A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions force students to think critically about the drama and to examine views and biases. I identify four A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions as essential questions in considering Hansberry’s themes. I also offer discussion questions for each act of the play.
The first section addresses essential questions of the A Raisin in the Sun as a whole, and the second section breaks down A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions by act.
A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions part 1: The Essential Questions
Essential question 1: What are the different forms of racism in A Raisin in the Sun?
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 Africa in A Raisin in the Sun
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 of A Raisin in the Sun 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 for A Raisin in the Sun #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.
Part 2: A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions by act
A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions: pre-reading
- What do we know about the Civil Rights era?
- What issues were on the minds of African Americans in 1958?
- Compare racism today to racism in the 1950s. What has changed and what has remained the same? Remind students to be collegial regarding differences of opinion.
- What does the American Dream mean to you?
- How can the American Dream mean different things to different people or change over time?
- Why do some people think that the American Dream is a sham?
- What are your personal values? What are the most important things in life?
A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions: Act I
- What is the importance of the stage directions describing the Younger’s apartment?
- What is the significance of Walter’s anger at eggs? It may seem silly, but what is really going on?
- Why is Beneatha the only Younger interested in African heritage?
- How do the members of the family view their future differently?
- How does Hansberry introduce the concept dreams?
- What are the conflicts introduced in Act I? Which are the most important and why?
- What is Walter so angry about? How does this anger manifest?
A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions: Act II
- What are the different views on assimilation that Hansberry portrays? Analyze the characters’ views.
- What is the significance of Walter’s fantasy of Africa?
- How does Hansberry develop her motif of dreams in Act II?
- Is Mrs. Johnson an important character in the play? Explain your answer. Many productions leave her out, but Hansberry argued against her omission.
- Analyze Walter’s character arc in the play so far. How have his views changed from scene to scene?
- Is Walter a victim or a perpetrator when it comes to destroyed dreams? Explain.
- How are some of the characters symbols? What do they represent? Think about Hansberry’s purposes in including the minor characters.
- How does Hansberry illustrate what the main characters value?
A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions: Act III
- Which elements of the play have symbolic significance? How does Hansberry use the symbols?
- How does Hansberry use ambiguity (when something is left unclear) in the play’s conclusion? (Think about Beneatha’s subplot and the outcome of the family’s move.)
- Does Joseph Asagai represent wisdom or naivete (lack of understanding) regarding the dreams of African Americans?
- What is Hansberry’s ultimate message regarding the dreams of African Americans?
- To what degree is the play sexist?
- Bruce Norris wrote a sequel called Clybourne Park. What do you think Hansberry would want to portray in a sequel to A Raisin in the Sun?
- How relevant is A Raisin in the Sun in our society today? What is the nature of this relevance?
A Raisin in the Sun Discussion Questions conclusion
Lorraine Hansberry was both of her time and ahead of her time. A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions help us reflect on life for an impoverished African American family in 1950’s Chicago and consider race and opportunity in America generally.
A Raisin in the Sun discussion questions enable students to approach the essential questions on money, dreams, identity, racism, society, and values. This play offers many engaging learning opportunities, but the discussions are key. In these discussion the students explore the real-life scenarios of A Raisin in the Sun to examine more abstract thematic concepts.
A Raisin in the Sun is an invaluable text in enabling students to think about prejudice in America – past and present.