A Raisin in the Sun

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Joseph Asagai Character Analysis

A Nigerian man studying in Chicago, Joseph Asagai is a student who Beneatha met on her college campus. Asagai is a “rather dramatic-looking” young man who takes great pride in his African heritage and dreams of Nigerian independence from colonial rule. Asagai is thoughtful and well-spoken and he fosters Beneatha’s interest in her African roots. At the play’s end, Asagai asks Beneatha to marry him and “come home” to Africa.

Joseph Asagai Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun

The A Raisin in the Sun quotes below are all either spoken by Joseph Asagai or refer to Joseph Asagai. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of A Raisin in the Sun published in 2004.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Asagai: You wear it well . . . very well . . . mutilated hair and all.
Beneatha: My hair – what’s wrong with my hair?
Asagai: Were you born with it like that?
Beneatha: No . . . of course not.

Related Characters: Beneatha Younger (speaker), Joseph Asagai (speaker)
Related Symbols: Beneatha’s Hair
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Directly before this quote we are introduced to Joseph Asagai, a friend of Beneatha’s. Asagai, a Nigerian student, has returned from a trip to Canada and visits the Younger home to see Beneatha. When he arrives he gifts Beneatha traditional Nigerian robes. Asagai then comments on Beneatha’s hair. She asks him what’s wrong with it, and he tells her it isn’t “natural.” Beneatha replies that it’s easier to manage longer, permed hair. Asagai teases her, saying that he’s shocked that she would “mutilate” her natural hair for the sake of ease.

Here, Hansberry touches on the themes of assimilation, discrimination, gender, and feminism. Beneatha’s constant change of interests and hobbies represents more than a search for expression; she is also in search of her own identity. Beneatha represents the identity struggle many black people faced and continue to face in America. It is racist society that has dictated that Beneatha’s natural hair is unruly and messy. In Asagai’s view, by perming her hair Beneatha is assimilating to American cultural standards of beauty, which are grounded in whiteness and what white people consider attractive or appealing. Beneatha’s straight hair, although also possibly more manageable, mostly symbolizes her desire to fit in with white culture.

This also brings up questions of gender and feminism in A Raisin In The Sun. Like Ruth’s quote about Walter eating his eggs earlier in Act I, Beneatha’s response to Asagai’s comments about her hair are pragmatic. Straightening her hair is easier than letting it be natural. It’s a utilitarian choice. Furthermore, it’s important to note that only women’s hair is discussed in the play. Even though Asagai's comments are aimed at empowering Beneatha to be a strong black woman, the discussion of hair and her physical attributes of beauty indicate the gender roles and standards of the time. In her interaction with Asagai, there is more discussion about Beneatha’s hair than there is about her becoming a doctor.

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Act 3 Quotes

Then isn’t there something wrong in a house – in a world! – where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man? I never thought to see you like this, Alaiyo.

Related Characters: Joseph Asagai (speaker), Beneatha Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote happens after Beneatha tells Asagai that she has given up on her dreams of becoming a doctor. She has also, in many ways, lost hope in the world. She no longer believes that  humanity can be cured of its problems.

Always an optimist and idealist, Asagai tells Beneatha that the first step for change is acting, having a voice. Beneatha tells him that nothing has changed, and that "there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around," and that dreams are all a "mirage".

Asagai argues that life isn't a circle but rather a long line. "We cannot see the end" or how it will change—we cannot see our dreams but they are there. Asagai then tells Beneatha that the money didn't belong to her, she has lived without it and wouldn't have had it at all if her father hadn't died. He even calls into question the morality of a dream built upon a man's death. Asagai is disappointed by Beneatha's aspirations for wealth and how easily her dreams have deteriorated—if her dreams were purer and stronger, Asagai seems to argue, they wouldn't be affected by such setbacks.


Don’t you see that they will be young men and women – not British soldiers then, but my own black countrymen – to step out of the shadows some evening and slit my then useless throat? Don’t you see they have always been there . . . that they will always be. And that such a thing as my own death will be an advance?

Related Characters: Joseph Asagai (speaker)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote happens after Asagai tells Beneatha that he never expected her to cower when things got tough. He is saddened and shocked that she has placed so much weight on her dead father's insurance money. There is something disconcerting about dreams that only exist because someone has died. 

Beneatha challenges him, saying that she doesn't understand why he continues to work toward the impossible. Why does he continue to work toward aspirations that may never be realized? Asagai answers with "I Live the Answer!" He tells her that in his village in Nigeria, freedom is the ability to read and write. It isn't money or a house or a college education. He goes on to tell Beneatha that one day he will go home and people won't be able to understand what he is saying. But he will continue to teach and work until someone does. This may cause him to be killed by people who don't agree with him, or it may not. He may enact change or he may not. But he will incite others to speak and that possibility, the possibility of moving others to continue to fight and change the world is the important thing. 

This is a key moment in the discussion of race and discrimination in A Raisin In The Sun. Asagai speaks about legacy and the unknown, and how change, while often slow-moving, can happen. He represents the idealist and is an important voice in the narrative of the black community; an argument to keep fighting, keep learning, keep struggling to improve one's life. 


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Joseph Asagai Character Timeline in A Raisin in the Sun

The timeline below shows where the character Joseph Asagai appears in A Raisin in the Sun. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Beneatha answers the phone and has a brief conversation with her classmate, Joseph Asagai, who asks if he may visit Beneatha later that morning. Beneatha agrees. Beneatha explains to... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
...crying, Beneatha sends Travis back outside to play, “but not with any rats.” Just then, Asagai rings the doorbell and enters, and Mama takes a fragile Ruth to her bedroom to... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Asagai notices that Beneatha looks rattled and asks if something is wrong, to which Beneatha says,... (full context)
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Before Asagai can exit, Mama reenters and Beneatha introduces her to Asagai. Honoring her promise to Beneatha,... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
As he goes to exit, Asagai calls Beneatha by a Yoruba nickname, “Alaiyo.” Mama and Beneatha ask about the meaning of... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
...the radio when Beneatha enters “grandly” from her bedroom, wearing the robes and headdress that Asagai gave her that morning. She tells Ruth, “You are looking at what a well-dressed Nigerian... (full context)
Act 3
Dreams Theme Icon
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
...Walter’s loss of the insurance money fills the apartment with “a sullen light of gloom.” Asagai enters the apartment to visit Beneatha, who is deeply upset about the lost money. Beneatha... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Asagai tries to convince Beneatha of the value of idealism, but she rejects his arguments. She... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
...insurance money her dream for the future has been stolen “right out of my hands.” Asagai asks Beneatha whether the money was hers, inquiring more specifically whether she earned it or... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
When Beneatha accuses Asagai of being unable to provide an argument in favor of idealism, Asagai shouts, “I LIVE... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
“Rather quietly,” Asagai suggests that Beneatha “come home” with him. At first, Beneatha mistakenly believes that Asagai is... (full context)
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
...of Walter’s decision, focusing instead on the task at hand. Beneatha excitedly tells Mama that Asagai proposed to her that afternoon, but in the busyness of the moment Mama brushes off... (full context)