For other uses, see A Raisin in the Sun (disambiguation).
A Raisin in the Sun is a play by Lorraine Hansberry that debuted on Broadway in 1959. The title comes from the poem "Harlem" (also known as "A Dream Deferred") by Langston Hughes. The story tells of a black family's experiences in the Washington Park Subdivision of Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood as they attempt to "better" themselves with an insurance payout following the death of the father. The New York Drama Critics' Circle named it the best play of 1959.
Walter and Ruth Younger, their son Travis, along with Walter's mother Lena (Mama) and Walter's sister Beneatha, live in poverty in a dilapidated one-bedroom apartment on Chicago's south side. Walter is barely making a living as a limousine driver. Though Ruth is content with their lot, Walter is not and desperately wishes to become wealthy. His plan is to invest in a liquor store in partnership with Willy and Bobo, street-smart acquaintances of Walter's.
At the beginning of the play, Walter and Beneatha's father has recently died, and Mama is waiting for a life insurance check for $10,000. Walter has a sense of entitlement to the money, but Mama has religious objections to alcohol and Beneatha has to remind him it is Mama's call how to spend it. Eventually Mama puts some of the money down on a new house, choosing an all-white neighborhood over a black one for the practical reason that it happens to be much cheaper. Later she relents and gives the rest of the money to Walter to invest with the provision that he reserve $3,000 for Beneatha's education. Walter passes the money on to Willy's naive sidekick Bobo, who gives it to Willy, who absconds with it, depriving Walter and Beneatha of their dreams, though not the Youngers of their new home. Meanwhile, Karl Lindner, a white representative of the neighborhood they plan to move to, makes a generous offer to buy them out. He wishes to avoid neighborhood tensions over interracial population, which to the three women's horror Walter prepares to accept as a solution to their financial setback. Lena says that while money was something they try to work for, they should never take it if it was a person's way of telling them they weren't fit to walk the same earth as them.
Meanwhile, Beneatha's character and direction in life are being defined for us by two different men: Beneatha's wealthy and educated boyfriend George Murchison, and Joseph Asagai. Neither man is actively involved in the Youngers' financial ups and downs. George represents the "fully assimilated black man" who denies his African heritage with a "smarter than thou" attitude, which Beneatha finds disgusting, while dismissively mocking Walter's lack of money and education. Asagai patiently teaches Beneatha about her African heritage; he gives her thoughtfully useful gifts from Africa, while pointing out she is unwittingly assimilating herself into white ways. She straightens her hair, for example, which he characterizes as "mutilation."
When Beneatha becomes distraught at the loss of the money, she is upbraided by Joseph for her materialism. She eventually accepts his point of view that things will get better with a lot of effort, along with his proposal of marriage and his invitation to move with him to Nigeria to practice medicine.
Walter is oblivious to the stark contrast between George and Joseph: his pursuit of wealth can be attained only by liberating himself from Joseph's culture, to which he attributes his poverty, and by rising to George's level, wherein he sees his salvation. Walter redeems himself and black pride at the end by changing his mind and not accepting the buyout offer, stating that the family is proud of who they are and will try to be good neighbors. The play closes with the family leaving for their new home but uncertain future.
The character Mrs. Johnson and a few scenes are often cut in reproductions. Mrs. Johnson is the Younger family's neighbor. She is nosy and loud, and cannot understand how the family can consider moving to a white neighborhood. Her lines are employed as comic relief, but Hansberry also uses this scene to mock those who are too scared to stand up for their rights.
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Experiences in this play echo a lawsuit (Hansberry v. Lee, 311 U.S. 32 (1940)), to which the playwright Lorraine Hansberry's family was a party when they fought to have their day in court because a previous class action about racially motivated restrictive covenants (Burke v. Kleiman, 277 Ill. App. 519 (1934)) had been similar to their situation. This case was heard prior to the passage of the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968), which prohibited discrimination in housing and created the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. The Hansberrys won their right to be heard as a matter of due process of law in relation to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court held that the Hansberry defendants were not bound by the Burke decision because the class of defendants in the respective cases had conflicting goals, and thus could not be considered to be the same class.
Interestingly, the plaintiff in the first action in 1934 was Olive Ida Burke, who brought the suit on behalf of a property owners' association to enforce racial restrictions. Her husband, James Burke, later sold a house to Carl Hansberry (Lorraine's father) when he changed his mind about the validity of the covenant. Mr. Burke's decision may have been motivated by the changing demographics of the neighborhood, but it was also influenced by the Depression. The demand for houses was so low among white buyers that Mr. Hansberry may have been the only prospective purchaser available.
Lorraine reflects upon the litigation in her book To Be Young, Gifted, and Black:
"Twenty-five years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation's ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house. ... My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger (pistol), doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court."
The Hansberry house, a red-brick three-flat at 6140 S. Rhodes in Washington Park that they bought in 1937, was given landmark status by the Chicago City Council's Committee on Historical Landmarks Preservation in 2010.
Production and reception
With a cast in which all but one character is African-American, A Raisin in the Sun was considered a risky investment, and it took over a year for producer Philip Rose to raise enough money to launch it. There was disagreement with how it should be played, with focus on the mother or focus on the son. When the play hit New York, Poitier played it with the focus on the son and found not only his calling but also an audience enthralled.
After touring to positive reviews, the play premiered on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959. It transferred to the Belasco Theatre on October 19, 1959, and closed on June 25, 1960, after 530 total performances. Directed by Lloyd Richards, the cast comprised:
Ossie Davis later took over as Walter Lee Younger, and Frances Williams as Lena Younger.
Waiting for the curtain to rise on opening night, Hansberry and producer Rose did not expect the play to be a success, for it had already received mixed reviews from a preview audience the night before. Though it won popular and critical acclaim, reviewers argued about whether the play was "universal" or particular to African-American experience. It was then produced on tour.
A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, as well as the first with a black director, Mr. Richards.
Hansberry noted that her play introduced details of black life to the overwhelmingly white Broadway audiences, while director Richards observed that it was the first play to which large numbers of black people were drawn.Frank Rich, writing in The New York Times in 1983, stated that A Raisin in the Sun "changed American theater forever." In 2016, Claire Brennan wrote in The Guardian that "The power and craft of the writing make A Raisin in the Sun as moving today as it was then."
In 1960 A Raisin In The Sun was nominated for four Tony Awards:
- Best Play – written by Lorraine Hansberry; produced by Philip Rose, David J. Cogan
- Best Actor in Play – Sidney Poitier
- Best Actress in a Play – Claudia McNeil
- Best Direction of a Play – Lloyd Richards
West End production, 1959
Some five months after its Broadway opening, Hansberry's play appeared in London's West End, playing at the Adelphi Theatre from August 4, 1959. As on Broadway, the director was Lloyd Richards, and the cast was as follows:
The play was presented (as before) by Philip Rose and David J. Cogan, in association with the British impresario Jack Hylton.
Main article: A Raisin in the Sun (1961 film)
In 1961, a film version of A Raisin in the Sun was released featuring its original Broadway cast of Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett, Jr. and John Fiedler. Hansberry wrote the screenplay, and the film was directed by Daniel Petrie. It was released by Columbia Pictures and Ruby Dee won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress. Both Poitier and McNeil were nominated for Golden Globe Awards, and Petrie received a special "Gary Cooper Award" at the Cannes Film Festival.
Main article: Raisin (musical)
A musical version of the play, Raisin, ran on Broadway from October 18, 1973, to December 7, 1975. The book of the musical, which stayed close to the play, was written by Hansberry's former husband, Robert Nemiroff. Music and lyrics were by Judd Woldin and Robert Brittan. The cast included Joe Morton (Walter Lee), Virginia Capers (Momma), Ernestine Jackson (Ruth), Debbie Allen (Beneatha) and Ralph Carter (Travis, the Youngers' young son). The show won the Tony Award for Best musical.
1989 TV film
In 1989 the play was adapted into a TV film for PBS' American Playhouse series, starring Danny Glover (Walter Lee) and Esther Rolle (Mama), with Kim Yancey (Beneatha), Starletta DuPois (Ruth), and John Fiedler (Karl Lindner). This production received three Emmy Award nominations, but all were for technical categories. Bill Duke directed the production, while Chiz Schultz produced. This production was based on an off-Broadway revival produced by the Roundabout Theatre.
1996 BBC Radio Play
On 3 March 1996 the BBC broadcast a production of the play by director/producer Claire Grove, with the following cast:
- Claire Benedict – Mama
- Ray Shell – Walter Lee
- Pat Bowie – Ruth
- Lachelle Carl – Beneatha
- Garren Givens – Travis
- Akim Mogaji – Joseph Asagai
- Ray Fearon – George Murchison
- John Sharion – Karl Lindner
- Dean Hill – Bobo
Broadway revival, 2004
A revival ran on Broadway at the Royale Theatre from April 26, 2004, to July 11, 2004 at the Royale Theatre with the following cast:
The director was Kenny Leon with David Binder and Vivek Tiwary producers.
The play won two 2004 Tony Awards: Best Actress in a Play (Phylicia Rashad) and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Audra McDonald), and was nominated for Best Revival of a Play and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Sanaa Lathan).
2008 TV film
Main article: A Raisin in the Sun (2008 film)
In 2008, Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald starred in a television film directed by Kenny Leon. The film debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast by ABC on February 25, 2008. McDonald received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Ruth. According to Nielsen Media Research, the program was watched by 12.7 million viewers and ranked #9 in the ratings for the week ending March 2, 2008.
Royal Exchange, Manchester production, 2010
In 2010 Michael Buffong directed a widely acclaimed production at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, described by Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph as – “A brilliant play, brilliantly served.”. Michael Buffong, Ray Fearon and Jenny Jules all won MEN Awards. The cast were: –
- Jenny Jules – Ruth Younger
- Ray Fearon – Walter Lee Younger
- Tracy Ifeachor – Beneatha Younger
- Starletta DuPois (who played Ruth in the 1989 film) – Lena Younger
- Damola Adelaja – Joseph Asagai
- Simon Combs – George Murchison
- Tom Hodgkins – Karl Lindner
- Ray Emmet Brown – Bobo/Moving Man
Broadway revival, 2014
A second revival ran on Broadway from April 3, 2014, to June 15, 2014, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. The play won three 2014 Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Sophie Okonedo) and Best Direction of a Play (Kenny Leon).
2016 BBC Radio Play
On 31 January 2016 the BBC broadcast a new production of the play by director/producer Pauline Harris. This version restores the character of Mrs Johnson and a number of scenes that were cut from the Broadway production and subsequent film, with the following cast:
- Danny Sapani – Walter Lee Younger
- Dona Croll – Lena Younger
- Nadine Marshall – Ruth Younger
- Lenora Crichlow – Beneatha Younger
- Segun Fawole – Travis Younger
- Jude Akwudike – Bobo/Asagai
- Cecilia Noble – Mrs. Johnson
- Sean Baker – Karl Lindner
- Richard Pepple – George Murchinson
Arena Stage revival, 2017
The play opened April 6, 2017, at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., directed by Tazewell Thompson, with the following cast:
- Will Cobbs – Walter Lee Younger
- Lizan Mitchell – Lena Younger
- Dawn Ursula – Ruth Younger
- Joy Jones – Beneatha Younger
- Jeremiah Hasty – Travis Younger
- Mack Leamon – Bobo/Asagai
- Thomas Adrian Simpson – Karl Lindner
- Keith L. Royal Smith – George Murchinson
The Raisin Cycle
The 2010 Bruce Norris play Clybourne Park depicts the white family that sold the house to the Youngers. The first act takes place just before the events of A Raisin in the Sun, involving the selling of the house to the African American family; the second act takes place 50 years later.
The 2013 play by Kwame Kwei-Armah entitled Beneatha's Place follows Beneatha after she leaves with Asagai to Nigeria and, instead of becoming a doctor, becomes the Dean of Social Sciences at a respected (unnamed) California university.
The two above plays were referred to by Kwei-Armah as "The Raisin Cycle" and were produced together by Baltimore's Center Stage in the 2012–2013 season.
Season 1, Episode 3 of Strangers with Candy is based around a school production of A Raisin in the Sun, and features an excerpt from the 1961 movie as well as Stephen Colbert reciting "A Dream Deferred" just before the closing credits.
- ^Internet Broadway Database. "A Raisin in the Sun | Ethel Barrymore Theatre (3/11/1959 – 10/17/1959)". IBDB. Retrieved 2014-01-07.
- ^"A Dream Deferred (by Langston Hughes)". Cswnet.com. 1996-06-25. Archived from the original on 2014-01-08. Retrieved 2014-01-07.
- ^"Transcript: Langston Hughes and His Poetry – presentation by David Kresh (Journeys and Crossings, Library of Congress)". www.loc.gov. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- ^Kamp, Allen R. "The History Behind Hansberry v. Lee," 20 U.S. Davis L. Rev. 481 (1987).
- ^"Lorraine Hansberry House". Chicago Landmarks. City of Chicago. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
- ^Poitier, Sidney (2000). The Measure of a Man (First ed.). San Francisco: Harper. pp. 148–158. ISBN 978-0-06-135790-9.
- ^Bernstein, Robin (1999). "Inventing a Fishbowl: White Supremacy and the Critical Reception of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun". Modern Drama. 42 (1): 16–27.
- ^ abCorley, Cheryl, "'A Raisin in the Sun', Present at the Creation", National Public Radio, March 11, 2002.
- ^Rich, Frank (October 5, 1983). "Theater: 'Raisin in Sun,' Anniversary in Chicago". The New York Times.
- ^Brennan, Claire (February 7, 2016). "A Raisin in the Sun review – still challenging its characters and audience". The Guardian. Review of a revival in Sheffield, England.
- ^A Raisin in the Sun
- ^Internet Broadway Database. "A Raisin in the Sun | Royale Theatre (4/26/2004 – 7/11/2004)". IBDB. Retrieved 2014-01-07.
- ^"Chenoweth, Dench, Linney, McDonald, Rashad Nominated for Emmy Awards". Playbill. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25.
- ^Ginia Bellafante, "Raisin in the Sun: A Tale of Race and Family and a $10,000 Question", The New York Times, February 25, 2008.
- ^"A Raisin in the Sun". theguardian.com. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
- ^"A Raisin in the Sun review". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
- ^Playbill Vault. "A Raisin in the Sun". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-05-05.
- ^Gioia, Michael. "Tony-Winning Revival of 'A Raisin in the Sun' Plays Final Performance Tonight"[permanent dead link] playbill.com, June 15, 2014
- ^Purcell, Carey. "'Gent's Guide', 'All The Way', 'Hedwig And the Angry Inch', 'Raisin in the Sun 'Win Top Prizes at 68th Annual Tony Awards"Archived 2014-06-12 at the Wayback Machine. playbill.com, June 8, 2014
- ^, BBC, January 31, 2016.
- ^Brantley, Ben, "Good Defenses Make Good Neighbors," The New York Times, February 22, 2010.
- ^Paul Harris, Legit Review: ‘Beneatha’s Place’, https://variety.com/2013/legit/reviews/legit-review-beneathas-place-1200488433/
- ^David Zurawik, "Baltimore's Center Stage looks very good in PBS documentary on 'Raisin' cycle", "The Baltimore Sun", October 25, 2013, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-10-25/entertainment/bal-baltimore-center-stage-pbs-raisin-cycle-20131018_1_sun-revisited-kwame-kwei-armah-raisin-cycle
Summary of the Play
The play begins with a typical early weekday morning in the life of the Younger family. The household prepares for work and for school. Some of the talk is about a check which they expect to receive the next day. It is from the insurance policy of Mr. Walter Younger, Sr., who has died. Each member of the family has his or her own ideas about how to use the money.
Two gentleman friends of Beneatha visit her: Joseph Asagai, and George Murchison. Ruth is pregnant and may want an abortion. Walter drinks heavily and argues with Murchison about the latter’s pretensions, in Walter’s opinion, as well as with Beneatha about her plans for medical school and with his wife and mother about his desire to open a liquor store with some of the money Mrs. Younger will receive.
Mama places a down payment on a house. She has always wanted her own home, with a garden in the back. Ruth is happy and decides not to have the abortion, but Walter is upset because he wants money for his liquor enterprise.
A few weeks later, Beneatha stops seeing George Murchison because he does not understand her ideals, hopes, or dreams. Walter is in danger of losing his job because when drunk, he does not show up for work. The Youngers’ neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, visits to tell them that more black families’ homes have recently been bombed in white neighborhoods. The neighborhood the Youngers plan to move to is all-white.
Walter, constantly drunk, gets Mama worried, and she agrees to give him money for his liquor store.
A week later, the family gets an unexpected visit. A white man representing a neighborhood organization from the area the Youngers plan to move to has come to talk to them. His name is Karl Lindner. He tells them that the residents of the area, Clybourne Park, want to pay them not to move in. Walter throws the man out of the house.
Bobo, Walter’s friend visits. He tells them that the money Walter gave him for the liquor store, as well as more money meant for Beneatha’s education, is gone because the man Bobo gave it to hold has disappeared with it. The family is thrown into an uproar at hearing this bad news.
Asagai visits Beneatha and reminds her that her future does not depend solely on her mother paying for medical school; he asks her to go to Africa with him when she becomes a doctor. Mrs. Younger prepares to forget about the move. Walter says he will accept the offer of money not to move from Mr. Lindner.
Mr. Lindner comes to enact the deal. But in the process of talking to Mr. Lindner, there is a transformation in Walter, and remembering what his father had to go through to provide for his family, and how the rest of the family struggles to survive and to fulfill their aspirations, he changes his mind and tells Mr. Lindner they will not accept his offer.
The play ends as the family starts the move to Clybourne Park. It will not be easy for them to live there because of the prejudice they will face, but they decide to move forward in spite of it.
Robert Nemiroff’s critique of the pertinence of Ms. Hansberry’s writing to the universals indicative of all great literature:
If we ever reach a time when the racial madness that afflicts America is at last truly behind us—as obviously we must if we are to survive in a world composed four-fifths of people of color—then I believe A Raisin in the Sun will remain no less pertinent. For at the deepest level it is not a specific situation but the human condition, human aspiration and human relationships—the persistence of dreams, of bonds and conflicts between men and women, parents and children, old ways and new, and the endless struggle against human oppression, whatever the forms it may take, and for individual fulfillment, recognition, and liberation—that are at the heart of such plays. It is not surprising therefore that in each generation we recognize ourselves in them anew.
The Life and Work of Lorraine Hansberry
Lorraine Hansberry was born in 1930, and was the first African-American woman to win the Best American Play award from the New York Drama Critics Circle. She was the fifth woman and the youngest American to ever have done so. She was given this award for her play, A Raisin in the Sun, which was written when she was in her twenties, and was first performed on Broadway in 1959.
Lorraine Hansberry started writing when she was a young woman. When she was 22 years old, she declared to her later-to-be husband, Robert Nemiroff:
I am a writer. I am going to write!
Her husband then later became her literary executor (the person in charge of handling her writing) after her early death due to cancer, when she was 34 years old.
When she was a college student, she wrote a piece for her school magazine which foretold the driving concerns which would form the basis for A Raisin in the Sun:
What is it exactly that we Negroes want to see on the screen? The answer is simple reality. We want to see film about a people who live and work like everybody else, but who currently must battle fierce oppression to do so.
Even so, when she had completed writing A Raisin in the Sun, Ms. Hansberry could not quite believe what she had accomplished. As described in her autobiographical work To Be Young, Gifted and Black:
...I had turned the last page out of the typewriter and pressed all the sheets neatly together in a pile, and gone and stretched out face down on the living room floor. I had finished a play; a play I had no reason to think or not think would ever be done; a play that I was sure no one would quite understand...
Where did Lorraine Hansberry get the impetus to carry forward her vision through her writing? As Robert Nemiroff related it, she “had herself as a child been almost killed in such a real-life story”4 as the one depicted in her play.
In addition to these works, Ms. Hansberry also wrote another play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, a novel Les Blancs, and Lorraine Hansberry: The Collected Last Plays, in addition to numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and other work in progress, left unfinished when she died. No matter how famous Ms. Hansberry became, though, and no matter how much she achieved during her brief lifetime, she never forgot her commitment to carrying forward her ideals to the young people who would follow her.
When she died, her ex-husband inscribed these lines from her Brustein play on her tombstone:
I care. I care about it all. It takes too much energy not to care…the why of why we are here is an intrigue for adolescents; the how is what must command the living.
Estimated Reading Time
The play is about 150 pages long. It should, therefore, take an average student five or six hours to read.
It is suggested that the reading of the play be broken down into the following sittings:
1 hour: Act I, Scene 1
1 hour: Act I, Scene 2
1 hour: Act II, Scene 1
45 minutes: Act II, Scene 2
45 minutes: Act II, Scene 3
1 hour: Act III Scene 1
This is a total of five-and-a-half hours total reading time; students should set aside more time than that for class assignments and studying of various aspects of the play as indicated by their coursework.
This MAXnotes study guide is based on the 1987 Penguin edition, A Raisin in the Sun: The Complete Original Version.