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A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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Student Activities for A Raisin in the Sun Include:

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansbury, takes its title from the famous Langston Hughes poem “A Dream Deferred”, whose theme is echoed throughout the play. In a small apartment in Chicago in the 1950s, the members of the Younger family, an African American family, each have big dreams of what to do with the life insurance money they are going to receive from Big Walter’s passing. For some of the members of the family, their dreams have been put off, “deferred”, for years; for others, there are obstacles they must overcome in order to pursue their dreams. The play was well-received, and is notable as the first Broadway play written by an African American woman, and for being directed by the first African American Broadway director.

It pushed important questions and issues to the forefront of conversation, such as: segregated housing; the definition of a family; unequal opportunities and pay for working African Americans, even in the North; and the importance of following one’s dreams, regardless of race, obstacles, and pride. In addition, it showcases a strong woman’s role in the family, as Mama is decidedly the best decision-maker, with a strong moral compass.

In the pre-Civil Rights era, many African American families were struggling with the issues highlighted in the play, but most importantly, they were dreaming of a better world for themselves. Men like Martin Luther King, Jr., encompassed this “dream” ideal in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. The Youngers reflect this need for progress and acceptance so that all people have a chance to achieve the American Dream.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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A Quick Synopsis of A Raisin in the Sun (Contains Spoilers)

Act I

The Younger’s apartment gives off a feeling of weariness. Not only is it very small, but they also have to share a hall bathroom with other apartments. Walter and Ruth have a lot of tension between them, and it seems to revolve around their frustrations being “stuck” in their life in the apartment and their concerns about their son, Travis’s, future. Walter and Ruth’s relationship is also strained by the fact that Walter not feeling like the man of the household, as if his ideas are not being heard.

The Youngers are about to receive a $10,000 life insurance check from Big Walter’s death some time earlier. Beneatha is hoping to use some of the money for medical school to become a doctor; Walter wants to use the money to open a liquor store with his two friends Willy Harris and Bobo; Mama considers putting a deposit down on a house to call their very own, which was always Big Walter’s dream, with a garden in the back, which was always her dream. She keeps a little plant in the apartment, trying to ensure it gets enough daily sunlight to survive. She thinks that having a place to call their own will help to strengthen their fragile family ties.

Beneatha is an independent young woman who is determined to find her identity and solidify a career for herself. She challenges God and Christian values often, and vocally, which insults and upsets Mama, who is very pious. Mama slaps Beneatha for speaking so disrespectfully about God in her house. The scene ends with Ruth collapsing to the floor. The next scene begins with the Youngers giving the apartment a fresh spring cleaning. Ruth returns from the doctor with news-- she is pregnant. She slips and mentions that the doctor she went to was a woman; Mama is suspicious that Ruth has gone to a neighborhood doctor known to perform abortions.

A man Beneatha met at college, Joseph Asagai, arrives at the apartment. He is laid-back and has a strong Nigerian accent. Beneatha is visibly taken with him. He brings her a gift of colorful women’s robes. While she is admiring them in the mirror, Asagai mentions that Beneatha “mutilates” her hair by straightening it. He is teasing her, but Beneatha is disturbed by the comment.

He calls her “Alaiyo” which means “One for whom bread--food--is not enough.” For once, Beneatha feels that a man understands her, because she feels that she is constantly searching for more than just material things. Shortly after Asagai leaves, Beneatha hurriedly rushes out of the apartment on an errand. The life insurance check arrives. Mama shuts Walter down by telling him there will be no investing in any liquor stores. She tells Walter that Ruth is expecting a baby, and that she might be thinking of aborting the pregnancy. Ruth admits that she gave the doctor a $5 down payment. Mama waits for Walter to object, but he doesn’t, so she calls him a disgrace to his father and storms out.


Act II

Beneatha is parading around in her Nigerian robes for Ruth, with a headdress on her head. She puts on a record with a Nigerian melody and begins to dance and sing. Walter comes home drunk, join her dancing.

A young, wealthy man, George Murchison, comes to the door to pick up Beneatha for a date. Beneatha removes her headdress to reveal that she has cut her hair very short, which shocks George, Ruth, and Walter. George calls her “eccentric” and tells her to get ready. Beneatha implies that he is an “assimilationist”, which George laughs off.

Mama then returns with news: she bought a house! Ruth and Travis are ecstatic, but Walter shuts down, defeated. Mama tells them it’s a nice house with three bedrooms, and a small yard with a little patch of dirt for a garden. The bad news soon follows: it’s in Clybourne Park, an all-white neighborhood, and house bombings of African American families in such neighborhoods were widely publicized at the time. Walter berates Mama for her decision; however, this was Mama’s way, as the head of the family, of trying to put together a future for her family that would pull everyone back together.

A few weeks later with George and Beneatha in the apartment after a date. Beneatha wants to talk, but George is exasperated, telling Beneatha that she’s good looking, so no one cares what’s in her head. His sexism is blatant, and George is not going to fit into her life anymore. Beneatha tells Mama that George is a fool, and for the first time, Mama and Beneatha have an understanding between them.

Ruth gets a phone call from Walter’s boss with news that Walter hasn’t been to work in three days. Mama realizes that when she used the money to buy the house, she took something from Walter. She tells him that she was wrong, and gives him $6,500: $3,000 to be put in an account for Beneatha’s education, and $3,500 for him to spend on whatever he wishes. With this gesture, she entrusts him as the head of the household, which instantly rejuvenates Walter’s spirits.

On moving day, a week later, Walter and Ruth’s relationship has changed drastically; they are almost deliriously happy with one another. A quiet-looking, middle-aged, white man named Karl Lindner comes to visit the Youngers, claiming to be a representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. He makes it sound like the Association just wants to touch base with their new neighbors, but soon, his true mission comes to light: he has come to offer them twice the price of their new house, as long as they don’t move into it. Walter throws him out.

A short while later, Bobo knocks on the door with devastating news: Willy Harris, the brains of the liquor store plan, absconded with all of the money. Even worse is the revelation that Walter never put aside money for Beneatha’s schooling: he gave the entire $6,500 to Willy.


Act III

An hour later, Asagai arrives to help with the packing. Beneatha is beside herself, convinced that with the loss of this money, all of her dreams of medical school are gone, too. Asagai wisely points out that before they had any money, she was still going to be a doctor; her dream isn’t gone, simply because the money is. He then invites her to come back to his village in Nigeria and practice medicine there. Walter suddenly rushes from his room and out of the apartment. Mama announces that they should start unpacking, which sends Ruth into a panic. She tells Mama she’ll work day and night with a baby strapped to her back, but they have to get out of this apartment.

Walter returns and announces he’s called Lindner to get the money the Association originally offered. For the women of the family, taking money from a white man to stay out of his neighborhood is the ultimate blow to their pride and humanity. But Walter is out of his mind, almost delirious. He has given up on trying to advance himself in the world, and he is only focused on getting the money back.

When Lindner arrives, eager to complete their deal, Walter realizes that what is right for his family is to move into that house, that his self-respect is more important than money, and that he’d be letting down his entire family by taking money that goes against his conscience. He throws Lindner out again. Mama says thoughtfully to Ruth about Walter, “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain…” The moving men arrive, and everyone runs out of the apartment except for Mama, who realizes she’s left her plant on the table. She retrieves it, and closes the apartment door behind her.


Essential Questions for A Raisin in the Sun

  1. Why is it so important to follow one’s dreams, regardless of obstacles or people who might get in the way?
  2. What is the American Dream? What are some reasons why it might be “deferred”?
  3. How do race, gender, and/or class influence the kinds of aspirations a person has?
  4. How are the women in the play portrayed as strong, even when they seem to defer to the male influences in their lives?
  5. What is identity, and why is it important?

A Raisin in the Sun Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | A Raisin in the Sun Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story or play. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example A Raisin in the Sun Plot Diagram

Exposition

The Younger family lives in a very small apartment in Chicago. Big Walter has recently died, and there is a $10,000 life insurance check due to arrive soon. Walter hopes to use it for a liquor store, Beneatha hopes to use it for medical school, and Mama is not sure what she will do with it. Ruth falls ill at the end of the first the scene, and it seems that she is pregnant.


Conflict

Walter feels like no one is listening to him about his dream for the liquor store. He wants to get ahead somehow, but Mama refuses to give him the money to invest. Instead, she goes out and buys a house in an all-white neighborhood, which might be dangerous.


Rising Action

After Mama buys a house in Clybourne Park, she decides to give Walter the remaining $6,500 to put aside for Beneatha’s schooling, and to invest in the liquor store. The Youngers are visited by a man named Karl Lindner, who offers them a significant amount of money to stay out of the neighborhood. They refuse.


Climax

Bobo arrives at the apartment and tells Walter that Willy Harris took all of the money they gave him for the liquor store plan and took off. Worse, Walter never put aside the $3,000 he was supposed to put into the bank for Beneatha’s medical schooling.


Falling Action

Walter decides to call Lindner and accept his offer in order to recoup some of the money. Asagai arrives and invites Beneatha to marry him and move to Nigeria to be a doctor, which gives Beneatha new hope. Mama thinks that Walter’s willingness to make a deal with Lindner will eventually leave him with nothing inside.


Resolution

Walter realizes that he cannot trade his pride for money, and tells Lindner to get lost. The Youngers leave the apartment in a celebratory mood, and Mama returns to grab her plant, which represents her dream of a happy, content family in a home they can call their own.


A Raisin in the Sun Plot Diagram

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of A Raisin in the Sun.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Story Outline Storyboard Template

Example

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A Raisin in the Sun Literary Conflict


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflict. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the Storyboard Creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Examples of Literary Conflict in A Raisin in the Sun

MAN vs. MAN

Beneatha is vehemently against acknowledging her mother’s faith, and denies God’s existence. This goes against her mother’s very strict Christian beliefs, and Mama strikes her daughter in the face.


MAN vs. SELF

Walter feels like no one understands him or his dream, and he feels stuck. He wonders if there is anything to look forward to in his future, and he feels like a failure to his family.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

The Younger family is segregated because of their race, and they make a bold move to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood. Karl Lindner, as a representative of the Clybourne Park Association, tries to convince the Youngers to find a house in another neighborhood.


A Raisin in the Sun Literary Conflict

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in A Raisin in the Sun.


  1. Identify conflicts in A Raisin in the Sun.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



Literary Conflict Template

Example

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A Raisin in the Sun Character Map

As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel or play, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Use a character map to help track the different characters that are discussed in A Raisin in the Sun. Have the students provide the character’s physical traits, internal character traits, and a quote for support!

Example A Raisin in the Sun Character

Mama (Lena)

  • Physical Traits: Mid-sixties; widowed; dark brown skin with white hair; graceful; strong face; speech is careless
  • Character Traits: Matriarch of the family; very devout in her Christian beliefs; puts her family first; strong-willed and determined; loves gardening
  • Quote: “I--I just seen my family falling apart today… just falling to pieces in front of my eyes… When it gets like that in life-- you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger…”

Other characters included in this map are: Walter, Beneatha, Ruth, Travis, Joseph Asagai, and Mr. Lindner.

A Raisin in the Sun Character Map

Example

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A Raisin in the Sun Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the play, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Following Your Dreams

Throughout the play, many of the characters are focused on what the influx of money from the insurance check will be able to do for their dreams. Walter dreams of financial independence through opening a liquor store; Beneatha dreams of becoming a doctor and finally “finding” her identity; Ruth dreams of moving out of the small apartment into a place where her marriage and family can be healthy again; and Mama dreams of owning a house with her very own little garden, where the family can be whole and have a home to call their own. While Walter’s actions with the money change everyone’s dreams a bit, and Asagai’s proposal gives Beneatha a new path to think about, ultimately, Walter follows through with the family’s dream of pride and independence by turning Karl Lindner’s offer down once and for all.


Race and Identity

Beneatha struggles with her racial identity, and even tells Joseph Asagai when she first meets him that she wants to talk to him to learn more about Africa, and her heritage. In addition to this, however, Beneatha is breaking the mold on many fronts: not only is she a woman, determined to attend medical school and become a doctor not a nurse in the 1950s, but she’s doing so as an African American woman. George Murchison puts her love of learning and her intelligence down when he tells her that only her looks should really matter, and this breaks Beneatha of any romantic spell George may have had on her. It is clear that a man who is only interested in having a pretty woman with an empty head on his arm is not someone Beneatha can spend the rest of her life with. Becoming a housewife is not in the cards for her.


Family Dynamics

The family dynamics in the Younger household are strained. Beneatha and Mama fight over religion and philosophical beliefs; Walter and Ruth’s marriage is clearly suffering in the close quarters; and Walter is alienating everyone around him because he doesn’t feel understood, and feels like a failure as a provider for his family, and as a man. The names of the characters play into the family dynamics. As the matriarch of the family, “Lena” is clearly the one the children have “leaned on” for many years. “Ruth” is doggedly loyal to her mother-in-law much like Ruth in the Bible. “Beneatha” is often put “beneath” because of her gender, and her race. She is always struggling to find more meaning to her life, and to be more than what is expected of her in this time period. Finally, the “Youngers” are surrounded by a weary apartment, but the money is giving them an opportunity to start over, to feel and be “young” again, and to provide new opportunities to the “younger” generations: Travis, and his soon-to-be sibling.


Motifs & Symbols

Mama’s Plant

Mama’s little plant is a joke in the family, but to her, it represents the possibility of sunlight and happiness. She says that Walter worked so hard every day of his life to achieve his dream of financial independence, or at least for a place to call their own so they could provide something better for their children than what they had. They moved into their little apartment years ago, never expecting to stay so long. Mama’s plant represents the American Dream she hopes for, in a house of her own with a yard where her grandchildren can grow up having more than she had. It also represents the hope that she has for her family to continue as a stronger unit.


Beneatha’s Hair

Beneatha’s hair reflects her struggle with her identity. In a segregated Chicago, Beneatha feels that she doesn’t belong. As a woman with dreams to become a doctor, she is truly stepping out of her “place” as a woman in the 1950s. When Asagai teases her about mutilating her hair, Beneatha sees a change that can be made to bring her closer to understanding who she is and as a way to set herself apart from what she sees as an African culture that has been forced to assimilate into American society.


The Life Insurance Money

The life insurance money represents all of the hopes and dreams the Younger family holds: Walter’s dream of financial independence, Mama’s dream of owning something real, Beneatha’s dream of medical school, and Ruth’s dream of a family dynamic that isn’t so broken, so her children can grow up in a healthier environment. However, the money is also representative of the loss they had to bear in order to gain it: the death of Big Walter, their husband, father, and grandfather. Mama realizes that while they may all realize a dream with the insurance money, Big Walter will never see any of his own come true.


A Raisin in the Sun Themes and Symbols

Example

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A Raisin in the Sun Vocabulary Lesson Plan


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from A Raisin in the Sun. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the play, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example Vocabulary Words from A Raisin in the Sun

  • assimilationist
  • doggedly
  • catastrophe
  • furtively
  • bastion
  • defer
  • exasperated
  • vindicated
  • permeate
  • stupor
  • fester
  • disheveled
  • slur
  • erratic
  • muffle
  • vengeance
  • feeble

A Raisin in the Sun - Vocabulary

Example

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in A Raisin in the Sun by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Vocabulary Template Blank

Example

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A Raisin in the Sun Text Connection | Your Dreams


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While reading A Raisin in the Sun, students will inevitably be thinking about their own future dreams and plans, and might be wondering about obstacles that can get in the way. Depending on a student’s race, culture, background, gender identity, and class, their dreams may differ greatly from other students’. Have your students use the Storyboard Creator to make a five-cell depiction of their future dreams and plans. Have them explain what motivated them or prompted them to decide on these dreams, and have them include some fears of obstacles that might get in the way. Have the students present their storyboards and then engage in a class discussion of why dreams are important to have, and to follow.

Connecting to Your Dreams Student Example

Background

My name is David, and my parents are immigrants from Russia. My father is a cook at a restaurant, and my mother works in a clothing store in our neighborhood. They arrived in New York 20 years ago, and moved to be near my uncle, who lives in Boston.


Dream

One day, I would like to own my own restaurant. I love to watch my dad cook, and he has taught me a lot of things about authentic Russian cooking. I wish my dad owned the restaurant, because then he could make more of his own hours. His boss is also pretty terrible sometimes.


Why this Dream?

My friend Kevin’s dad owns a restaurant, and makes enough money to support his family well. Kevin’s father is well-respected in the area, and the food his restaurant makes is delicious. His father takes a lot of pride in his food. I would like to make enough money to take care of my mom and dad one day, because they’ve sacrificed so much to take care of me.


Obstacles to My Dream

Some obstacles that might get in the way are not having enough money to open my own restaurant, or trouble getting a loan. I also need to make sure I get good grades so that I can go to a good culinary school when I graduate.


How will I Achieve this Dream?

I will get good grades so that I can attend a very prestigious culinary institute. Then, I will work very hard and make a name for myself in the industry. When I get enough money, I will open a restaurant that has a great atmosphere, good food, and great staff. I will make sure I am a fair boss who treats my employees respectfully.


A Raisin in the Sun - Connecting Your Dreams

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows a dream that you have. Use the template storyboard to guide you.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Write a short explanation under each cell, using the template to help you.
  3. Depict each cell using any combination of scenes, characters, items, and textables.



Connecting to Your Dreams Activity Template

Example

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•   (English) A Raisin in the Sun   •   (Español) Una Pasa en el Sol   •   (Français) Une Raisin au Soleil   •   (Deutsch) Eine Rosine in der Sonne   •   (Italiana) A Raisin in the Sun   •   (Nederlands) A Raisin in the Sun   •   (Português) Uma Passa no sol   •   (עברית) צימוק בשמש   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الزبيب في الشمس   •   (हिन्दी) धूप में एक किशमिश   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Изюм на Солнце   •   (Dansk) En Raisin in the Sun   •   (Svenska) En Raisin in the Sun   •   (Suomi) Rusina Auringossa   •   (Norsk) A Raisin in the Sun   •   (Türkçe) Güneşin Üzüm   •   (Polski) Rodzynka w Słońcu   •   (Româna) Un Raisin in the Sun   •   (Ceština) Rozinka na Slunci