A Raisin in the Sun

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
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.
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon

A Raisin in the Sun anticipates the massive changes in gender relations – principally, the rise of feminism and the Sexual Revolution – that would transform American life in the 1960s. Hansberry explores controversial issues like abortion (which was illegal in 1959), the value of marriage, and morphing gender roles for women and men. Each of the Youngers takes a different attitude towards shifting gender roles, and the characters’ perspectives shed light on their identities. Beneatha, who Hansberry said was partly based on herself, holds the most modern views, pursuing her dream to become a doctor (a male-dominated profession at the time) and telling a shocked Mama and Ruth that she isn’t concerned about marriage—and that she might not ever get married at all. Beneatha’s brother, Walter Lee, repeatedly criticizes his sister’s ambition to become a doctor, suggesting that she “just get married.” Beneatha’s conviction to her modernized worldview highlights her unique brand of strength, perhaps also serving as an indirect expression of Hansberry’s own opinions.

Mama and Ruth share more traditional views on marriage and their role as women. Both characters work in traditionally female roles as domestic servants, one of the few jobs open to African-American women at the time. Similarly, Walter Lee holds conventional views on gender, and his ability to adequately fulfill his role as a man greatly affects his self-esteem. Walter links his own identity and self-worth to his sense of “manhood,” which ebbs and flows during the play. Walter resents his emasculating work as a white man’s chauffeur and Mama’s standing as “head” of the family, which confines him to the position of a “child” in his home. Mama’s eventual decision to make Walter head of the family “like you supposed to be,” along with Walter’s courageous refusal of Karl Lindner’s offer, prompt Mama and Ruth to note that Walter “finally come into his manhood today.” Thus, Walter’s status as a man parallels both his success as the “man” of the house and his ability to establish himself as an equal in his interactions with Lindner and others.

Get the entire A Raisin in the Sun LitChart as a printable PDF.
A raisin in the sun.pdf.medium

Gender and Feminism ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Gender and Feminism appears in each scene of A Raisin in the Sun. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Scene length:

Gender and Feminism 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 Gender and Feminism.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Walter: See there, that just goes to show you what women understand about the world. Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ‘less you pay somebody off!
Ruth: Walter, leave me alone! Eat your eggs, they gonna be cold.
Walter: That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say – Your eggs is getting cold!

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Ruth Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 33-34
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs midway through a discussion between Walter Younger and his wife Ruth. Their son Travis has gone to school and Ruth cooks breakfast for Walter. As she cooks, Walter tells Ruth that he hopes to use his deceased father’s $10,000 life insurance money to invest in a down payment on a liquor store with his friends, Willy Harris and Bobo. Ruth is wary of the investment. She doesn’t trust Willy and Bobo and continuously evades discussing the prospect of Walter using his father’s money on an investment. She finally tells him to leave her alone and he reacts with frustration at both his wife and his own position in life; a black man in the 1950’s trying to provide for his family.

This is the first time Hansberry touches on the idea of dreams and dreaming in A Raisin In The Sun, as well as differentiates between the dreams of men and the dreams of women. This scene highlights Walter’s aspirations for wealth and thereby an escape from his family’s poor Southside Chicago life. He is filled with hope and a deep longing for financial stability. This moment also underlines Walter’s continual feeling of being out of control and at the mercy of others. He is a chauffeur for a wealthy white family, and his mother is the sole inheritor of the $10,000, and so she will ultimately have the final say. In the time-period of the play, men were expected to lead and provide for their families, so Walter, who is the only man in the family but neither the final decision-maker nor the primary breadwinner, feels emasculated. He needs dreams in order to survive and retain his dignity. Ruth on the other hand is pragmatic, as women had to be at the time. Her aspirations are less expansive. For her, survival means cooking breakfast, making sure her son gets to school and she and her husband get to work. Thus, she responds to Walter’s big dreams with the utilitarian and simple task of "eat your eggs." As a woman (particularly a black woman) in this time period, she doesn’t have room to dream the way Walter dreams.


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other A Raisin in the Sun quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

That is just what is wrong with the colored women in this world . . . Don’t understand about building their men up and making ‘em feel like they somebody. Like they can do something.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Just before this quote, Walter expressed frustration at Ruth telling him to “eat your eggs” instead of discussing his potential investment on a liquor store. After he explains why he wants to invest, Ruth tells him that the money he plans to use doesn’t  belong to him (it belongs to his mother). Walter responds with a moment of deep sensitivity. He explains that he wants a better life. He wants to be able to provide for his family. He goes on to tell Ruth that he has heard stories of the way “white people live” and wants a life like that. Ruth is tired of hearing these lofty dreams and tells Walter that he never really says anything new. He talks about his dreams and his place and she is seemingly bored and sick of it.

This quote is Walter's response. He tells Ruth that her refusal to take him or his dreams seriously is the problem with “colored women in this world.” This highlights both the themes of race and gender in A Raisin In The Sun. In 1950s America, a woman’s role was to uplift and support her husband. Ruth, in her stern and outspoken manner, is the antithesis of such behavior. Walter also draws a racial comparison suggesting that white women do behave in such a way, with the implication that it is this behavior of white women that helps white men to hold such positions of power.

Walter is frustrated by the position of black people in society and is also making fun of his wife for not fitting into the standard gender role of "mother" and "housewife." In his own way, Walter is trying to hash out why and how upward mobility seems so hard for black men. Yet in searching for something tangible to blame—and landing on black women as the cause—he fails to see the true cause: systemic racism that restricts the opportunities of black people and in doing so degrades their sense of dignity. 

Walter: Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people – then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet . . .
Beneatha: Well – you finally got it said . . . It took you three years but you finally got it said.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Beneatha Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Walter chastises his 20-year-old sister Beneatha for wanting to be a doctor. Before this, Beneatha wakes up in the room she shares her mother and comes out to talk with her family. Already in a fit of frustration regarding the insurance money, Walter suggests that his mother will play favorites and give a portion of the $10,000 to Beneatha to finish her schooling. He is both frustrated that his mother holds control of the money and bitter that a portion of it will go to his sister. 

This moment excavates themes of gender and feminism and dreams and dreaming. A Raisin In The Sun is set in the mid-1950s, a time where women weren’t seen as leaders in the workplace. Instead of doctors, they were more commonly nurses. Instead of business owners,  they were secretaries. Many were housewives and mothers. Beneatha challenges the socially constructed expectations of both her gender and her race. As a black woman pursuing a career in medicine, she fights stereotypes and aspires to go beyond what is culturally expected and even acceptable.

Beneatha and Walter are more similar than they both think. Both of their aspirations extend beyond what society expects of them. However, Walter sees Beneatha’s role as exclusively mother and wife. Beneatha, on the other hand, doesn’t take Walter’s dream of opening a liquor store seriously. This moment is just the beginning of what will be an ongoing discourse between Walter and Beneatha regarding the validity of one another's dreams. 

Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena.

Related Characters: Ruth Younger (speaker), Lena Younger (Mama), Walter Lee Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs during a conversation between Mama and Ruth. After breakfast, Walter exits the apartment and we are introduced to “Mama” or Lena Younger—Walter and Beneatha’s mother. She enters complaining about how loudly Walter slammed the door, and then goes through a series of questions and commands. She checks in about how Walter is doing and makes jokes about her children. It becomes clear that the role of mother is etched in her soul. This seems appropriate as she remains mostly nameless throughout the play, primarily referred to as “Mama.” In a moment alone, Ruth tells Mama that Beneatha and Walter have been fighting about the insurance money. Ruth then asks Mama how she actually plans on using that money. Mama dismisses this, but Ruth suggests that maybe gambling on the liquor store isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Mama asks why she’s changed her mind.

In response, Ruth suggests that she can’t give Walter what he needs; a chance to fulfill his own dreams. Ruth is exhausted and tired of working for hardly any pay, and in this moment shares that she wants more for herself, in the same way Walter and Beneatha do. Except as as more traditional wife and mother, Ruth's dreams are her husband’s dreams. She hopes to fix the problems in her marriage by helping Walter fulfill his dreams, and for this he needs the insurance money.

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.

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. 

Well – well! – All I can say is – if this is my time in life – MY TIME – to say good-bye – to these goddamned cracking walls! – and these marching roaches! – and this cramped little closet which ain’t now or never was no kitchen! . . . then I say it loud and good, HALLELUJAH! AND GOOD-BYE MISERY . . . I DON’T NEVER WANT TO SEE YOUR UGLY FACE AGAIN!

Related Characters: Ruth Younger (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs when Mama re-enters the house after being gone for several hours. Walter asks her where she's been, and she replies that she went downtown for "business," She calls Travis to the room and reveals to the family that she has used the insurance money to make a down payment on a house. Walter "turns away from all of them in fury" while Ruth, Travis, and Mama celebrate.

Mama then wails "Praise GOD" and asks Walter, who has been silent, to please be happy for her. Mama then describes the house in detail. Ruth asks Mama where the house is located, and Mama tells her it's in Clybourne park. Ruth is shocked, as Clybourne park is an all-white neighborhood. Mama replies that it was the nicest and cheapest house she could find. Ruth recovers and says the following quote with excitement and joy. She expresses her joy to be leaving their tiny apartment and screams goodbye to the pain and tumult the Younger family faced while living there. 

In this moment we see one of Ruth's dreams come to fruition. She is thrilled to say goodbye to her two-bedroom Southside Chicago home and move forward, to a better home and a better life for Travis and her unborn child. Here, Hansberry suggests that the decision to have an abortion was a product of Ruth's poverty, not her will. This is another moment of female pragmatism and self sacrifice for the family. Furthermore, in an act of empowerment, Mama has made the decision to spend the insurance money on a new home. She has solidified herself as head of household, something uncommon during the 1950s.

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 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. Walter – what you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. . . . There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. . . . I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Mama tells Walter that she finally understands where his anger and frustration is coming from. Before this quote, Mama used her deceased husband's life insurance money for a down payment on a new house in Clybourne Park. Mrs. Arnold, Walter's boss, then calls to tell Walter that if he doesn't show up for work tomorrow he will be fired. Ruth and Mama learn that Walter hasn't been to work in three days. Mama asks Walter what he's been doing, and Walter tells her that he's been borrowing Willy Harris' car, driving through Illinois, and drinking at The Green Hat—a Jazz club—every afternoon. He has given up on his job and, in many ways, himself. He is lost. 

This moment reveals Walter's complete loss of pride and deep need for escape. Mama blames herself and tells Walter that she was the one who did this to him. Here, Hansberry touches on the gender roles put in place during the time period in which A Raisin In The Sun was written. By taking control of the insurance money, Mama has emasculated Walter. He is the man, and so by cultural standards is supposed to be the "head of household," and the one to decide how to allocate finances.  Mama laments that she has been doing "what the rest of the world been doing,"—depriving Walter of his manhood and keeping him from his dreams and his pride. After she says this she hands Walter the $6,500  left over from the down payment on the house. Mama asks him to put some away for Beneatha's schooling and use the rest however he wants, even for his investment on the liquor store. Mama has relinquished her role and, in order to save Walter, offers him control over the money. 

Act 3 Quotes

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.