A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions force students to slow down and think critically about the drama and its themes. Here are 3 sets of open-ended A Raisin in the Sun questions for use in cooperative groups or Socratic seminar.
Part 1: Discussion Questions for Each Act
Part 2: A Raisin in the Sun Essential Questions
Part 1: A Raisin in the Sun Discussion QuestionsDiscussions and Excerpts - A Raisin in the Sun
You might assign each group one A Raisin in the Sun question from the first part (easier) and one open-ended question from the second part (rigorous). Note that the PDF includes key excerpts for analysis that students can also analyze in cooperative groups. Scroll down to copy and paste individual questions.
Related Post: A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan
A Raisin in the Sun questions for Act I
- What overall impression/mood does Hansberry create in describing the apartment?
- What is the significance of Walter’s anger at eggs? What is really going on?
- “Slubborn” is not a real world. Ruth has formed a portmanteau—the combining of two words into a new word. Explain her portmanteau and think of some additional examples.
- What point is Joseph Asagai making about Beneatha’s hair?
- Which character takes the most appropriate attitude regarding the insurance money?
- What does Beneatha argue regarding her mother’s faith?
- Analyze characterization in Act I by describing the personality of ONE character and explaining how Hansberry uses details to bring the character to life.
- How is the language of the stage directions different from the language of the dialogue? Why is this important?
- What conflicts develop in Act I? Which are the most important and why?
- Food plays a role in developing Hansberry’s themes. Explain the significance of food discussions in Act I. (Hint: Include thoughts on Joseph’s nickname for Beneatha.)
- What does Beneatha mean when she says she is looking for her identity?
- How does Hansberry introduce the theme subject of hopes and dreams in Act I?
A Raisin in the Sun questions for Act II
- What is the significance of Walter Lee’s fantasy of Africa? Is his imagining of Flaming Spear simply a drunken spectacle, or is it something more?
- Beneatha Younger’s hairstyle is discussed in Act I and again in Act II. What is the importance of this detail?
- Why does Beneatha say, “Mama, if there are two things we, as a people, have got to overcome, one is the Ku Klux Klan—and the other is Mrs. Johnson”?
- Describe Karl Lindner’s approach to his reprehensible (shameful) mission.
- Describe Walter Lee’s metamorphosis in Act II. How does he change and why?
- What is assimilation? What views on assimilation and African Americans does Hansberry explore through her characters?
- Many productions of A Raisin in the Sun leave Mrs. Johnson out, but Hansberry argued against omitting her. Is Mrs. Johnson an important character? Explain your view.
- Walter Lee’s behavior is repulsive, yet we sympathize with him. How does Hansberry make you care for Walter Lee despite his flaws?
- Explain how the minor characters of Act II serve as symbols. What does each represent?
- How does Hansberry further develop her theme subject of dreams in Act II?
A Raisin in the Sun questions for Act III
- Beneatha’s attitude toward becoming a doctor changes. What does she mean when she says that being a doctor “doesn’t seem deep enough”?
- Lindner’s proposed deal is perfectly legal, and the Youngers need the money. Why does the family strongly oppose taking Lindner’s offer?
- What does Walter Lee mean when he says that when it comes to the “takers” of the world, Willy Harris does not even count?
- Why does Walter Lee tell Lindner that Beneatha will become a doctor when he is against this idea both before and after he makes this statement?
- How does Hansberry build tension leading up to the family’s final decision?
- Identify one item from the play that serves as a symbol. How does Hansberry add layers of meaning to the item? What is the purpose of the symbol?
- Is A Raisin in the Sun sexist or anti-sexist? Explain your conclusion.
- What is Hansberry’s ultimate message regarding the dreams of African Americans? To what degree does this message resonate today? Explain.
- How does Hansberry use ambiguity (when something is left unclear) at the play’s conclusion? (Think about Beneatha’s subplot and the family’s move.)
- Bruce Norris wrote a sequel called Clybourne Park. What do you think Hansberry would want to see in a sequel to A Raisin in the Sun?
Part 2: A Raisin in the Sun Essential Questions
Whether you call them overarching, guiding, or unit questions, here are 4 essential questions for students to address. The key topics include the forms of race prejudice, the American Dream, and identity (including personal values).
Essential question #1: What different forms can racism take?
Systemic racism in A Raisin in the Sun
Systemic racism (and sexism) causes the family’s financial distress. Walter cannot advance beyond being a chauffeur just as Big Walter could not advance beyond manual labor. Mama has never known any employment besides service, and Ruth can expect the same. The same system (represented by Mr. Lindner) keeps African Americans paying rent in perpetuity.
Internalized racism in A Raisin in the Sun
Internalized racism plays an important role in the play. The family openly discusses how the views of their African American neighbor, Mrs. Johnson, are just are detrimental as oppression that created them.
Despite her experiences, Mama refuses to internalize racism, accept the status quo, or dignify the views of Mrs. Johnson (and Booker T. Washington.)
“Mama, if there are two things we, as a people, have got to overcome, one is the Ku Klux Klan – and the other is Mrs. Johnson.”
Walter’s internal conflict forces him to choose between internalizing racism for material gain (humiliating himself for Lindner) or preserving his dignity. If he decides to sacrifice his self-respect, he is acquiescing to his oppression. In the climax of the play, he chooses dignity.
Prejudice against contemporary Africa
Hansberry explores the prejudice against Africa through many of the characters. Beneatha lauds African heritage and seeks to broaden her understanding whereas George, despite his knowledge, openly dismisses and insults it. For Mama, people from Africa are completely alien, and she states, “I ain’t never met no African before.” For Walter, his only connection to Africa comes in the form of an alcohol-induced fantasy; For him, Africa is a vague dream.
Essential question #2: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
How does an individual respond when they have lost all hope for their dreams? Do they lash out and then submit (Walter)? Do they refuse to let the dream die despite the interminable waiting (Mama)? Do they debase themselves by victimizing others (Willie)?
Exploring this essential question of A Raisin in the Sun requires some context. Reading the poem that inspired the title of the play is obvious, but I also include works by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and others in thinking about different responses to the deferred dreams of African Americans.
Essential question #3: What is the American Dream?
This essential question forces students to consider different perspectives. What are the different meanings of this famous term? How has the meaning of this term changed over time? Does it mean different things to different people? What might it mean to an impoverished, urban, underprivileged African American family in the 1950s?
A further examination of this essential question relates to money. What should be the role of money in our hopes and the American Dream? What views does the play offer? What is Hansberry saying about the nature of money in relation to dreams?
Essential question #4: What is identity?
Ask students explore what identity means to them. What are the key facets? What views on identity do they reject?
How do the different characters in A Raisin in the Sun think about identity? Is identity based on family? Faith? Values? Money? Prestige? Dignity? Occupation? Personal expression? How do the different characters think about heritage as an aspect of identity?
Hansberry uses Beneatha uniquely regarding this essential question of A Raisin in the Sun. Beneatha is not interested in wealth, faith, or starting a family. For her, identity is about personal truth that comes from within. She seeks to find her identity through personal expression, and later through exploring her African heritage. Although it is never mentioned, Beneatha recognizes that American slavery and racism have robbed her of an essential connection.
Related Post: A Raisin in the Sun Unit Plan
Thanks for checking out A Raisin in the Sun Discussion Questions
A Raisin in the Sun is an invaluable text in enabling students to think about prejudice in America – past and present. It enables students to approach essential questions on money, dreams, identity, racism, society, and values.
I hope these open-ended questions for A Raisin in the Sun will yield engaging discussions in your classroom.
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