Our plot summary of A Raisin in the Sun begins with Lena Younger’s receipt of a $10,000 life insurance check in lieu of her husband’s death.
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This post is going to answer a popular question on the plot summary of A Raisin in the Sun. Here it comes.
What is the summary of A Raisin in the Sun?
Now if you’re about to sit for your JAMB you can find useful information inside this post to take you very far. So, make sure to get to the end.
The action of the play covers the conflicts that arise within the struggling Youngers family over how the money must be spent.
This summary of a Raisin in the Sun ends with Walter Younger’s ill-fated attempt to invest in an apparent dangerous venture. The money is lost and the Youngers decide to move to a new location.
So that is the short answer to the question, what is the summary of A Raisin in the Sun?
A Raisin in the Sun Full Summary
But the purpose of this post is to give you the relevant details that must appear in any summary of A Raisin in the Sun worth its name.
So let’s go straight ahead to cover all the facts you need to know in this A Raisin in the Sun summary.
We are about to begin a serious summary of A Raisin in the Sun by the African-American playwright, Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (1930-1965).
What is the Setting of the Play?
The Youngers are an African-American family that lives in a tiny apartment on the South Side of Chicago. So this is the major setting of the play. The time setting is the 1950s – a period of the civil rights movement in the US. The play’s action covers a short period of just a few weeks.
Let’s have a character list of A Raisin in the Sun. You will see below a complete list of both the major characters and minor characters in the play.
A Raisin in the Sun is about the Youngers family – a poor African-American family that lives on the south side of Chicago.
All the major characters in the play belong to the Youngers family.
- Mrs Lena Younger – the mother figure of the family and widow of Mr. Youngers
- Walter Lee Younger – the protagonist, son and eldest of the Youngers’ children
- Beneatha Younger – daughter and younger sister of Walter’s
- Ruth Younger – Walter’s wife
- Travis Younger – son of Walter and Ruth
Other characters include the following.
- Joseph Asagai – Nigerian student and Beneatha’s boyfriend
- George Murchision – Wealthy African-American classmate and boyfriend of Beneatha’s
- Karl Lindner – Member of the mainly white Clyburn Park Improvement Association
- Mrs Johnson – the Youngers’ noisy and loud neighbour
- Bobo – Walter’s buddy who gets ripped off by Willy Harris, together with Walter, in the disastrous liquor business venture.
- Willy Harris (he never appears on stage) – supposed friend and business partner of Walter and Bobo’s. He swindles his friends and disappears with their investment money in the liquor business.
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The Insurance Money and Conflicting Dreams
An opportunity to escape from poverty comes in the form of a $10,000 insurance check which Lena Younger (or Mama) has received following the death of her husband.
Lena’s children, Walter and Beneatha, have their individual plans for the money. Walter, the older one, (a man of 35 with a wife and a young son named Travis) wishes to invest the money in a liquor store business.
Beneatha, his younger sister, who is currently a college student wants to use the money for medical school.
Lena Younger’s Dreams
Lena herself also has plans for the money – she desires to buy a home for the family and also finance Beneatha’s medical education.
The pressures of the environment are daunting for everyone in the Youngers household. Five people live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, two families share a single bathroom. The entire building is run-down and roach-infested.
This pressure increases when Ruth, Walter’s wife, finds out that she is pregnant for the second time. Ruth begins to contemplate an abortion.
Yet, even in this kind of environment where a request for just fifty cents can cause a major family feud, there are still big ideas and lofty dreams.
Beneatha Younger is the source of a lot of the new ideas and philosophies that infiltrate the family home. Currently, in college, Beneatha is constantly challenging the notions of culture, race, gender, relationship, and religion that her family has grown up with.
Beneatha is dating two men at the same time. Each of Beneatha’s two boyfriends represents a different aspect of African-American culture.
George Murchison is one of Beneatha’s boyfriends. George is a wealthy African-American classmate of hers.
Her double relationship where she dates two men from two different cultural backgrounds is part of her quest to discover her true identity.
Through a careful portrayal of George Murchison’s character, Lorraine Hansberry, the playwright, is able to expose many of the class-related tensions within the African-American community.
The other boyfriend of Beneatha’s is Asagai. He is a college student from Nigeria.
Through Asagai, Beneatha Younger is able to learn more about her African heritage. Asagai gives Beneatha Nigerian robes and music. Further, he encourages her idealistic aspirations. In fact, near the end of the play, Asagai invites Beneatha Younger to return to Nigeria with him so that she can practice medicine there.
Walter Younger and the American Dream
Walter is portrayed as a character that is different in many ways from Beneatha, his idealistic younger sister. This male Younger is an embodiment of the American dream. One quality that defines Walter Younger is his unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit. He passionately desires to make real material progress in life.
Unlike Beneatha, Walter has no interest in challenging the status quo which blacks in America perceive to have weighed too heavily against them. Instead, Walter Younger’s dream is to push all social impediments aside and climb the social ladder into a higher class.
- Compare and contrast the characters of Walter and Beneatha in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun.
- Discuss the theme of class struggle in A Raisin in the Sun.
Walter is not happy with his current job as a chauffeur. He wants such symbols of high social status as the following.
- An office job
- A big house
- A nice car
- Pearls for his wife
In short, Walter Younger’s dream is to attain the bourgeoisie lifestyle of the middle and upper classes in America.
Walter’s Thirst for Wealth and Power
Clearly, Walter Younger idolizes wealth and power. He has little time for his sister’s preoccupation with ideals and philosophical aspirations. But so long as obstacles like institutional racism continue to keep him away from his goals, his hopes and dreams (like those of millions of other African-Americans) will continue to fester. These dreams are like a raisin in the sun.
Walter’s Ill-Fated Liquor Store Venture
The result is that Walter’s yearnings for change in his life affect the rest of his family. Mama, for example, will later come to realize the significance of Walter’s plans despite the fact that, morally, she has her strong objections to the idea of a liquor store.
After having made a down-payment on a house in a predominantly white neighbourhood, Lena Younger gives Walter responsibility for the rest of the insurance money. She asks him to put aside a significant portion for his sister’s medical school expenses.
Unfortunately, Walter chooses to invest all the money in the liquor store business together with two men – one (Willy Harris) being of very questionable character.
The whole plan for a liquor business falls through when Willy, one of the ‘investors’ disappears with all the money.
A Devastated Family
The Younger family has banked all its hopes on this money. In fact, they have already made plans to move to their new apartment in a white neighbourhood. And they are in the middle of packing up their belongings when they learn about the loss of their money.
A Sign of Systemic Racism
Walter now seriously considers an offer from Mr Karl Lindner, a representative from the welcoming committee of the white neighbourhood association called Clybourne Park Improvement Association.
The proposal is this. The Clybourne Park Improvement Association is willing to pay the Youngers an extra on the value of their new house in return for their agreeing not to come and live in the neighbourhood
In the eyes of the Younger family, the whole proposed deal is immoral as it prioritizes money above human dignity.
Despite his own misgivings, Walter initially is determined to make the deal. But at the last moment, he is unable to make it happen. Thanks to the moral weight brought to bear upon him by the innocent gaze of Travis, his son.
The Ending of A Raisin in the Sun
Our summary of A Raisin in the Sun ends with the Younger family’s decision to move from their old apartment in Chicago’s Southside to the white neighbourhood of Clybourne Park.
Even though the road ahead promises to be difficult, they are satisfied with the feeling that they have made an honourable choice.
Is this a happy ending for A Raisin in the Sun?
To a very large extent, yes. A Raisin in the Sun ends on a happy note. This is because, at the very least, the Youngers have been able to brush aside the pain of losing their money and are happily moving into a better apartment. It is an environment where they hope to improve their circumstances.
What is the main point in A Raisin in the Sun?
The main point in A Raisin in the Sun is the dreams that a typical African-American family habours and the forces that work together against their fulfillment. These dreams are both communal and personal in nature.
What are the three themes in A Raisin in the Sun?
Three major themes in Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun are
- the theme of dreams
- theme of racism and its effects
- the theme placing self-interest above the common good
What do raisins symbolize?
We can say that in the context of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, a ‘raisin in the sun’ symbolizes dreams that are difficult to realize. The raisin symbolizes the dream while the sun represents the oppressive environment that stifles all attempts towards its realization.
Sunlight on the other hand stands for hope. The fact that the Youngers’ old apartment has so little sunlight gives cause for concern. Because without hope, the troubles the family and the black population go through seem impregnable.
But it is significant to note that the dreamers consider the obstacles in their way to be overcomeable. This optimistic and resilient attitude is what has kept the African-Americans going despite the challenges they must grapple with.
This is why the poet Langston Hughes who also speaks of the African-American dream as ‘a raisin in the sun’ considers it as a dream deferred.
What is Mama’s Dream in A Raisin in the Sun?
Mrs. Lena Younger affectionately called Mama dreams of the day she will be able to move her family to a new and better house. Mama’s dream is for the Youngers family to move from their old, run-down apartment in the south side of Chicago to a more dignified location befitting the status of every human being.
What does Mama’s Plant Symbolize in A Raisin in the Sun?
Mama’s plant and how she takes care of it in the play stand for her affection and aspirations for her family. The plant represents the family while the way she cares for and nurtures the plant epitomizes the same love she has for her children and her hopes for a better future for them.
What does Walter Youngers do for a living?
Walter works as a chauffeur. But he is clearly dissatisfied with his current job. This deep-seated hatred for his current status in society is partly responsible for his excessive drinking habit. It is for this reason that Walter dreams of improving his life with the insurance money.
Who is the Only White Character in A Raisin in the Sun?
Karl Lindner is the only white character in the play. A representative of the Clyburn Park Improvement Association, Karl Lindner tries unsuccessfully to persuade the Youngers to abandon their plan to move into their white neighbourhood. His mission is doomed to fail. This attempt exposes the sceptre of systemic racism that hangs over American race relations.
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