Critical Lens Essay On A Raisin In The Sun

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “A Raisin in the Sun” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “Raisin in the Sun” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Roles of Dreams in A Raisin in the Sun

Each of the characters in the Younger family has a particular individual dream. One wants to move to a bigger home, one wants to attend medical school, one wants to rise above his conditions though does not necessarily have a plan to do so. Each person’s dream serves an important psychological function (i.e.: hope, motivation, direction) for the character; however, the dreams also divide the characters, creating conflict among them. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the adaptive and divisive functions of dreams in A Raisin in the Sun. Consider whether there was a way to make each individual dream compatible with others’ dreams. If so, explain why the characters did not identify this alternative.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Significance of the Title “A Raisin in the Sun”

The title of Hansberry’s play makes a direct reference to the Langston Hughes poem, “A Dream Deferred." “What happens to a dream deferred?" asked Hughes. “Does it shrivel up like a raisin in the sun?" Consider the conclusion of “A Raisin in the Sun”—or lack of one—and write a persuasive essay on “A Raisin in the Sun” in which you attempt to convince the reader that Hansberry does or does not answer Hughes’s question through the actions of her play. Explain the significance of the play’s title as part of your discussion.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Development of the Younger Family

One of the most important themes in “A Raisin in the Sun” is the unity of the family. Initially, the Youngers are presented as a family that is loving but which experiences conflicts that intensify over the course of the play. Yet by the play’s end, the family members have been able to surmount their differences and support one another in the fight for a common cause: that of overcoming the racial discrimination they face as they prepare for their move to a new home in a neighborhood that was exclusively white. Write an expository essay on “A Raisin in the Sun” in which you observe how the Younger family develops, both as individual family members and as a family unit, during the play. Explain what variables supported this outcome, as opposed to a tragic ending.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 Gender Issues in A Raisin in the Sun

Generally speaking, the male characters in A Raisin in the Sun are portrayed as irresponsible (Walter), lacking in direction or authenticity (Joseph and George), or hostile (Mr. Lindner), while the female characters are responsible (Mama), ambitious and disciplined (Ruth), and supportively nurturing (Ruth). Write an essay in which you identify the gender dynamics in the play, considering whether the gender roles are as rigid or scripted as they appear to be. If you agree that the male characters represent mostly negative qualities while the female characters represent mostly positive characteristics, explain what Hansberry’s reason for employing such gender stereotypes might be. Additionally, indicate whether the stereotypes are open to changing by the play’s end. If so, identify the variables that made change possible.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of Minor Characters in “A Raisin in the Sun”

Oftentimes, seemingly minor characters can actually have great significance to either the meaning or the actions of the play. In A Raisin in the Sun there is a handful of minor characters, including George and Joseph, who are significant to the play. Choose one or more of the minor characters in A Raisin in the Sun and write an essay in which you analyze the roles that they play in the development of the thematic content of A Raisin in the Sun. Assess whether the inclusion of these minor characters is necessary to develop the play’s message.


This list of important quotations from “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Raisin in the Sun” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Raisin in the Sun” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “A Raisin in the Sun” by Loraine Hansberry they are referring to.

“That’s it. There you are. A man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. " (15)

Her speech is a mixture of many things; it is different from the rest of the family’s insofar as education has permeated her sense of English…." (17)

“Ain’t many girls who decide—to be a doctor." (18)

“Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you—why can’t you do something for the family?" (19)

“‘Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams….’" (29)

“Yes, [he was] a fine man—just couldn’t never catch up with his dreams that’s all." (30)

“I don’t go out with you to discuss the nature of ‘quiet desperation’ or to hear all about your thoughts—because the world will go on thinking what it thinks regardless–" (89)

“There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing….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 it is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learnin’…."(135)

“Yes, death done come in this here house…. Done come walking in my house. On the lips of my children. You what supposed to be my beginning again. You—what supposed to be my harvest." (134)

“No….You teach him good….You show where our five generations done come to." (137)

Reference: Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Random House, 1959.

A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. It enjoyed a successful run and won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. It has been staged many times by regional and university theaters since its first production in 1959, and it had a Broadway revival in 2004. It has been adapted for film three times: A 1961 version starred Sidney Poitier as Walter, an American Playhouse television production in 1989 featured Danny Glover in that role, and a 2008 television film starred Sean Combs.

Lorraine Hansberry’s play confronts crucial issues that have faced African Americans: the fragmentation of the family, the black male’s quest for manhood, and the problems of integration. Like Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (pr. 1944), Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (pr., pb. 1949), Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (pr., pb. 1956), and other classic American plays, A Raisin in the Sun is fundamentally a family drama. Lena, the family matriarch, is attempting to keep her family together in difficult circumstances. She is the family’s moral center, urging her children to end their quarreling, accept their responsibilities, and love and support each other. That the Youngers pull together in the closing scenes is more a credit to Lena than to her spirited but sometimes inconsiderate children, Walter and Beneatha. By allowing Lena to play this central role in the Younger family, Hansberry asserts the importance of the mother figure in the African American family.

An equally absorbing development in Hansberry’s drama is Walter’s quest for manhood. As the play opens, his father—Big Walter—has recently died, and Walter wants more than anything else to take his father’s place as head of the family. Walter’s job as a white man’s chauffeur gives him a feeling of inferiority, and his wish to purchase a liquor store is an assertion of economic independence, a desire to provide for his family and live out his version of the American Dream. Walter’s selfishness and irresponsibility, however, prevent him from becoming the legitimate head of the family, and only in the end, when he vanquishes Linder and asserts his family’s pride, is Walter able to achieve his manhood.

The play also confronts the problems of racial integration that African Americans faced throughout the twentieth century. As the play opens, the Youngers are trapped in a Chicago tenement, unable to break an invisible barrier that keeps them from the white suburban neighborhood. Linder’s attempt to bribe the Youngers into observing the unwritten rules of northern segregation vividly illustrates the problems that even upwardly mobile black families had when they attempted to leave the inner city and move into the mainly white suburbs. Walter’s decision not to sell out to Linder and the white neighbors he represents is an act of heroism and an act of protest. As the play ends, the Youngers assert their rights as American citizens by choosing to live where they please.

Hansberry’s play is realistic in setting, characterization, and dialogue. In addition to confronting universal African American issues, it reflects the circumstances of African Americans in the 1950’s, at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. The doors of opportunity, if not wide open, had at least been unlocked for black Americans. Jackie Robinson had integrated baseball’s major leagues, and the U.S. Supreme Court had outlawed school segregation. Hence Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor is a realistic one, as is Walter’s dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

These opportunities, however, create tensions and competition in the Younger family, dramatized by Walter’s verbal battles with his mother and sister and Beneatha’s arguments with her mother. Moreover, the elusiveness of these dreams creates frustration that leads to bitterness. The play’s title comes from a line in a Langston Hughes poem: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ Like a raisin in the sun?” Although the play ends on a euphoric note, with the Youngers fulfilling the traditional American Dream of owning a home in the suburbs, there is no guarantee that their future will be trouble-free.

The play also captures the spirit of the budding feminist movement. Hansberry was the contemporary of feminist writers such as Adrienne Rich and Gloria Steinem, and the playwright reflects their dissatisfaction with traditional feminine roles in the post-World War II years. Beneatha’s desire to become a physician, an occupation pursued by relatively few women in the 1950’s, and her rejection of the conventional life she would lead as the wife of George Murchison suggest her rebellion against the conventions that kept women in the home or restricted to traditionally female occupations such as nursing and teaching. Beneatha’s fascination with Asagai and her African heritage forecast the celebration of black Americans’ African roots that would occur in the 1960’s.

The success of A Raisin in the Sun opened theater doors to other African American dramatists such as James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, and Ntozake Shange. Unfortunately, the promise suggested by Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun was never completely fulfilled. She wrote a handful of plays after A Raisin in the Sun, but none received equal critical attention, and she died of cancer before her thirty-fifth birthday.

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