A Raisin in the Sun

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
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Explosive play shows hopes, struggles of urban black family.

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age 13+
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Educational Value

Whether Lorraine Hansberry's Tony Award-nominated play is read or seen on the stage, the play teaches young readers about the daily lives of urban African Americans in the 1950s, and about the ways that racial prejudice affected their prospects. Beneatha Younger's relationship with Joseph Asagai shows black Americans' burgeoning interest in reclaiming an African identity, and gender roles within the Younger family depict the ways women were viewed at that time.

Positive Messages

The image of a "raisin in the sun" is borrowed from Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem," in which the poet asks, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" In the play, the Youngers' dreams have often taken a beating or a backseat because of prejudice or financial hardship, but there is a strong sense that these individuals' aspirations are kept very much alive by pride, love, and inner strength.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lena, the matriarch of the Younger family, is a strong role model for readers and for her children. She values faith and family above all else, and though she works in other people's houses, she takes pride in her own and remains a proud, strong woman. Beneatha, Lena's daughter, struggles to find her own identity, but she is an intellectual, modern young woman and dreams of becoming a doctor in a time when few white women would have imagined that career for themselves. Walter makes some foolish financial decisions, but in the end his devotion to his son won't let him accept money that comes at the cost of his pride.


Walter and Ruth's young son, Travis, chases a rat in the street with some other children, and watches a man kill it. Lena slaps her daughter, Beneatha, when Beneatha denies the existence of God; she also mentions lynching in one scene. Walter is struck by his mother and sister when they learn what he's done with some of their insurance money. Ruth threatens to spank Travis for disobeying her. And in a scene that was deleted from some editions of the play (but is included in some), a neighbor visits and tells Lena about an incident where a black family's home was bombed by whites who didn't want their neighborhood to be racially mixed.


One of Beneatha's boyfriends, George Murchison, tries to kiss her repeatedly, but she rebuffs him. Ruth and Walter dance romantically in the apartment, and Ruth reflects on a time when she and Walter were dating, when they held hands all through the movie and during their walk home.


In a scene that was deleted from some, but not all, editions of the play, a black neighbor uses the "N" word. Walter impatiently swears ("goddammit!") at his friend Bobo when Bobo is trying to tell him what happened to their money. The other language issue for readers to bear in mind is that the play was written at a time when all Americans still referred to black people as "negroes" or "colored."


Characters debate the merits of African vs. western dress, and whether or not African Americans should keep their hair "natural."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Especially early in the play, Walter Younger often drowns his disappointments at the bar, and comes home drunk and angry.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Raisin in the Sun eloquently portrays the life struggles of an African-American family living on Chicago's South Side in the 1950s. Characters work at subservient jobs (Walter is a chauffeur, and his mother and sister clean houses), grapple with the impact this has on their self-esteem, and face racial prejudice. Though these family members all love each other, their outbursts are often hostile. Particularly disturbing are the arguments between Walter and his wife, Ruth; Walter often comes home drunk and verbally takes out his disappointments on his wife, and she considers aborting their second child because she feels they don't have the emotional or financial resources to add a baby to the family. Family discussion about the early days of the civil rights movement in the United States and exposure to Langston Hughes' poem, "Harlem," the source of the play's title, will add to young readers' appreciation of this play. 

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Teen, 17 years old Written byweb78lit January 7, 2015

An educational read

A Raisin In The Sun is an educational read. It teaches you about real life struggles and how you can grow because of them. For example, Walter Lee Younger is... Continue reading

What's the story?

The action of A RAISIN IN THE SUN all takes place in the Chicago apartment of the Younger family: Lena; her grown children, Beneatha and Walter; and Walter's wife, Ruth, and son, Travis. When the play begins, the family members are waiting expectantly for the arrival of a life insurance payment, as the patriarch of the family, Walter senior, has died. Each of the characters has some hope and idea of how the insurance money should be used. Though the money legally belongs to Lena, the characters argue and struggle with one another for the rare chance to make a real change in their lives. The tension over how the money will be used causes explosive tension between the three generations of Youngers who share the South Side apartment.

Is it any good?

There's good reason that three generations have read A Raisin in the Sun as an important work of American literature. Nominated for four Tony Awards when it was originally staged in 1960, it has generational differences, race and gender roles, and the importance of morality and faith all elegantly woven into the dialogue, and offers abundant lessons and fuel for discussion without ever becoming too preachy. The characters are believable and heartbreaking, well-realized human beings, and their struggles against prejudice and hardship are as meaningful now as they were 50-plus years ago. A Raisin in the Sun was adapted for a classic film version starring Sidney Poitier, who also performed in the Broadway play, and a more recent version stars rap artist, producer and actor Shawn "P. Diddy" Combs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Lena giving Walter responsibility for so much of the insurance money. Why do you think she hands it all to him?

  • How are Beneatha's two boyfriends different, and how do they represent different sides of her?

  • How does Mr. Lindner's proposal make the Youngers feel?

  • Why did Lorraine Hansberry call her play A Raisin in the Sun?

Book details

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For kids who love stories of the African-American experience

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