A Raisin in the Sun

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Themes and Colors
Dreams Theme Icon
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Raisin in the Sun, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon

A central virtue in the Younger household, dignity exerts a unifying force throughout the play. Mama expresses pride in her family’s background and tries to instill in her children a sense of respect for their ancestors, who were Southern slaves and sharecroppers. Although some characters, such as Mrs. Johnson, criticize the family as “one proud-acting bunch of colored folks,” the family holds fast to its ancestral dignity, an inheritance it considers to be greater than gold. At the play’s climax, the Youngers’ sense of pride gives them the strength to reject Karl Lindner’s dehumanizing offer to buy back their new home because, as Mama says, “Ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.” Despite the family’s dire financial situation following Walter Lee’s misguided investment, the Youngers resolutely refuse to forfeit their dignity in pursuit of economic gain.

Walter’s loss and eventual recovery of his pride constitute a major plotline of the play. His personal crisis of pride, brought on by his inability to support his family in his dead-end job as a chauffeur, culminates with his decision regarding Karl Lindner’s offer to purchase the Youngers’ new house. Upon first meeting Lindner, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha resoundingly reject his offer, demonstrating their collective familial pride. However, after squandering the family’s insurance payment, Walter decides to accept Lindner’s offer, showing his horrified family how he will act out the stereotype of a groveling black man while signing the contract with Lindner. It is only after Mama insists that Travis witness his father’s demeaning transaction with Lindner that Walter rediscovers his self-worth while standing behind “the sixth generation [of] our family in this country.” In a quietly triumphant moment, Walter reclaims his personal pride, asserts his family’s historical right to be treated fairly in their country, and refortifies his family’s dignity.

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Dignity and Pride ThemeTracker

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Dignity and Pride Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun

Below you will find the important quotes in A Raisin in the Sun related to the theme of Dignity and Pride.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Mama: What is it you want to express?
Beneatha: Me! Don’t worry – I don’t expect you to understand.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Beneatha Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

This moment happens during a conversation between Beneatha, Ruth, and Mama. When Mama asks Beneatha about what time she's going to be home from school that evening, Beneatha tells Ruth and Mama that she is coming home late because she plans on taking her first guitar lesson after school. Mama goes on to tease Beneatha, telling her that she’s flippant with her forms of "expression." First it was acting, followed by horse back riding, and now it's guitar. Mama hardly trusts that Beneatha will commit to this new hobby.

Beneatha defends herself by telling Mama that she doesn’t “flit” but rather experiments with different forms of expression. Mama then asks her what she’s trying to express. And Beneatha responds angrily with, “Me!”

Here we learn that Beneatha takes great pride in her self-expression and is in search of her own identity. Throughout the play she defines herself by her education, her dress, her activities and her connection to her African heritage. In this moment, Hansberry also highlights the generational differences between Mama and Beneatha. Mama doesn’t understand Beneatha’s need to express. Like Ruth, she is pragmatic and reserved. The only thing she expresses is her love for her family and staunch sense of survival.  She fits the traditional 1950s mold of mother, and takes pride in that. Indeed, after this moment Mama immediately re-routes the conversation to George Murchison, Beneatha’s suitor, pushing her to make a commitment to him, like a good woman should. 


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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.

Mama: Oh – So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
Walter: No – it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No . . . something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too . . .

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs during a discussion between Mama and Walter. Before this quote, Mama tells Walter that she’s concerned that he may be cheating on Ruth; he’s constantly out of the house and is very secretive with his family. Walter tells Mama that he isn’t cheating on his wife but rather searching for “peace.” He is restless. Walter explains that he sees a bright future in front of him, and investing in a liquor store is the only way he knows how to reach it. Walter goes on to tell Mama that sometimes, when he walks down the Chicago streets, he sees white men through the windows of restaurants having business meetings. He wants that.  Mama replies by asking him why he talks about money so much. Walter retorts, “Because it is life.”

Here Mama details the differences between her generation and her children’s. She was a child at the turn of the century, a time when “freedom” meant something entirely different for black Americans. Mama's parents escaped slavery to provide her with a better life. Freedom for her meant not being lynched or killed for being black. Freedom has been redefined for her children, however. Rather than being freed from the physical chains of slavery, Walter is in pursuit of freedom from economic oppression. In Mama’s perspective, Walter doesn’t realize how lucky he is. He doesn't take pride in the four generations of slaves and indentured servants that fought for freedom so that he could have a better life. She is frustrated at his lack of dignity, ingratitude, and sense of privilege. By fighting for a better life, Mama gave Walter the freedom to dream bigger than she was ever able to, and now she can’t quite understand why his dreams are based so much on financial wealth. 

Well – son, I’m waiting to hear you say something . . . I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was . . . Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them – I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give one baby up to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one . . .

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this moment, Mama expresses that she's concerned that Walter is cheating on Ruth. Walter denies this, but reveals that he is in a troubling place in his life. He hasn't been cheating, but rather has been searching for answers. He is frustrated by his position in the world and feels like his dreams of financial wealth and a better life for his family will never be realized. Mama chastises Walter for seeing money as the ultimate form of freedom. Walter dismisses this, telling Mama she doesn't understand what he's going through. At her wit's end, Mama finally reveals that Ruth is pregnant. She tells Walter that Ruth has been trying to tell him. but he hasn't been around or interested enough to listen. Mama then tells Walter that Ruth is considering aborting the baby. Walter argues that Ruth would never do that. Having overheard the conversation from her bedroom, Ruth immediately enters the room and tells Walter that she has put down a five dollar down payment for the procedure. In a moment of silence between Walter and Ruth, Mama tells Walter that this is the moment for him to "be a man." She implores him to live up to his father's legacy and convince Ruth to not go through with the abortion. 

Mama takes great pride in her faith and moral ethics, and Ruth's abortion tests those. This is also another moment where Walter's masculinity is questioned. Mama asks Walter to take pride in his beliefs and his manhood and step up and be a leader and a father. This moment also highlights the way poverty impacts decisions like childbearing, and takes a toll on pride and honor. Ruth's abortion is a result of her poverty, not a choice she would make if the Younger family were financially stable. This moment symbolizes how poverty strips people of their own dignity and sense of self.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

George: You’re all wacked up with bitterness, man.
Walter: And you – ain’t you bitter, man? Ain’t you just about had it yet? Don’t you see no stars gleaming that you can’t reach out and grab? You happy? – You contented son-of-a-bitch – you happy? You got it made? Bitter? Man, I’m a volcano. Bitter? Here I am a giant – surrounded by ants! Ants who can’t even understand what it is the giant is talking about.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), George Murchison (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Just before this, Walter mocks George's appearance and then comments on the success of George's father. He hints that he has a business venture he wants to get into, and would like to sit down with George to talk about it. George clearly dismisses Walter. This infuriates Walter, who retorts with a series of insults. Walter tells George that his education is pointless and all he is learning is to "talk proper and read books and wear them faggoty looking white shoes." George tells Walter that he's just bitter about his own lack of success. Walter, angrily expresses that he doesn't understand why people won't allow themselves to dream as big as he does. In his mind, George should also be bitter. Walter has dreams he can't touch and George chooses to ignore them. In Walter's perspective, George is an ant with small goals and small aspirations. 

In this scene, Hansberry brings up themes of dreams, pride, and gender roles. George's blatant ignoring of Ruth (as he does earlier in the conversation) and engagement with Walter highlights different forms of disrespect. George doesn't bother paying attention to or listening to Ruth because she is a woman. On the other hand, he is also rude and sarcastic with Walter. This moment also highlights different types of pride. George's pride lies in his social standing, education, and assimilation into white society. Walter's pride is in his dreams. Both also hold pride in their manhood. Walter comments on George's clothes, hinting that they are flamboyant and feminine, while also referencing himself as a "volcano" as a means to reinforce his masculinity. 

Son – you – you understand what I done, don’t you? I – I just seen my family falling apart today . . . just falling to pieces in front of my eyes . . . We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards – talking ‘bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead . . . When it gets like that in life – you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs directly after Mama reveals that she has used the insurance money for a down payment on a new house for the family in Clybourne Park. Walter has said very little at this point and is furious that Mama chose to use the money in this way. In this moment Mama is trying to level with Walter. She explains that this day was a low point for the Younger family. She saw her daughter-in-law consider aborting her unborn child, she saw her children fighting about money, she saw her daughter struggle with her identity, and thought that her son wasn't going to make it through. She saw the effects that poverty and oppression can have on people. The choice to buy a home was Mama's effort to save her family.

Mama's strength and Walter's silence highlight the way many of the characters challenge and face gender roles in A Raisin In The Sun. Mama has taken control of the insurance money and has made an executive decision. This infuriates Walter. Much of his pride is bound up in his manhood and sense of masculinity. Throughout the play he has expressed his resentment of his inability to control his own life and provide for his family. By calling the shots, Mama has emasculated him once again. In Walter's perspective, she has stripped Walter of his choice and leadership—but for Mama, her  decision to buy the house was also a choice to restore her family's dignity. The events of the day were the last straw for her and she tried to fix the problem the only way she knew how. 

Act 3 Quotes

Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. We ain’t never been that – dead inside.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this quote, Walter tells Mama that he has called Mr. Lindner and asked him to return to discuss the house in Clybourne Park Mama has just purchased. Walter plans on striking a deal with Lindner and "putting on a show" for him. Mama is disappointed that Walter would belittle his pride and self-respect for a profit. She's devastated that Walter would even consider pretending to be the type of man Lindner and the white community of Clybourne park has stereotyped him to be.

For Mama, allowing themselves to be kicked out of Clybourne Park for being black, and taking a bribe to leave, is an act of submissiveness to the oppressor. They are giving into the pressures of a community of people who don't see them as equals. Here, Mama reminds Walter of her and thereby his history. Although their ancestors weren't free by law, they had pride and would never let anyone pay them money to admit that, by being black, they were inherently lesser or unequal. Self-respect is Mama's moral compass. Even though her life is unfair, her pride and dignity will always come first. 

And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick. We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. We don’t want your money.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Walter Younger (Big Walter)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Lindner arrives back at the Younger home and expresses that he's happy that Walter has changed his mind about re-selling their new house in Clybourne Park. Walter asks Travis to go downstairs but Mama makes him stay, telling Walter she wants Travis to see what is going to happen, "where our five generations done come to." Nervously, Walter goes on to explain to Mr. Lindner that he comes from a long line of people with a lot of pride. He calls Travis over and explains that Travis will be the sixth generation of Youngers in America. Then, in an act of sudden bravery, Walter tells Lindner that they will keep the Clybourne Park house. Walter explains that his father earned that house and died for that house. His family has worked for five generations for that house, and they deserve it just as much as anyone else, white or black. 

Walter completely shifts his outlook on pride in this moment. Instead of seeing success and pride as linked to monetary wealth, he realizes that it is the groundwork of the people before him, the pride and dignity of his father and the generations before him, that are important. With his son—a symbol of the future—on his lap, Walter shows unwavering commitment to his family and his history, even in the face of the full power of institutional racism. 

He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain . . .

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mr. Lindner leaves and the moving trucks are packed, Mama has a moment alone with Ruth before leaving their apartment for the last time. She tells Ruth that she thinks Walter has finally come into his own manhood. Like a rainbow after a storm, Walter's mistakes brought him closer to his own sense of self as well as giving him a newfound pride in his history and identity. After this moment, Mama takes one final look at the apartment, and she stares at her plant sitting on the table. She feels an overwhelming wave of an undefined emotion (pain? sadness? fear?) and sticks her fist in her mouth to hide the scream welling up inside her. The lights dim and then re-light as she comes back into the space to grab her beloved plant. She leaves and the play ends.

Here, although she never says it directly to him, Mama finally recognizes Walter as a man. After creating a massive problem for the family in losing their money, he has made the final decision to move the family to Clybourne park. Putting his family's best interest first, this decision was in an effort to provide a better life for Travis and to prove that the Younger family never has and never will stand down in the face of oppression. While she's proud of Walter, in this moment we also see Mama overcome with emotion. Here, Hansberry hints that although the rainbow has arrived, more rain may still be on its way.