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A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
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A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

by Lorraine Hansberry

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Originally posted at https://reallifereading.com/2017/02/03/back-to-the-classics-a-raisin-in-the-sun/

Don’t laugh, but for the longest time, I thought this play/musical had to do with erm, farming. I’d heard of it, but have never seen the play or the musical or the film.

It takes its name from this Langston Hughes poem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes, Harlem (Dream Deferred)

What an amazing poem.

A Raisin in the Sun is a story about a black family living in Chicago’s South Side – Walter and his wife Ruth, their son Travis, Walter’s mother and sister Beneatha all live together in a small rundown apartment.

“Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room.”

Walter’s father has recently died, and they’re waiting for a life insurance cheque of $10,000. Walter plans to invest that in a liquor store with some acquaintances. But his mother puts most of it into a new house – one in an all-white neighbourhood. Unfortunately their soon-to-be new neighbours want none of that, and a representative arrives offering to buy them out. This man who asks the family:

“What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.”

The plot echoes Hansberry’s own experience. When she was 8, her father Carl Hansberry bought a house in a subdivision restricted to whites, and their neighbours got an injunction to have them vacate the house. Carl Hansberry challenged the ruling, bringing about the case Hansberry vs Lee.

This play set many precedents. After difficulty securing funding, a location, the play opened on March 11, 1959, and A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, with a black director, and a black cast (except for one minor character), including Sidney Poitier. What a feat for that time, when theatergoers were mostly white. According to a 1999 New York Times article, Hansberry once told a reporter that Broadway’s perception of black people involved ”cardboard characters, cute dialect bits, or hip-swinging musicals from exotic scores.”

A Raisin in the Sun ended up playing for 19 months on Broadway. Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, and the 1973 musical was adapted from the play. It really was a play that made history.

As James Baldwin said in his introduction to Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black, published after her death:

“…I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater. And the reason was that never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theater because the theater had always ignored them.”

A true American classic. ( )
  RealLifeReading | Feb 4, 2017 |
I love this play. It is one of my favorites. This wonderful play is about a hardworking family which accurately depicts the struggles, joys, and dreams of an average African-American family. This book should be read for its clear and precise writing.
  clintonp | Dec 26, 2016 |
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry Despite that this is a classic that would have been relevant in almost any American Lit class, of which I've been in several between high school and getting an English degree, it only hit my radar on account of Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home. That book talks about this play, and it's point on the commentary produced about the play is best summed by this quote:

Audiences easily grasp A Raisin in the Sun’s statement about the relationship between blacks and whites and their battle over space. However, little attention is paid to its clear statement about women’s roles in the struggle for equality.

Personally,  I would urge any new readers to remember to think of this as they read it. I certainly had both running through my head, and they are distinct within the play. They are woven together brilliantly. The differences in the generational aspirations also provide tension and remind the reader that the black community in America has endured a lot and that each generation had set an entirely different goal towards equality to achieve. Though I am not black, I can relate a bit to those generational differences. I only realized recently how much of my indepedence I've taken for granted that have come from having access to the pill. Just because I have access, that doesn't mean that fight is over, other women still don't. Also, I still don't have absolute equality and women are overall still in a larger struggle. I feel like the story of the play sits in a similar place. The children grew up with things that the parents didn't have and couldn't grasp their parents aspirations. But the children know that there is still so much further to go and the parents are tired and happier with what they've achieved than the children can realize. And on and on it goes for all our intersections. The women of this play still have more battles to wage on multiples fronts. 
 
I enjoyed reading the play for all these reasons and that it was genuinely entertaining. I love Ruth and Mama and their relationship. I don't find that kind of relationship with in-laws in much literature or in talking to many people, and I hope it's not lost.  ( )
  Calavari | Sep 28, 2016 |
Yet again another classic that I have never read or even seen. This one is pretty shameful, I've heard nothing but praise for this play and after reading it I can certainly see why. I definitely need to see it as well now. This play brings to life a young black husband and his family as they try to improve their living situation. It's honest, humanizing, and soulful; it explores the trials and tribulations of a black family in Chicago. Even though this play came out over five decades ago it's still holds true and remains relatable. The human dream of improving one's life is the American story and this play beautifully captures that. A wonderful read. ( )
  ecataldi | Sep 15, 2016 |
A play about the hope of the American Dream, race relations, and family, A Raisin in the Sun is a touching tribute to the African-American working class experience. The Youngers are faced with a difficult situation after the passing of the family patriarch and the insurance money he has left behind. Walter, Ruth, Beneatha, Mama and the other characters are well developed and incredibly memorable. You feel for their struggle but have hope for their future. Absolute classic. ( )
  trile1000 | Aug 29, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hansberry, Lorraineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davis, OssieReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dee, RubyReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gresham, JoiForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kutsch, ArthurEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nemiroff, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/ Like a raisin in the sun?/Or fester like a sore-/ And then run?/ Does it stink like rotten meat/ Or crust and sugar over-/Like a syrupy sweet?/ Maybe it just sags/ Like a heavy load/ Or does it explode?
Dedication
To Mama: In gratitude for the dream
First words
The Younger living room would be a comfortable and well-ordered room if it were not for a number of indestructible contradictions to this state of being.
Quotations
And we have decided to move into our hous- 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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679755330, Mass Market Paperback)

This groundbreaking play starred Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeill, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands in the Broadway production which opened in 1959. Set on Chicago's South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis and matriarch Lena, called Mama. When her deceased husband's insurance money comes through, Mama dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans, however: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school.

The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. Sacrifice, trust and love among the Younger family and their heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration. Winner of the NY Drama Critic's Award as Best Play of the Year, it has been hailed as a "pivotal play in the history of the American Black theatre." by Newsweek and "a milestone in the American Theatre." by Ebony.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:52 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

When it was first produced in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was awarded the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for that season and hailed as a watershed in American drama. A pioneering work by an African-American playwright, the play was a radically new representation of black life. "A play that changed American theater forever."… (more)

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