A Raisin in the Sun

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Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Analysis

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.
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon

In 1959 much of the United States, including Chicago, remained de facto segregated, meaning that racial segregation persisted in education, employment, and housing even though the Supreme Court had overturned segregation that was established by law as unconstitutional. Set in de facto segregated Chicago, Hansberry’s play draws on stories from the author’s own life, such as her family’s experience with housing discrimination in 1930s Chicago. After moving to a house in an all-white neighborhood, Hansberry’s family endured legal battles and physical threats not unlike the “bombs” that Walter, Ruth, and Mrs. Johnson reference in the play. Despite the suggestion by Karl Lindner that “race prejudice simply doesn't enter into” Clybourne Park’s offer to buy back the Youngers’ home, he hints at the very real dangers that accompany the family’s decision to relocate to a white neighborhood.

Certain characters in the play, such as George Murchison, address persistent racial discrimination by directing their efforts toward assimilation, whereby one integrates into the mainstream of society. Beneatha, declaring that she “hate[s] assimilationist Negroes,” condemns George as “ashamed of his heritage” when he initially scoffs at her close-cut, “natural” hair. George retorts that the “heritage” in which Beneatha takes such pride is “nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!” With this argument, Hansberry gives voice to the varied opinions of African-American thinkers, such as Booker T. Washington (who argued in favor of gradual assimilation of African Americans) and Marcus Garvey (who championed pride in African heritage and called for African Americans to return to Africa).

In the same vein as Garvey, Hansberry explores the idea of Africa as a home for African Americans, a view most clearly articulated by Joseph Asagai, a Nigerian student. Following the loss of Walter’s investment Asagai suggests that a disheartened Beneatha “come home with me . . . to Africa.” Asagai’s suggestion that Beneatha move to Nigeria with him to explore her African roots reflected the surge in African studies that gained momentum in the late 1950s. While Beneatha shows genuine interest in her African heritage, she does not answer Asagai’s proposal within the context of the play, hinting that she may not go so far as to think of Africa as her “home.”

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Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation appears in each scene of A Raisin in the Sun. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation 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 Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

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. 


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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. 

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Oh, dear, dear, dear! Here we go! A lecture on the African past! On our Great West African Heritage! In one second we will hear all about the great Ashanti empires; the great Songhay civilizations; and the great sculpture of Bénin – and then some poetry in the Bantu – and the whole monologue will end with the word heritage! Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!

Related Characters: George Murchison (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Beneatha enters the living room, clad in the Nigerian robes that Asagai has given her. She changes the record Ruth is playing, saying “Enough of this assimilation junk,” puts on a Nigerian record, and dances. Ruth teases Beneatha for her behavior, but Beneatha keeps dancing. Walter then enters the apartment after a night of drinking. He drunkenly dances along with Beneatha, and then turns to see George Murchison, Beneatha’s suitor, at the door. Shocked by her appearance, George looks at Beneatha’s robes and asks her to change. She then takes off the headdress to reveal natural, curly hair cut short. George and Ruth are stunned that Beneatha proudly wears her hair in its natural form. In a moment of awe, George says, "What have you done to your head?" Beneatha answers matter-of-factly that she's cut her hair off. George then tells Beneatha that she isn’t making a statement—she’s just being eccentric. Making a jab at George, Beneatha replies that she “hates assimilationist negroes,” describing them (and thereby George) as people who give up their own culture to survive in an oppressive one. George replies with this quote, which infuriates Beneatha. 

Here, George expresses his exhaustion with Beneatha's newfound "Back to Africa" sentiments, and even pokes fun at the heritage they share. In this moment, Hansberry distills an important cultural conversation that was happening during the time A Raisin In The Sun was written. In the 1950s and 60s, many Civil Rights leaders like Malcolm X reinforced the idea that black people should reclaim their African heritage. Many believed that assimilating to American culture meant assimilating to White culture, and thus submitting to the oppressor. However, others believed that in order to close the racial gap in America, people had to come together. Some simply felt that making a statement like Beneatha's was petty and unnecessary. George represents this group of people. He is in many ways self-hating and discriminatory against his own heritage. George prides himself on his education and upward mobility, and sees Beneatha's act of expression as childish and silly.

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 2, Scene 3 Quotes

But you’ve got to admit that a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have a neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way. And at the moment the overwhelming majority of our people out there feel that people get along better, take more of a common interest in the life of the community, when they share a common background. I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.

Related Characters: Karl Lindner (speaker)
Page Number: 117-118
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is spoken by Mr. Lindner, a representative from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. Before this moment, the Youngers have been riding the coattails of the excitement that came from Mama's purchase of the new house. As they celebrate, Mr. Lindner knocks on the door. He comes into the Younger home to tell them that the homeowners of Clybourne Park are uncomfortable with a "different" family moving in—so much so that they are offering to purchase the house from the Younger family at a higher price than what they've paid. This is an effort to maintain Clybourne Park as a community of people with "common interests," or simply put: to make sure that black people do not move in. 

Although not outwardly derogatory, Mr. Lindner's efforts to maintain racial segregation in Clybourne Park are inherently racist. The white families of Clybourne Park do not see black people as equals and thereby do not believe that they deserve to live in their neighborhoods. Mr. Lindner tries to be as politically correct as possible, but the message is clear: the status quo in Clybourne Park is that of white supremacy, and the members of the community want to maintain that status quo. Although sugar coated in flowery language and nervousness, Mr.Lindner symbolizes the abundant discrimination and racism of American society in the 1950s—racism that exhibited itself in many ways, not just in outright violence or insulting language. 

Act 3 Quotes

Independence and then what? What about all the crooks and thieves and just plain idiots who will come into power and steal and plunder the same as before – only now they will be black and do it in the name of the new Independence – WHAT ABOUT THEM?!

Related Characters: Beneatha Younger (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this quote, Asagai has returned to the Younger home to help Beneatha with packing for the big move. Beneatha tells Asagai that Walter has lost rest of the insurance money. Asagai asks her how this makes her feel, and she replies, "Me, I'm nothing." Beneatha tells Asagai that when she was a child, she discovered she wanted to be a doctor when she saw a little boy get badly cut on the face while sledding. She realized then that "fixing" someone else was the most "marvelous thing in the world." Beneatha goes on to tell Asagai that after today, she's learned that there are things in this world that can't be fixed. Mankind is sick with something that seems incurable. Asagai tries to help, but Beneatha tells him that his "Back to Africa" ideals are silly and that they won't cure anything. Asagai is the ultimate idealist, but what comes after his ideas of independence? What is the point of fighting if people don't seem to ever change?  

Here we see Beneatha's tenacity and passion for self-discovery deflated by the loss of the insurance money. Without the money for her education she feels aimless, like she has lost who she is, and the result of this is that she feels betrayed by humanity itself.

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. 

Talking ‘bout life, Mama. . . . Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” I’ve figured it out finally. Yeah. Some of us always getting “tooken.”

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Lena Younger (Mama)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this quote Mama tells the family that she doesn't think it's wise to move to Clybourne Park anymore. Ruth begs her not to make that decision. She tells Mama that she will work twenty hours a day with her newborn baby on her back but she must leave their Southside Chicago apartment. Walter enters and tells Mama and Ruth that he has made a call to "The Man" (Mr. Lindner).  He is going to invite him back to the house to do business with him. He goes on to say that he's realized that life is about people who take and people who are taken from. He then goes on to tell Mama and Ruth that he is going to "put on a show" for Lindner, perform as the stereotypical black man and give him what he wants to see, hoping that Lindner will pay a larger amount of money for the house so that the Youngers will make back the $10,000 they've lost. 

Here, Walter reasserts himself as the head of household. He also finally admits, although in a roundabout way, that he made a poor decision by giving up a large portion of the insurance money. This is his effort to fix the problem he's caused. However in doing so, by degrading himself before Mr. Lindner Walter is also stripping himself of his own identity, assimilating to the image of an inferior stereotype.

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. 

Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ‘cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so!

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger, Beneatha Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote happens after Walter tells the family that he has asked Mr.Lindner to return to discuss striking a deal. Walter plans to negotiate with Lindner and try to make the money that he lost on his liquor store investment back.

Mama and Beneatha are devastated by this. Beneatha criticizes Walter for stooping so low that he would make a deal with a man who sees them as unfit to live in his community. Mama then reprimands Beneatha for her lack of empathy. She is upset that her children have been so selfish. Mama explains that she thought that she taught her children to love each other no matter what. In a time when the Younger family has had to face so much prejudice for simply being who they are, Mama begs Beneatha to love and empathize with her brother. He doesn't have anyone else, and in the face of so much poverty, racism, and bad luck, the family has to stick together.

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.