor store, so he asks to give him money. Lena seems to be a strict determined mother who tells Walter: “And there ain’t going to be no investing in no liquor store” (Hansberry 42). By saying this, she causes Walter’s emotional outbreak in which he expresses the general dissatisfaction with his life and how everything has turned out for him so far. The reader sees that the relationship between mama and Walter is complicated, as there is a sense of misunderstanding existing between two close relatives.

Shortly after, Walter dwells on the matter of meaning in life, arguing that he cannot expect anything good to happen to him. Walter says: “I can see the future stretched out in front of me – just plain as day” (Hansberry 76). In the same speech, he touches upon the issue, which is intrinsic for the entire play, racial inequality. Walter describes his perception of the problem of inequality in America: “them white boys are sitting back and talk ’bout things … sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars” (Hansberry 76). Walter realizes that his social status has got something to do with him being African American, and he is not the only one in the family who apprehends it.

This expression of the feelings by Walter makes Lena reveal her opinion on the way life is for her and her family. Mama does not seem to agree with the view of her son when she states: “In my time we were worried about not being lynched and getting to the North” (Hansberry 76). She starts with a comparison giving a sense of a clear generation gap: my children “ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing” her generation has done (Hansberry 77). Walter does not see a problem in this as he looks at the current state of affairs. There is, therefore, a clear misunderstanding between Lena and her because of differences in the experience of the two generations.

The criticism of Walter is different from the one of his mother. Lena is a woman who seems to have found peace about this unjust social stratification. She cares about her children, who, in her opinion, have all the opportunities to live a better life than her generation of African Americans. She considers the inequality from a historical perspective, while Walter’s view is more overarching, as it includes historical, cultural, and socio-economic aspects. He sees society as consisting of “the takers and the ‘tooken’” (Hansberry 142).

Another element of the relationship between Walter and Lena Lee accounts for poverty, as this issue has always been important for their family. At the end of the second act, mama tells Walter to stop his wife from giving up their future child to poverty. Mama says: “I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty” (Hansberry 78). Although Lena expects her man to act manly like their “daddy”, Walter does not live up to her expectations. It all makes Lena call her son “a disgrace of your father’s memory” (Hansberry 78). The emotionality of the moments spurs mama to take a decision which is going to change the lives of all the member of the Lee family.

The role of traditions and respect to them is crucial for the play as their inclusion demonstrates how important it is for families like the Lees. The other episode when mama refers to a dead father of the family happens when Bobo has informed Walter that his business partner Willy disappeared with all his money. Lena then tells how she used to watch her husband “night after night … come in … and look at the rug”, she takes pauses, which makes it clear that the memories are not distant (Hansberry 131). Mama thinks that “working like somebody’s old horse” killed her husband (Hansberry 131). It is then clear why the fact that money is gone because of her son’s deliberate act makes her so afflicted.

Another important issue brought up in A Raisin in the Sun is the unattainability of the American dream. The second act ends with Lena buying a house in Clybourne Park, where only whites reside. This decision makes Walter anguished, so he blames Lena for being the one who “butchered up a dream” of his (Hansberry 97). Walter leaves mama thinking heavily about reconsidering the decision of not giving Walter any money for his enterprise. It is possible that until this moment, Lena has not realized how important this dream is for Walter. He is an embodiment of a young American adult with an American dream of his. Walter wants to have his own business and be rich, but apparently, he comes from a background that automatically creates many hurdles in the way of a young man.

The almost last scene portrays Walter as a man ready to betray the idea of his people for the sake of money. He wants to accept the offer of the chairman of the New Neighbours Orientation Committee, Lindner. Lindner has already visited the Lees in the middle of the play to offer money if the family decides not to move to the neighborhood because they are not welcome there. Mama and Beneatha are outraged by this decision of Walter. However, Walter superspies everybody when he tells Lindner that the Lees are going to move to the house because “my father – my father – he earned it” (Hansberry 148). This is the culmination of the play, to which Lena reacts as the demonstration of her son’s manhood.


The play is relevant in today’s context because the key issues of the work have penetrated American society deeply, so these issues still exist 60 years after the play was first performed. This is a piece that lets anyone gain an insight into the lives of numerous African American families and the struggles they face. The play not only reveals the graveness of these social issues but also grants a sense of the importance of the family in any individual’s life. Although Walter and Lena fight and argue, when they face an external threat, they become united. Both of them act based on the views of the whole family, but not individual philosophies.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House USA Inc, 2004.

Veal, Aliyah D. “I AM A MAN: How legacy and inheritance bear a heavy burden on black masculinity in A Raisin in the Sun, Barbershop, and Creed.” Academicworks, Web.

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