A Raisin in the Sun

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A Raisin in the Sun Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lorraine Hansberry
Hansberry was raised in an African-American middle-class family with activist foundations. The granddaughter of a slave and the niece of a prominent African-American professor, Hansberry grew up with a keen awareness of African-American history and the ongoing struggle for civil rights. In 1938 Hansberry’s family moved to an all-white neighborhood in Chicago and suffered violent attacks from neighbors, who had signed a restrictive covenant to exclude black families from the community. Hansberry’s family fought the covenant all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Hansberrys in 1940. Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin for several years before dropping out and moving to New York in 1950 to pursue writing and social activism. Hansberry’s best-known work, A Raisin in the Sun, premiered in 1959, making her the first African-American female playwright to have a play produced on Broadway. Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at 34, in 1965.
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Historical Context of A Raisin in the Sun
In the 1920s and 30s the discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws in the South prompted many African Americans to relocate to Northern cities, a movement called the Great Migration. Nonetheless, while the North did not have laws demanding policies of segregation be followed, discrimination persisted also in the North, leading to segregated housing, education, and employment. In 1949 the United States Congress passed the National Housing Act to address substandard housing and to provide adequate and more integrated housing options for minorities. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation was unconstitutional.
Other Books Related to A Raisin in the Sun
Richard Wright’s novel Native Son (1940) describes the life of Bigger Thomas, a poor African-American man who lives in Chicago’s South Side in the 1930s. Wright’s autobiography Black Boy (1945) discusses the author’s experience of racial discrimination and poverty in twentieth-century Chicago. James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) explore urban African-American life, the question of assimilation, and the realities of Northern racism.
Key Facts about A Raisin in the Sun
  • Full Title: A Raisin in the Sun
  • When Written: 1950s
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: The play premiered on Broadway on March 11, 1959. Random House published the play in 1959.
  • Literary Period: Social Realism
  • Genre: Dramatic stage play
  • Setting: Chicago’s South Side, sometime between 1945 and 1959
  • Climax: Walter Lee loses the family’s insurance payment in an investment scheme.
  • Antagonist: Karl Lindner and the Clybourne Park Improvement Association; racial prejudice and economic hardship
Extra Credit for A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Spotlight A Raisin in the Sun inspired several adaptations, including a Tony Award-winning musical. Partly written by the Lorraine Hansberry’s ex-husband Robert Nemiroff, after her death, Raisin added song and dance to the Youngers’ story, winning the 1973 Tony Award for Best Musical. More loosely based on the original story, the play Clybourne Park tells the story of the white family that sells its house to the Youngers. With its first act set in 1959 and its second act set in 2009, Clybourne Park tracks the development of the neighborhood and its residents over fifty years.

Mother to Son Hansberry originally titled the play, The Crystal Stair, a name that, like A Raisin in the Sun, comes from a Langston Hughes poem. The poem, called “Mother to Son,” speaks to the hardships that many African-American families have faced: “Well, son, I’ll tell you: / Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair / . . . But all the time / I’se been a-climbin’ on.”