First performed in 1959, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun chronicles several days in the lives of the Youngers, a poor black family living in the South Side of Chicago. After receiving a check for $10,000 from the late Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy, the family must make several difficult decisions about how to spend the money. The play explores the dreams and ambitions each family member has for his or her future, each one vastly different from those of the others.

The concept of dreams extends to the play’s title, which was taken from Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem.” In this piece, which Hansberry also uses to open her play, Hughes questions what happens to broken dreams, asking if they “dry up like a raisin in the sun.” As they read the play, have students refer back to “Harlem.” How does the raisin metaphor describe what happens to the dreams of the characters?

A Raisin in the Sun was one of the first plays to realistically depict the triumphs and struggles of an African American family during the 1950s. While this era is often portrayed as a prosperous time, students will discover that the decade was rife with racial and domestic tension. Hansberry certainly knew of this; in 1940, her family was involved in a now-famous lawsuit over discriminatory housing restrictions. A background lesson on segregation during that time, as well as Hansberry’s own experiences with such unjust practices, will help contextualize the play.

While the central conflict focuses on the family’s financial situation, the secondary conflict revolves around the idea of assimilation and heritage, as demonstrated by Beneatha’s contrasting relationships with Asagai and George. To give students a better understanding of each character’s perspective, consider providing information on Afrocentrism and African Americans’ differing attitudes toward assimilation during this time period.

A Raisin in the Sun is rich with educational value; keep reading to learn more!

Summary of A Raisin in the Sun

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1959
  • Length: 151 pages
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12

The Youngers are a poor African American family living in Chicago during the 1950s. Mr. Younger has recently died, and the family receives a $10,000 life insurance check. Lena, the family matriarch, spends a portion of the money on a new house in a white, middle-class neighborhood. Walter, the elder child, then loses the remainder of the money in a failed investment, which in turn prevents his sister Beneatha from going to medical school. When the Youngers move into their new neighborhood, they confront racial tensions and struggle with personal and racial identity.

Content Warning: A Raisin in the Sun contains profanity, racial slurs, sexual content, and references to abortion.

What Your Students Will Love About A Raisin in the Sun

  • Relating to some of the Younger family members’ frustrations
  • The thought-provoking examination of important social issues

Potential Student Struggles With A Raisin in the Sun

  • Outdated language and slang
  • The unflinching depiction of systemic racism

Learning Objectives for A Raisin in the Sun

  • Discuss the conflict between Walter and Mama, Walter and Beneatha, and the Younger family and society.
  • Gain an understanding of the social structure of Chicago in the 1950s.
  • Identify the protagonist in this play and determine why this character is the protagonist.
  • Analyze the symbolism of light and its absence as illustrated in the play.
  • Compare and contrast the differing viewpoints on heritage, assimilation, and Afrocentrism.

Literary Elements in A Raisin in the Sun

  • Allusion
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Setting
  • Symbolism
  • Tone
  • And more!

Major Themes in A Raisin in the Sun

The American Dream — This play examines the concept of the American Dream from the perspectives of characters who have been oppressed because of their race. Who is the American Dream for, and what does it ultimately mean?

Related Works:

Racism — The Youngers are initially dissuaded from moving into an all-white neighborhood, but eventually decide to buy the house anyway. The play chronicles the family’s struggle against this discrimination.

Related Works:

Family — Although each member of the family has a unique dream, they all recognize that the family would be happier if everyone worked together.

Related Works:

Other Resources for A Raisin in the Sun

Order A Raisin in the Sun Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
A Raisin in the Sun Paperback Student Edition
A Raisin in the Sun Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Raisin in the Sun AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Raisin in the Sun Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Raisin in the Sun Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Raisin in the Sun Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
A Raisin in the Sun Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set