A Raisin in the Sun: Whose "American Dream"? (2024)

Content Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

NCSS.D2.His.6.3-5. Describe how people’s perspectives shaped the historical sources they created.

NCSS.D2.His.10.3-5. Compare information provided by different historical sources about the past.

NCSS.D2.Geo.3.6-8. Use paper based and electronic mapping and graphing techniques to represent and analyze spatial patterns of different environmental and cultural characteristics.

NCSS.D2.Geo.5.6-8. Analyze the combinations of cultural and environmental characteristics that make places both similar to and different from other places.


Activity 1. Conceptualizing "The American Dream"

The opening reflection and discussion can be done individually, as a pairing of 2-3 students, and/or with the use of a digital platform that allows students to share their thoughts on the compelling question in a collective space:What constitutes "The American Dream" and in whose interest does this concept exist?

  1. What is meant by and implied when discussing "The American Dream"?
  2. In what ways has what constitutes"The American Dream" changedover time? (That is, would someone in 1950 describe "The American Dream" in a similar way as someone today?)
  3. Is what is included within "The American Dream" unique to the United States?
  4. Why have some groups had more access to what is considered "The American Dream" than others?
  5. Should all people aspire to achieve "The American Dream"?

Lesson Activities

Activity 2. Building the context forA Raisin in the Sun

Before analyzing the following resources, draw upon the background you have established based on the documents and discussion completed for Activity 1 to design inquiry questions that help answer the guiding question:To what extent have the arts been informed by the social and political realitiesof the time and vice versa?

  • "Harlem": A 1951 poem by Langston Hughes in which the line"...like a raisin in the sun?" appears. You can alsoviewthis videoclip on Yale University'sexhibition: "Langston Hughes at 100" (scroll down to the third entry "Langston Hughes reading "Harlem").How do "dreams deferred" relate to "The American Dream"?
  • Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America.Analyze maps of Chicago and other major cities in the U.S. to learn about the intersections of race and geography in the 1930s and 40s and discuss how this informs one'sreading of the play.
  • NEH'sCreated Equal: Slavery by Another Name. Resources and analysis questionson Jim Crow during the New Deal era.
  • "The Black Laws"B.W. Arnett (American Memory Collection/African American Perspectives: The Progress of a People)
  • "Lynch Laws in Georgia" Ida B. Wells (American Memory Collection/African American Perspectives: The Progress of a People)

    Activity 3. Learning about Ms. Hansberry

    Before analyzing the following resources, draw upon the background you have established based on the documents and discussion completed for activities 1 and 2 to design inquiry questions that frame your analysis of the following texts.

    1. According to stanza 1 of Hughes' "Let America Be America Again," what does the poet want?
    2. What do stanza's 2, 4, 6, 12, and 16 have in common?
    3. What is the dream, who are the dreamers, and is the dream attainable?
    4. Compare the tone, theme, and perspective of "Let America Be America Again"with "Harlem"
    5. What was Ms. Hansberry's life like growing up?
    6. Based on the excerpts, what issues were importantto Hansberry?If she were alive today, what causes might she support?
    7. According to Hansberry, what is the purpose behind herplay,A Raisin in the Sun?


    Imagine a conversation between Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry on a theme that has emerged from their lives and work. What would they talk about? What might they say? What would they create?

    Activity 4. The Youngers and "The American Dream"

    UseHansberry's play to respond to the guiding question:How doesA Raisin in the Sun mirror and provide a window intothe intersections of race and the social,political, and economicclimate of the U.S. during the mid-twentieth century?

    Given what we have learned about Hansberry, Jim Crow, and the African American Experience between 1850 and 1954, why do you think Hansberry chose to use a play to illustrate the experiences of African Americans at the time?

    Engage students in a dramatic reading of the play while also discussing stage design, costuming, stage directions, and how the research students have conducted qualifies as dramaturgy work in the theater. In doing so, students are part of a decision making process that draws them into the staging as well as the performance of the play. For example: IfA Raisin in the Sunwere staged today, who would students cast for each role?

    At the end of each Act, have students work in groups to analyzethe play while also referring to research and their own creative insights for how subsequent scenescan be staged.

    Characterization. Use the "Character Analysis"handout (downloadable as a PDF) to record important information about each member of the Younger family.

    • How is "The American Dream" expressed in each member of the Younger family: Walter, Ruth, Lena (Mama), and Beneatha?
    • How do the supporting characters, George Murchinson and Joseph Assaigai, add to our understanding of the Younger family members?

    Plot/Conflict. Use the "Plot Outline"handout (downloadable as a PDF) to map the dramatic structure of the central conflict.

    • Explain the existing conflicts between the Younger family members, Mama and Walter, Walter & Ruth, and Walter and Beneatha, the Youngers and society.
    • How are these conflicts associated with the American Dream and a dream deferred?

    Symbolism. Use the "Analyzing Symbols Chart"handout (downloadable as a PDF) to analyze the symbolic elements below.

    • Joseph Assaigai, George Murchinson, Ruth's Pregnancy, Beneatha's hair, Mr. Lindner, the new house, the money from the insurance policy, and Lena's plant. In what sense are these people, events, and/or objects symbolic? How do they further our understanding of the play?


    • Explain George's allusion to Walter as Prometheus. Have students go online to EDSITEment-reviewed The Perseus Project and use the Greek and Roman MaterialsPerseus Encyclopedia to refresh their knowledge of Greek Mythology and the figure of Prometheus. According to Greek mythology, who is Prometheus? What does Walter have in common with Prometheus? How does this allusion help us to understand Walter's role in the family? How does this allusion help us to understand Walter's conflict with Mama and the rest of the family? How does this allusion help us understand Walter and the Younger family's quest for the American Dream?


    • Analyze the following quotes: "We ain't no business people Ruth, we just plain working folks."
    • "Once upon a time freedom used to be life now money is life," What important issues do they raise? How do these issues help us to understand the American Dream? How do these quotes help us to understand the Younger’s quest for the American Dream?


    Choose one of the following to bring together your reading of the play, the history you have researched and learned, and your own reflection on the relationship between the arts and society in order to answer either of the compelling questions:Why doesA Raisin in the Sunremain relevant today? orTo what extent have the arts been informed by the social and political realitiesof the time and vice versa?

    1. Rewrite the last scene of the playor add one more scene to end the play. In the newly added scene, address what happens to the Younger family six months after the original play concludes. Was the American Dream fulfilled, was it still deferred, or is it a work in progress?
    2. In a comic or graphic novel format, design a prequel or sequel to Hansberry's play by drawing upon events and phenomena relative to the long civil rights movement. Will you need new characters? What new perspectives will your creation bring to the narrative?
    3. Create a soundtrack forA Raisin in the Sunby using music from the time period of the play and from its historic debut on Broadway in 1959. Explain why the songs were chosen, the lyrical relationship between the songs and the poetry you analyzed during these lesson, and the cultural significance of the music and the play.
    4. The Youngers experienced what is known as redlining. Based on the maps analyzed during Activity 1 and research on local and state history, create updated maps that include current data on demographics, home ownership, and property taxes andinformation from newspaper articles about how the city and state were connected to the civil rights movement(available at Chronicling America).

    Lesson Extensions

    Reference Websites

    Each of the following documents are located on the same page ofAfrican American Odyssey: The Civil Rights Erafrom American Memory Collection

    Worksheets for this lesson (downloadable as PDFs)

    • Figurative Language Chart
    • Dramatic Elements
    • Character Analysis
    • Plot Outline
    • Analyzing Symbols Chart
    A Raisin in the Sun: Whose "American Dream"? (2024)


    Whose American Dream is in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Walter's American Dream was wealth which from what is in the play he was unsuccessful. At the very end of the play, Walter standing up for the family unites them and from what we read they end up happy and move into their new home.

    What is Beneatha's American Dream? ›

    Beneatha grieves for her dying dream of becoming a doctor. She no longer believes she can attain her goal because the source for tuition money has dried up. She explains that, in her view, curing people is a real way of providing miracles for others.

    Who achieves their dream in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Mama was the only person in the play whose hopes and dreams were fulfilled. She was able to get a house for herself, and her family, but Mama's dream came true because Beneatha and Walter's dreams were detained.

    How does A Raisin in the Sun challenge the American Dream? ›

    In A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family are an example of this struggle to achieve the American Dream. Despite their financial and social struggles, they have hope that one day they will be able to achieve a better life. The American Dream can differ for members of different social, ethnic, and economic classes.

    What is Fabiola's American Dream? ›

    The “dream” for Fabiola is to be happy. She has to figure out what this means, is it making a home in Detroit, and in America, or is it leaving everything and, in a way, ruining the lives of everyone she has made connections with in Detroit in hopes to get her mom back?

    Which character represents the American Dream? ›

    Gatsby pursues Daisy because for him she represents the ideals of the American Dream and by being with her, marrying her, and having her love, it pushes his past further away, allowing him access into the world of the elite: old money.

    How is Walter trying to pursue the American Dream? ›

    In general terms, Walter wants to rise above his class status to gain dignity, pride, and respect. In specific terms, he believes his dream can be achieved by opening a liquor store with some friends as joint investors.

    Does Beneatha achieve her dream? ›

    Beneatha's dream to be a doctor slowly fades over the course of the play, and by Act 3she is overcome with misery and nearly gives the dream up completely.

    Who dreams of owning a home in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Mama's Dream in A Raisin in the Sun. What is Mama's dream in A Raisin in the Sun? In Act I, Mama tells Ruth that when she was first married, she dreamed of owning her own home, fixing it up, and having a garden in the backyard. Throughout the play, Mama tends to a little houseplant that never gets enough sun.

    What is Hansberry's message about the American Dream? ›

    By the end of our time with the Youngers, the “raisin” takes on this new meaning. Hansberry is showing how the American Dream might never happen for one person, but can become the basis for another. In this way, the dream can adapt and survive even when it seems unviable on an individual level.

    How is the American Dream in A Raisin in the Sun similar to the American Dream in The Great Gatsby? ›

    An overarching dream between both novels is the desire of both the characters to be wealthy and to attain a respectable social standing. Both characters experience conflict in the pursuance of their dream. The American Dream is the idea that if you work hard enough and long enough, anything is possible.

    What are the symbols of the American Dream in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Throughout the play, symbols reinforce the Younger's journey to pursue the American Dream. Some of these symbols include: Mama's plant symbolizes her dream of owning a house and garden. Beneatha's hair symbolizes discovering African heritage and Black identity.

    Who is the dreamer in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Walter Younger

    The protagonist of the play. Walter is a dreamer. He wants to be rich and devises plans to acquire wealth with his friends, particularly Willy Harris. When the play opens, he wants to invest his father's insurance money in a new liquor store venture.

    What is Joseph Asagai's dream in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Proud of his African heritage, he hopes to return to Nigeria to help bring about positive change and modern advancements. He tries to teach Beneatha about her heritage as well. He stands in obvious contrast to Beneatha's other suitor, George Murchison, who has succeeded in life by assimilating to the white world.

    What is Travis American Dream in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    Quick answer: Travis doesn't have a clear dream like everyone else, but in act 1, scene 1, he expresses a drive to make money. He asks Ruth for fifty cents to bring to school, but she says she doesn't have it. He then asks multiple times if he can carry groceries outside the supermarket after school to earn the money.

    What is the African American dream in A Raisin in the Sun? ›

    A raisin in the sun reflects the life of the Youngers, a typical African-American family lived during the II-world war and it clearly portrays the dilemma of an African American family accurately and realistically in which each member had a deferred dream. Their dreams turn into dried up resembling a raisin in the sun.

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