Research Paper: Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

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Raisin in the Sun

In 1937, when playwright Lorraine Hansberry was just seven years old, a mob arrived at the Chicago home she shared with her parents and three siblings. The tension was terrible as the white neighborhood "improvement association" insisted the black family could not live there, as they were in violation of a "race restrictive covenant" (Gordon 121). Although the crowd was eventually dispersed without incident, Hansberry later recalled that her mother spent the night clutching a loaded German luger, fearful that the mob would return. The Hansberrys, with the help of local NAACP attorneys, took the fight to the Supreme Court. In 1940, the Court ruled in the Hansberrys' favor (Hansberry v. Lee) on a technicality and failed to address the constitutionality of the covenants themselves. It was not until the 1948 ruling Shelly v. Kramer that racial covenants were declared unconstitutional (Gordon 121). This early experience had an understandably profound experience on Lorraine Hansberry; a decade after Shelly v. Kramer she wrote A Raisin in the Sun, a drama that chronicled the path of the Younger family as they tried to lift themselves out of a life of poverty and segregation. The title of the play is taken from a line in a poem by Langston Hughes. He compared a dream that has waited too long to a raisin drying in the sun (Ardolino 2005).

A Raisin in the Sun was groundbreaking for several reasons. The play itself dealt with controversial topics. The overarching theme of the story was segregation, rampant in the South and in many ways still rampant in the North, although largely unacknowledged. Within the play there is a secondary storyline in which Ruth considers having an abortion. Abortions were illegal in the United States at the time the play was written and then, as now, generates heated debate on both sides of the question.

The play was also groundbreaking as a Broadway production. Financial backers had serious doubts whether a play written, directed and starring African-Americans could have sufficient appeal to theater-going audiences, the majority of whom were white.

As it turned out, their fears were largely unfounded. Although critics' reviews were mixed, the play's off-Broadway run was considered successful enough to bring the production to Broadway. The play was nominated for four Tony awards, including Best Play, Best Actor in a Play (Sidney Poitier), Best Actress in a Play (Claudia McNeil) and Best Director (Lloyd Richards). Lloyd Richards was also Broadway's first African-American director. The film version, released in 1961, featured the original Broadway cast (albeit with a different director). The film garnered several Golden Globe nominations. A musical version of the play, called simply Raisin, won a Tony for Best Musical in 1974. Made-for-TV films appeared in 1989 and 2008, and a Broadway revival in 2004 gave former rapper Sean Combs an opportunity to make his stage debut supported by such veterans as Audra McDonald and Phylicia Rashad (Wikipedia). The play has endured through all of these incarnations because it is beautifully written, featuring strong characters with whom audience members can empathize. The play also provides a window on a terrible period in American history; the play is a reminder of how far we have come as well as a reminder that the events on which the play is based did not happen all that long ago.

A Raisin in the Sun is set in the 1950s. As Gordon (121) points out, the story chronicles the war between "integration vs. assimilation." There was no official segregation in Chicago the way there was in the south, but whites and African-Americans were separated from each other socially and economically. In the play, the African-American Younger family yearns for a better life. When they receive an insurance check for $10,000 following the death of Walter Younger Sr., they view it as their chance to begin anew, although each member of the family has an idea of how this should be done.

Mama (Lena) is the widow of Walter Sr. And dreams of buying a house with a backyard in a better part of the city. She is the matriarch of the family, an idea that is emphasized with the recurring garden theme. Mama is a nurturer. She wants what is best for her family and believes that means a house with a garden. She nurtures a scrawny plant… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.  (2011, May 6).  Retrieved May 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/raisin-sun-lorraine-hansberry/7168512

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"Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry."  Essaytown.com.  May 6, 2011.  Accessed May 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/raisin-sun-lorraine-hansberry/7168512.