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After reading A Raisin in the Sun and the cultural and historical contexts of the play’s subject matter, you should develop an interpretive question about a cultural or historical element of the play that can be read, understood, or interpreted in more than one way. To help you develop a question, consider the elements of literature and drama we have discussed in this course to date as well as the types of questions you have already been asked to answer about the play. If you are stuck, consider the points of the play that stand out to you—what is significant about them? (If you’re stuck, please see some suggestions below the assignment criteria).

Write an essay in which you answer an interpretive question about A Raisin in the Sun. Your interpretive question should be clear from the introduction (though it need not be in the form of a question—you may also describe it). Your thesis will provide an answer to the question, as well as forecast the organization of the rest of the paper. Use ample evidence in the form of analysis of quotations from both the text of the play and two of the contextual material to support your interpretive points. Your essay should be approximately 3 double-spaced pages, formatted in MLA style.

REMEMBER! Be sure to review the course materials we have studied about the conventions for writing about literature, and drama specifically.


Successful essays will:

Introduce and identify the play and the focus of the essay in the introduction.

Employ a clear thesis statement that summarizes your interpretation and forecasts the organization of the essay.

Address an audience of readers that are familiar with the story and author’s work but unfamiliar with your interpretation of it (in other words, you need not summarize the stories).

Follows the conventions for writing about drama.

Organize the paper and each paragraph effectively, given the purpose and audience.

Foreground your ideas and interpretation as main points (topic sentences about the interpretation).

Show your critical thinking about the play by supporting your ideas and paragraphs with textual evidence in the form of quotations from the play to support interpretations, and explication (explanation of your reasoning—how you understand and interpret the evidence).

Reference at least 2 of the cultural and historical contexts from the text.

Use Standard Edited American English.

Follow MLA formatting conventions.

Suggestions for Topics:

Much of the contextual materials refer to the historical experiences of African Americans in the Twentieth Century, specifically the Civil Rights Movement How does Hansberry’s play relate to the external historical contexts? In what way are the Youngers’ experiences representative of these contexts? How does each character represent a different aspect of or approach to the conflicts of the historical context?

How do the different contextual materials relate to the theme of dreams in the play?

How does the play reflect or reject gender roles contemporary to its publication?

In what ways does Africa or Africanness reflect the concerns of the play as well as its cultural contexts?

Read the assigned example essay in your textbook. (Keep in mind that it is an example of writing a research essay about a play, and not an exact example of the essay you are assigned.) Re-read the directions for Essay 3.

Write a rough outline of your essay that includes the following information. You may use any format that is helpful to your writing process.

What is your interpretive question that you plan to use as the basis for Essay 3?

What historical or cultural contexts do you plan to integrate into your essay?

What literary elements of the play do you plan to analyze in relationship to the historical and cultural contextual material?

At the end of the outline, answer the following question:

After reading the example and writing an outline of the assignment, what questions about the essay do you have about the assigned essay

need one page outline

Hansberry’s play offers you the perfect opportunity to think further about how historical and cultural contexts shape literary texts and how those texts speak both to
their historical moment and to ours. To help you make the most of that opportunity,
the rest of this chapter contains the text of the play, some of Hansberry’s comments
on it, as well as a timeline and contextual materials. Most of those materials focus
on three interrelated, but distinct, topics. The first section documents the various
challenges that confronted African Americans in Chicago and other northern cities throughout the Great Migration and especially in the late 1950s and early
1960s, focusing particularly on residential segregation as viewed from the perspective of both African Americans (in the excerpts from novelist Richard Wright’s
semi­autobiographical Twelve Million Black Voices and a New York Times article by Gertrude Samuels) and their white counterparts (in Robert Gruenberg’s
article on the effort to integrate one Chicago housing project). The second section,
which includes excerpts from Dr. King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail,
turns to the aims and aspirations of African Americans in the late 1950s and early
1960s, particularly the way they tended to be cast as distinctly American and/or middle class, while the third section considers African Americans’ changing attitudes
toward Africa and Africans. All of these contextual materials aim to bring more vividly to life the world out of which A Raisin in the Sun sprang and the historically and
culturally specific conditions and concerns it explores. (For another creative—and
recent—take on these, see Congressman John Lewis’s award-winning three-­
volume graphic memoir, The March [2013–16], created in collaboration with Andrew
Aydin and Nate Powell.) The chapter ends with an excerpt that we hope will inspire
you to think and talk, too, about the play’s relevance to our twenty-­first-­century world.
That excerpt comes from Clybourne Park, a 2010 Pulitzer Prize–­winning play that,
by revisiting and updating settings, situations, and characters from Hansberry’s play,
artfully invites us to ponder how America both has and hasn’t changed since 1959.
A Raisin in the Sun
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 hughes1
1. Hughes’s poem, published in 1951, is titled “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)” (p. 1073).
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
Ruby Dee as Ruth, Sidney Poitier as Walter, and Diana Sands as Beneatha in
the original 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun
ruth younger
travis younger
walter lee younger (brother)
beneatha younger
lena younger (mama)
joseph asagai
george murchison
karl lindner
moving men
The action of the play is set in Chicago’s Southside, sometime between World
War II and the present.
Scene One
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. Its
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furnishings are typical and undistinguished and their primary feature now is that
they have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many
years—­and they are tired. Still, we can see that at some time, a time probably no
longer remembered by the family (except perhaps for mama), the furnishings of this
room w
­ ere actually selected with care and love and even hope—­and brought to this
apartment and arranged with taste and pride.
That was a long time ago. Now the once loved pattern of the couch upholstery
has to fight to show itself from under acres of crocheted doilies and couch covers
which have themselves finally come to be more important than the upholstery. And
­here a table or a chair has been moved to disguise the worn places in the carpet;
but the carpet has fought back by showing its weariness, with depressing uniformity, elsewhere on its surface.
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.
Moreover, a section of this room, for it is not really a room unto itself, though the
landlord’s lease would make it seem so, slopes backward to provide a small kitchen
area, where the family prepares the meals that are eaten in the living room proper,
which must also serve as dining room. The single window that has been provided
for these “two” rooms is located in this kitchen area. The sole natural light the family may enjoy in the course of a day is only that which fights its way through this
little window.
At left, a door leads to a bedroom which is shared by mama and her daughter,
beneatha. At right, opposite, is a second room (which in the beginning of the life
of this apartment was probably a breakfast room) which serves as a bedroom for
walter and his wife, ruth.
Time: Sometime between World War II and the present.
Place: Chicago’s Southside.
At Rise: It is morning dark in the living room. travis is asleep on the make-­down
bed at center. An alarm clock sounds from within the bedroom at right, and presently ruth enters from that room and closes the door behind her. She crosses sleepily toward the window. As she passes her sleeping son she reaches down and shakes
him a little. At the window she raises the shade and a dusky Southside morning
light comes in feebly. She fills a pot with water and puts it on to boil. She calls to
the boy, between yawns, in a slightly muffled voice.
ruth is about thirty. We can see that she was a pretty girl, even exceptionally so,
but now it is apparent that life has been little that she expected, and disappointment has already begun to hang in her face. In a few years, before thirty-­five even,
she will be known among her people as a “settled woman.”
She crosses to her son and gives him a good, final, rousing shake.
ruth: ​Come on now, boy, it’s seven thirty! [Her son sits up at last, in a stupor of
sleepiness.] I say hurry up, Travis! You ain’t the only person in the world got to
use a bathroom! [The child, a sturdy, handsome little boy of ten or eleven, drags
himself out of the bed and almost blindly takes his towels and “today’s clothes”
from drawers and a closet and goes out to the bathroom, which is in an outside
hall and which is shared by another family or families on the same floor. ruth
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
crosses to the bedroom door at right and opens it and calls in to her husband.]
Walter Lee! . . . ​It’s after seven thirty! Lemme see you do some waking
up in there now! [She waits.] You better get up from there, man! It’s after
seven thirty I tell you. [She waits again.] All right, you just go ahead and lay
there and next thing you know Travis be finished and Mr. Johnson’ll be
in there and you’ll be fussing and cussing round h
­ ere like a mad man! And
be late too! [She waits, at the end of patience.] Walter Lee—­it’s time for you
to get up!
[She waits another second and then starts to go into the bedroom, but is apparently satisfied that her husband has begun to get up. She stops, pulls the door
to, and returns to the kitchen area. She wipes her face with a moist cloth and
runs her fingers through her sleep-­disheveled hair in a vain effort and ties an
apron around her ­house­coat. The bedroom door at right opens and her husband stands in the doorway in his pajamas, which are rumpled and mismated.
He is a lean, intense young man in his middle thirties, inclined to quick ner­
vous movements and erratic speech habits—­and always in his voice there is a
quality of indictment.]
walter: Is he out yet?
ruth: What you mean out? He ain’t hardly got in there good yet.
walter: [Wandering in, still more oriented to sleep than to a new day.] ​Well,
what was you doing all that yelling for if I ­can’t even get in there yet? [Stopping and thinking.] Check coming today?
ruth: They said Saturday and this is just Friday and I hopes to God you ain’t
going to get up ­here first thing this morning and start talking to me ’bout no
money—’cause I ’bout don’t want to hear it.
walter: Something the matter with you this morning?
ruth: No—I’m just sleepy as the dev­il. What kind of eggs you want?
walter: Not scrambled. [ruth starts to scramble eggs.] Paper come? [ruth points
impatiently to the rolled up Tribune on the table, and he gets it and spreads it
out and vaguely reads the front page.] Set off another bomb yesterday.
ruth: [Maximum indifference.] ​Did they?
walter: [Looking up.] What’s the matter with you?
ruth: Ain’t nothing the matter with me. And don’t keep asking me that this
walter: Ain’t nobody bothering you. [Reading the news of the day absently
again.] Say Col­o­nel McCormick 2 is sick.
ruth: [Affecting tea-­party interest.] ​Is he now? Poor thing.
walter: [Sighing and looking at his watch.] ​Oh, me. [He waits.] Now what is that
boy doing in that bathroom all this time? He just going to have to start getting
up earlier. I ­can’t be late to work on account of him fooling around in there.
ruth: [Turning on him.] ​Oh, no he ain’t going to be getting up no earlier no such
thing! It ain’t his fault that he c­ an’t get to bed no earlier nights ’cause he got
a bunch of crazy good-­for-­nothing clowns sitting up running their mouths in
what is supposed to be his bedroom after ten ­o’clock at night . . . ​
2. Robert Rutherford McCormick (1880–­1955), owner-­publisher of the Chicago Tribune.
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walter: That’s what you mad about, ain’t it? The things I want to talk about
with my friends just ­couldn’t be important in your mind, could they?
[He rises and finds a cigarette in her handbag on the table and crosses to the
little window and looks out, smoking and deeply enjoying this first one.]
ruth: [Almost matter of factly, a complaint too automatic to deserve emphasis.]​
Why you always got to smoke before you eat in the morning?
walter: [At the window.] ​Just look at ’em down there . . . ​Running and racing to
work . . . ​[He turns and faces his wife and watches her a moment at the stove,
and then, suddenly.] You look young this morning, baby.
ruth: [Indifferently.] Yeah?
walter: Just for a second—­stirring them eggs. It’s gone now—­just for a second
it was—­you looked real young again. [Then, drily.] It’s gone now—­you look
like yourself again.
ruth: Man, if you don’t shut up and leave me alone.
walter: [Looking out to the street again.] ​First thing a man ought to learn in life
is not to make love to no colored woman first thing in the morning. You all
some evil people at eight ­o’clock in the morning.
[travis appears in the hall doorway, almost fully dressed and quite wide
awake now, his towels and pajamas across his shoulders. He opens the door
and signals for his father to make the bathroom in a hurry.]
travis: [Watching the bathroom.] ​Daddy, come on!
[walter gets his bathroom utensils and flies out to the bathroom.]
ruth: Sit down and have your breakfast, Travis.
travis: Mama, this is Friday. [Gleefully.] Check coming tomorrow, huh?
ruth: You get your mind off money and eat your breakfast.
travis: [Eating.] This is the morning we supposed to bring the fifty cents to
ruth: Well, I ain’t got no fifty cents this morning.
travis: Teacher say we have to.
ruth: I don’t care what teacher say. I ain’t got it. Eat your breakfast, Travis.
travis: I am eating.
ruth: Hush up now and just eat!
[The boy gives her an exasperated look for her lack of understanding, and
eats grudgingly.]
travis: You think Grandmama would have it?
ruth: No! And I want you to stop asking your grandmother for money, you hear
travis: [Outraged.] Gaaaleee! I don’t ask her, she just gimme it sometimes!
ruth: Travis Willard Younger—­I got too much on me this morning to be—
travis: Maybe Daddy—
ruth: Travis!
[The boy hushes abruptly. They are both quiet and tense for several
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
travis: [Presently.] ​Could I maybe go carry some groceries in front of the supermarket for a little while after school then?
ruth: Just hush, I said. [travis jabs his spoon into his cereal bowl viciously, and
rests his head in anger upon his fists.] If you through eating, you can get over
there and make up your bed.
[The boy obeys stiffly and crosses the room, almost mechanically, to the bed
and more or less carefully folds the covering. He carries the bedding into his
mother’s room and returns with his books and cap.]
travis: [Sulking and standing apart from her unnaturally.] I’m gone.
ruth: [Looking up from the stove to inspect him automatically.] ​Come ­here. [He
crosses to her and she studies his head.] If you don’t take this comb and fix this
­here head, you better! [travis puts down his books with a great sigh of oppression, and crosses to the mirror. His mother mutters under her breath about his
“slubbornness.”] ’Bout to march out of ­here with that head looking just like
chickens slept in it! I just don’t know where you get your slubborn ways . . . ​
And get your jacket, too. Looks chilly out this morning.
travis: [With conspicuously brushed hair and jacket.] I’m gone.
ruth: Get carfare and milk money—[Waving one finger.]—­and not a single
penny for no caps, you hear me?
travis: [With sullen politeness.] ​Yes’m.
[He turns in outrage to leave. His mother watches after him as in his frustration he approaches the door almost comically. When she speaks to him, her
voice has become a very gentle tease.]
ruth: [Mocking; as she thinks he would say it.] Oh, Mama makes me so mad
sometimes, I don’t know what to do! [She waits and continues to his back as he
stands stock-­still in front of the door.] I ­wouldn’t kiss that woman good-­bye for
nothing in this world this morning! [The boy finally turns around and rolls his
eyes at her, knowing the mood has changed and he is vindicated; he does not, however, move toward her yet.] Not for nothing in this world! [She finally laughs aloud
at him and holds out her arms to him and we see that it is a way between them,
very old and practiced. He crosses to her and allows her to embrace him warmly
but keeps his face fixed with masculine rigidity. She holds him back from her
presently and looks at him and runs her fingers over the features of his face. With
utter gentleness—] Now—­whose little old angry man are you?
travis: [The masculinity and gruffness start to fade at last.] Aw gaalee—­
Mama . . . ​
ruth: [Mimicking.] ​Aw—­gaaaaalleeeee, Mama! [She pushes him, with rough
playfulness and finality, toward the door.] Get on out of ­here or you going to be
travis: [In the face of love, new aggressiveness.] Mama, could I please go carry
ruth: Honey, it’s starting to get so cold eve­nings.
walter: [Coming in from the bathroom and drawing a make-­believe gun from a
make-­believe holster and shooting at his son.] ​What is it he wants to do?
ruth: Go carry groceries after school at the supermarket.
walter: Well, let him go . . . ​
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travis: [Quickly, to the ally.] I have to—­she won’t gimme the fifty cents . . . ​
walter: [To his wife only.] ​Why not?
ruth: [Simply, and with flavor.] ​’Cause we don’t have it.
walter: [To ruth only.] ​What you tell the boy things like that for? [Reaching
down into his pants with a rather important gesture.] H
­ ere, son—
[He hands the boy the coin, but his eyes are directed to his wife’s. travis
takes the money happily.]
travis: Thanks, Daddy.
[He starts out. ruth watches both of them with murder in her eyes. walter
stands and stares back at her with defiance, and suddenly reaches into his
pocket again on an afterthought.]
walter: [Without even looking at his son, still staring hard at his wife.] ​In fact,
­here’s another fifty cents . . . ​Buy yourself some fruit today—­or take a taxicab to school or something!
travis: Whoopee—
[He leaps up and clasps his father around the middle with his legs, and they
face each other in mutual appreciation; slowly walter lee peeks around the
boy to catch the violent rays from his wife’s eyes and draws his head back as if
walter: You better get down now—­and get to school, man.
travis: [At the door.] ​O.K. Good-­bye.
[He exits.]
walter: [After him, pointing with pride.] ​T hat’s my boy. [She looks at him in
disgust and turns back to her work.] You know what I was thinking ’bout in
the bathroom this morning?
ruth: No.
walter: How come you always try to be so pleasant!
ruth: What is there to be pleasant ’bout!
walter: You want to know what I was thinking ’bout in the bathroom or not!
ruth: I know what you thinking ’bout.
walter: [Ignoring her.] ’Bout what me and Willy Harris was talking about last
ruth: [Immediately—­a refrain.] Willy Harris is a good-­for-­nothing loud mouth.
walter: Anybody who talks to me has got to be a good-­for-­nothing loud mouth,
ain’t he? And what you know about who is just a good-­for-­nothing loud
mouth? Charlie Atkins was just a “good-­for-­nothing loud mouth” too, ­wasn’t
he! When he wanted me to go in the dry-­cleaning business with him. And
now—­he’s grossing a hundred thousand a year. A hundred thousand dollars
a year! You still call him a loud mouth!
ruth: [Bitterly.] Oh, Walter Lee . . . ​
[She folds her head on her arms over the table.]
walter: [Rising and coming to her and standing over her.] You tired, ain’t you? Tired
of everything. Me, the boy, the way we live—­this beat-­up hole—­everything.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
Ain’t you? [She ­doesn’t look up, ­doesn’t answer.] So tired—­moaning and groaning all the time, but you ­wouldn’t do nothing to help, would you? You ­couldn’t
be on my side that long for nothing, could you?
ruth: Walter, please leave me alone.
walter: A man needs for a woman to back him up . . . ​
ruth: Walter—
walter: Mama would listen to you. You know she listen to you more than she do
me and Bennie. She think more of you. All you have to do is just sit down
with her when you drinking your coffee one morning and talking ’bout things
like you do and— [He sits down beside her and demonstrates graphically what
he thinks her methods and tone should be.] —you just sip your coffee, see, and
say easy like that you been thinking ’bout that deal Walter Lee is so interested
in, ’bout the store and all, and sip some more coffee, like what you saying ain’t
really that important to you—­And the next thing you know, she be listening
good and asking you questions and when I come home—­I can tell her the
details. This ain’t no fly-­by-­night proposition, baby. I mean we figured it out,
me and Willy and Bobo.
ruth: [With a frown.] ​Bobo?
walter: Yeah. You see, this little liquor store we got in mind cost seventy-­five
thousand and we figured the initial investment on the place be ’bout thirty
thousand, see. That be ten thousand each. Course, there’s a couple of hundred you got to pay so’s you don’t spend your life just waiting for them clowns
to let your license get approved—
ruth: You mean graft?
walter: [Frowning impatiently.] Don’t call it that. See there, that just goes to
show you what women understand about the world. Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ’less you pay somebody off!
ruth: Walter, leave me alone! [She raises her head and stares at him vigorously—­
then says, more quietly.] Eat your eggs, they gonna be cold.
walter: [Straightening up from her and looking off.] That’s it. There you are.
Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs.
[Sadly, but gaining in power.] Man say: I got to take hold of this h
­ ere world,
baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. [Passionately
now.] Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his
woman say— [In utter anguish as he brings his fists down on his thighs.] —
Your eggs is getting cold!
ruth: [Softly.] ​Walter, that ain’t none of our money.
walter: [Not listening at all or even looking at her.] ​T his morning, I was lookin’
in the mirror and thinking about it . . . ​I’m thirty-­five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room— [Very, very
quietly.] —and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people
live . . . ​
ruth: Eat your eggs, Walter.
walter: Damn my eggs . . . ​damn all the eggs that ever was!
ruth: Then go to work.
walter: [Looking up at her.] ​See—­I’m trying to talk to you ’bout myself—
[Shaking his head with the repetition.] —and all you can say is eat them eggs
and go to work.
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ruth: [Wearily.] ​Honey, you never say nothing new. I listen to you every day,
every night and every morning, and you never say nothing new. [Shrugging.]
So you would rather be Mr. Arnold than be his chauffeur. So—­I would rather
be living in Buckingham Palace.3
walter: That is just what is wrong with the colored woman in this world . . . ​
Don’t understand about building their men up and making ’em feel like they
somebody. Like they can do something.
ruth: [Drily, but to hurt.] ​T here are colored men who do things.
walter: No thanks to the colored woman.
ruth: Well, being a colored woman, I guess I c­ an’t help myself none.
[She rises and gets the ironing board and sets it up and attacks a huge pile of
rough-­dried clothes, sprinkling them in preparation for the ironing and then
rolling them into tight fat balls.]
walter: [Mumbling.] ​We one group of men tied to a race of women with small
[His sister beneatha enters. She is about twenty, as slim and intense as her
brother. She is not as pretty as her sister-­in-­law, but her lean, almost intellectual face has a handsomeness of its own. She wears a bright-­red flannel
nightie, and her thick hair stands wildly about her head. 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—­and perhaps the Midwest
rather than the South has finally—­at last—­won out in her inflection; but
not altogether, because over all of it is a soft slurring and transformed use of
vowels which is the decided influence of the Southside. She passes through
the room without looking at either ruth or walter and goes to the outside
door and looks, a little blindly, out to the bathroom. She sees that it has been
lost to the Johnsons. She closes the door with a sleepy vengeance and crosses
to the table and sits down a little defeated.]
beneatha: I am going to start timing those people.
walter: You should get up earlier.
beneatha: [Her face in her hands. She is still fighting the urge to go back to bed.]​
Really—­would you suggest dawn? Where’s the paper?
walter: [Pushing the paper across the table to her as he studies her almost clinically, as though he has never seen her before.] ​You a horrible-­looking chick at
this hour.
beneatha: [Drily.] G
​ ood morning, everybody.
walter: [Senselessly.] ​How is school coming?
beneatha: [In the same spirit.] ​Lovely. Lovely. And you know, biology is the
greatest. [Looking up at him.] I dissected something that looked just like you
walter: I just wondered if you’ve made up your mind and everything.
beneatha: [Gaining in sharpness and impatience.] ​A nd what did I answer
yesterday morning—­and the day before that?
3. London residence of the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
ruth: [From the ironing board, like someone disinterested and old.] Don’t be so
nasty, Bennie.
beneatha: [Still to her brother.] And the day before that and the day before that!
walter: [Defensively.] I’m interested in you. Something wrong with that? Ain’t
many girls who decide—
walter and beneatha: [In unison.]—“to be a doctor.”
walter: Have we figured out yet just exactly how much medical school is going
to cost?
ruth: Walter Lee, why don’t you leave that girl alone and get out of ­here to work?
beneatha: [Exits to the bathroom and bangs on the door.] Come on out of there,
[She comes back into the room.]
walter: [Looking at his sister intently.] ​You know the check is coming tomorrow.
beneatha: [Turning on him with a sharpness all her own.] ​T hat money belongs
to Mama, Walter, and it’s for her to decide how she wants to use it. I don’t
­ ouse or a rocket ship or just nail it up somewhere
care if she wants to buy a h
and look at it. It’s hers. Not ours—hers.
walter: [Bitterly.] ​Now ain’t that fine! You just got your mother’s interest at
heart, ain’t you, girl? You such a nice girl—­but if Mama got that money she
can always take a few thousand and help you through school too—­can’t she?
beneatha: I have never asked anyone around h
­ ere to do anything for me.
walter: No! And the line between asking and just accepting when the time
comes is big and wide—­ain’t it!
beneatha: [With fury.] ​What do you want from me, Brother—­that I quit school
or just drop dead, which!
walter: I don’t want nothing but for you to stop acting holy ’round ­here. Me
and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you—­why c­ an’t you do something
for the family?
ruth: Walter, don’t be dragging me in it.
walter: You are in it—­Don’t you get up and go work in somebody’s kitchen for
the last three years to help put clothes on her back?
ruth: Oh, Walter—­that’s not fair . . . ​
walter: It ain’t that nobody expects you to get on your knees and say thank you,
Brother; thank you, Ruth; thank you, Mama—­and thank you, Travis, for
wearing the same pair of shoes for two semesters—
beneatha: [Dropping to her knees.] Well—­I do—­all right?—­thank everybody . . . ​and forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all . . . ​forgive me,
forgive me!
ruth: Please stop it! Your mama’ll hear you.
walter: Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ’bout
messing ’round with sick people—­then go be a nurse like other women—­or
just get married and be quiet . . . ​
beneatha: Well—you finally got it said . . . ​it took you three years but you finally
got it said. Walter, give up; leave me alone—­it’s Mama’s money.
walter: He was my father, too!
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beneatha: So what? He was mine, too—­and Travis’ grandfather—­but the insurance money belongs to Mama. Picking on me is not going to make her give it
to you to invest in any liquor stores— [Underbreath, dropping into a chair.] —
and I for one say, God bless Mama for that!
walter: [To ruth.] See—­did you hear? Did you hear!
ruth: Honey, please go to work.
walter: Nobody in this h
­ ouse is ever going to understand me.
beneatha: Because you’re a nut.
walter: Who’s a nut?
beneatha: You—you are a nut. Thee is mad, boy.
walter: [Looking at his wife and his sister from the door, very sadly.] ​T he world’s
most backward race of people, and that’s a fact.
beneatha: [Turning slowly in her chair.] And then there are all those prophets
who would lead us out of the wilderness— [walter slams out of the h
­ ouse.] —
into the swamps!
ruth: Bennie, why you always gotta be pickin’ on your brother? ­Can’t you be a
little sweeter sometimes? [Door opens. walter walks in.]
walter: [To ruth.] I need some money for carfare.
ruth: [Looks at him, then warms; teasing, but tenderly.] ​Fifty cents? [She goes to
her bag and gets money.] ­Here, take a taxi.
[walter exits. mama enters. She is a woman in her early sixties, full-­bodied
and strong. She is one of those women of a certain grace and beauty who
wear it so unobtrusively that it takes a while to notice. Her dark-­brown face
is surrounded by the total whiteness of her hair, and, being a woman who has
adjusted to many things in life and overcome many more, her face is full of
strength. She has, we can see, wit and faith of a kind that keep her eyes lit
and full of interest and expectancy. She is, in a word, a beautiful woman.
Her bearing is perhaps most like the noble bearing of the women of the Hereros of Southwest Africa—­rather as if she imagines that as she walks she still
bears a basket or a vessel upon her head. Her speech, on the other hand, is as
careless as her carriage is precise—­she is inclined to slur everything—­but
her voice is perhaps not so much quiet as simply soft.]
mama: Who that ’round ­here slamming doors at this hour?
[She crosses through the room, goes to the window, opens it, and brings in a
feeble little plant growing doggedly in a small pot on the window sill. She
feels the dirt and puts it back out.]
ruth: That was Walter Lee. He and Bennie was at it again.
mama: My children and they tempers. Lord, if this little old plant don’t get more
sun than it’s been getting it ain’t never going to see spring again. [She turns
from the window.] What’s the matter with you this morning, Ruth? You looks
right peaked. You aiming to iron all them things? Leave some for me. I’ll get
to ’em this afternoon. Bennie honey, it’s too drafty for you to be sitting ’round
half dressed. Where’s your robe?
beneatha: In the cleaners.
mama: Well, go get mine and put it on.
beneatha: I’m not cold, Mama, honest.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
mama: I know—­but you so thin . . . ​
beneatha: [Irritably.] Mama, I’m not cold.
mama: [Seeing the make-­down bed as travis has left it.] ​Lord have mercy, look
at that poor bed. Bless his heart—­he tries, don’t he?
[She moves to the bed travis has sloppily made up.]
ruth: No—he don’t half try at all ’cause he knows you going to come along
behind him and fix everything. That’s just how come he don’t know how to
do nothing right now—­you done spoiled that boy so.
mama: Well—he’s a little boy. Ain’t supposed to know ’bout h
­ ouse­keeping. My
baby, that’s what he is. What you fix for his breakfast this morning?
ruth: [Angrily.] ​I feed my son, Lena!
mama: I ain’t meddling— [Underbreath; busy-­bodyish.] I just noticed all last
week he had cold cereal, and when it starts getting this chilly in the fall a
child ought to have some hot grits or something when he goes out in the cold—
ruth: [Furious.] I​ gave him hot oats—­is that all right!
mama: I ain’t meddling. [Pause.] Put a lot of nice butter on it? [ruth shoots her
an angry look and does not reply.] He likes lots of butter.
ruth: [Exasperated.] ​Lena—
mama: [To beneatha. mama is inclined to wander conversationally sometimes.]​
What was you and your brother fussing ’bout this morning?
beneatha: It’s not important, Mama.
[She gets up and goes to look out at the bathroom, which is apparently free,
and she picks up her towels and rushes out.]
mama: What was they fighting about?
ruth: Now you know as well as I do.
Brother still worrying hisself sick about that
mama: [Shaking her head.] ​
ruth: You know he is.
mama: You had breakfast?
ruth: Some coffee.
mama: Girl, you better start eating and looking after yourself better. You almost
thin as Travis.
ruth: Lena—
mama: Un-­hunh?
ruth: What are you going to do with it?
mama: Now don’t you start, child. It’s too early in the morning to be talking
about money. It ain’t Christian.
ruth: It’s just that he got his heart set on that store—
mama: You mean that liquor store that Willy Harris want him to invest in?
ruth: Yes—
mama: We ain’t no business people, Ruth. We just plain working folks.
ruth: Ain’t nobody business people till they go into business. Walter Lee say
colored people ain’t never going to start getting ahead till they start gambling
on some different kinds of things in the world—­investments and things.
mama: What done got into you, girl? Walter Lee done finally sold you on
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ruth: No. Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know
what it is—­but he needs something—­something I c­ an’t give him anymore.
He needs this chance, Lena.
mama: [Frowning deeply.] But liquor, honey—
ruth: Well—like Walter say—­I spec people going to always be drinking themselves some liquor.
mama: Well—whether they drinks it or not ain’t none of my business. But
whether I go into business selling it to ’em is, and I don’t want that on my
ledger this late in life. [Stopping suddenly and studying her daughter-­in-­law.]
Ruth Younger, what’s the matter with you today? You look like you could fall
over right there.
ruth: I’m tired.
mama: Then you better stay home from work today.
ruth: I ­can’t stay home. She’d be calling up the agency and screaming at them,
“My girl didn’t come in today—­send me somebody! My girl didn’t come in!”
Oh, she just have a fit . . . ​
mama: Well, let her have it. I’ll just call her up and say you got the flu—
ruth: [Laughing.] ​Why the flu?
mama: ’Cause it sounds respectable to ’em. Something white people get, too.
They know ’bout the flu. Otherwise they think you been cut up or something
when you tell ’em you sick.
ruth: I got to go in. We need the money.
mama: Somebody would of thought my children done all but starved to death
­ ere late. Child, we got a great big old check
the way they talk about money h
coming tomorrow.
ruth: [Sincerely, but also self-­righteously.] Now that’s your money. It ain’t got
nothing to do with me. We all feel like that—­Walter and Bennie and me—­
even Travis.
mama: [Thoughtfully, and suddenly very far away.] Ten thousand dollars—
ruth: Sure is wonderful.
mama: Ten thousand dollars.
ruth: You know what you should do, Miss Lena? You should take yourself a trip
somewhere. To Eu­rope or South America or someplace—
mama: [Throwing up her hands at the thought.] ​Oh, child!
ruth: I’m serious. Just pack up and leave! Go on away and enjoy yourself some.
Forget about the family and have yourself a ball for once in your life—
mama: [Drily.] ​You sound like I’m just about ready to die. Who’d go with me?
What I look like wandering ’round Eu­rope by myself?
­ ere rich white women do it all the time. They don’t think
ruth: Shoot—these h
nothing of packing up they suitcases and piling on one of them big steamships and—­swoosh!—they gone, child.
mama: Something always told me I ­wasn’t no rich white woman.
ruth: Well—what are you going to do with it then?
mama: I ain’t rightly decided. [Thinking. She speaks now with emphasis.] Some
of it got to be put away for Beneatha and her schoolin’—­and ain’t nothing
going to touch that part of it. Nothing. [She waits several seconds, trying to
make up her mind about something, and looks at ruth a little tentatively
before going on.] Been thinking that we maybe could meet the notes on a
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
little old two-­story somewhere, with a yard where Travis could play in the
summertime, if we use part of the insurance for a down payment and everybody kind of pitch in. I could maybe take on a little day work again, few
days a week—
ruth: [Studying her mother-­in-­law furtively and concentrating on her ironing,
anxious to encourage without seeming to.] ​Well, Lord knows, w
­ e’ve put enough
rent into this ­here rat trap to pay for four h
­ ouses by now . . . ​
mama: [Looking up at the words “rat trap” and then looking around and leaning
back and sighing—­in a suddenly reflective mood—] ​“Rat trap”—­yes, that’s all
it is. [Smiling.] I remember just as well the day me and Big Walter moved in
­here. Hadn’t been married but two weeks and w
­ asn’t planning on living
­here no more than a year. [She shakes her head at the dissolved dream.] We
was going to set away, little by little, don’t you know, and buy a little place
out in Morgan Park. We had even picked out the ­house. [Chuckling a l­ ittle.]
Looks right dumpy today. But Lord, child, you should know all the dreams
I had ’bout buying that h
­ ouse and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back— [She waits and stops smiling.] And didn’t none of it
[Dropping her hands in a futile gesture.]
ruth: [Keeps her head down, ironing.] ​Yes, life can be a barrel of disappointments, sometimes.
mama: Honey, Big Walter would come in ­here some nights back then and slump
down on that couch there and just look at the rug, and look at me and look
at the rug and then back at me—­and I’d know he was down then . . . ​really
down. [After a second very long and thoughtful pause; she is seeing back
to times that only she can see.] And then, Lord, when I lost that baby—­little
Claude—­I almost thought I was going to lose Big Walter too. Oh, that man
grieved hisself! He was one man to love his children.
ruth: Ain’t nothin’ can tear at you like losin’ your baby.
mama: I guess that’s how come that man finally worked hisself to death like he
done. Like he was fighting his own war with this ­here world that took his
baby from him.
ruth: He sure was a fine man, all right. I always liked Mr. Younger.
mama: Crazy ’bout his children! God knows there was plenty wrong with Walter
Younger—hard-­headed, mean, kind of wild with women—­plenty wrong with
him. But he sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something—­be something. That’s where Brother gets all these notions, I reckon.
Big Walter used to say, he’d get right wet in the eyes sometimes, lean his
head back with the water standing in his eyes and say, “Seem like God didn’t
see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams—­but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile.” [She smiles.] He could talk
like that, don’t you know.
ruth: Yes, he sure could. He was a good man, Mr. Younger.
mama: Yes, a fine man—­just c­ ouldn’t never catch up with his dreams, that’s all.
[beneatha comes in, brushing her hair and looking up to the ceiling, where
the sound of a vacuum cleaner has started up.]
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beneatha: What could be so dirty on that woman’s rugs that she has to vacuum
them every single day?
ruth: I wish certain young women ’round h
­ ere who I could name would take
inspiration about certain rugs in a certain apartment I could also mention.
beneatha: [Shrugging.] How much cleaning can a ­house need, for Christ’s sakes.
mama: [Not liking the Lord’s name used thus.] ​Bennie!
ruth: Just listen to her—­just listen!
beneatha: Oh, God!
mama: If you use the Lord’s name just one more time—
beneatha: [A bit of a whine.] Oh, Mama—
ruth: Fresh—just fresh as salt, this girl!
beneatha: [Drily.] ​Well—­if the salt loses its savor4 —
mama: Now that will do. I just ain’t going to have you ’round h
­ ere reciting the
scriptures in vain—­you hear me?
beneatha: How did I manage to get on everybody’s wrong side by just walking
into a room?
ruth: If you w
­ eren’t so fresh—
beneatha: Ruth, I’m twenty years old.
mama: What time you be home from school today?
beneatha: Kind of late. [With enthusiasm.] Madeline is going to start my guitar
lessons today.
[mama and ruth look up with the same expression.]
mama: Your what kind of lessons?
beneatha: Guitar.
ruth: Oh, Father!
mama: How come you done taken it in your mind to learn to play the guitar?
beneatha: I just want to, that’s all.
mama: [Smiling.] Lord, child, don’t you know what to do with yourself? How
long it going to be before you get tired of this now—­like you got tired of that
little play-­acting group you joined last year? [Looking at ruth.] And what was
it the year before that?
ruth: The horseback-­riding club for which she bought that fifty-­five-­dollar riding habit that’s been hanging in the closet ever since!
mama: [To beneatha.] ​Why you got to flit so from one thing to another, baby?
beneatha: [Sharply.] I just want to learn to play the guitar. Is there anything
wrong with that?
mama: Ain’t nobody trying to stop you. I just wonders sometimes why you has
to flit so from one thing to another all the time. You ain’t never done nothing
with all that camera equipment you brought home—
beneatha: I don’t flit! I—­I experiment with different forms of expression—
ruth: Like riding a ­horse?
beneatha: —People have to express themselves one way or another.
mama: What is it you want to express?
4. See Matthew 5.13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its taste, with what can it be
seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene One
beneatha: [Angrily.] ​Me! [mama and ruth look at each other and burst into raucous laughter.] Don’t worry—­I don’t expect you to understand.
mama: [To change the subject.] ​Who you going out with tomorrow night?
beneatha: [With dis­plea­sure.] George Murchison again.
mama: [Pleased.] ​Oh—­you getting a little sweet on him?
ruth: You ask me, this child ain’t sweet on nobody but herself— [Underbreath.]
Express herself!
[They laugh.]
beneatha: Oh—I like George all right, Mama. I mean I like him enough to go
out with him and stuff, but—
ruth: [For dev­ilment.] What does and stuff mean?
beneatha: Mind your own business.
mama: Stop picking at her now, Ruth. [A thoughtful pause, and then a suspicious
sudden look at her daughter as she turns in her chair for emphasis.] What does
it mean?
beneatha: [Wearily.] Oh, I just mean I ­couldn’t ever really be serious about
George. He’s—­he’s so shallow.
ruth: Shallow—what do you mean he’s shallow? He’s rich!
mama: Hush, Ruth.
beneatha: I know he’s rich. He knows he’s rich, too.
ruth: Well—what other qualities a man got to have to satisfy you, little girl?
beneatha: You w
­ ouldn’t even begin to understand. Anybody who married Walter could not possibly understand.
mama: [Outraged.] ​What kind of way is that to talk about your brother?
beneatha: Brother is a flip—­let’s face it.
mama: [To ruth, helplessly.] W
​ hat’s a flip?
ruth: [Glad to add kindling.] ​She’s saying he’s crazy.
beneatha: Not crazy. Brother isn’t really crazy yet—­he—he’s an elaborate
mama: Hush your mouth!
beneatha: As for George. Well. George looks good—­he’s got a beautiful car
and he takes me to nice places and, as my sister-­in-­law says, he is probably
the richest boy I will ever get to know and I even like him sometimes—­but if
the Youngers are sitting around waiting to see if their little Bennie is going to
tie up the family with the Murchisons, they are wasting their time.
ruth: You mean you ­wouldn’t marry George Murchison if he asked you someday? That pretty, rich thing? Honey, I knew you was odd—
beneatha: No I would not marry him if all I felt for him was what I feel now.
Besides, George’s family ­wouldn’t really like it.
mama: Why not?
beneatha: Oh, Mama—­T he Murchisons are honest-­to-­God-­real-live-­rich colored people, and the only people in the world who are more snobbish than
rich white people are rich colored people. I thought everybody knew that. I’ve
met Mrs. Murchison. She’s a scene!
mama: You must not dislike people ’cause they well off, honey.
beneatha: Why not? It makes just as much sense as disliking people ’cause they
are poor, and lots of people do that.
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ruth: [A wisdom-­of-­the-­ages manner. To mama.] ​Well, she’ll get over some of this—
beneatha: Get over it? What are you talking about, Ruth? Listen, I’m going to
be a doctor. I’m not worried about who I’m going to marry yet—­if I ever get
mama and ruth: If!
mama: Now, Bennie—
beneatha: Oh, I probably will . . . ​but first I’m going to be a doctor, and George,
for one, still thinks that’s pretty funny. I c­ ouldn’t be bothered with that. I am
­ ere better understand that!
going to be a doctor and everybody around h
mama: [Kindly.] ’Course you going to be a doctor, honey, God willing.
beneatha: [Drily.] ​God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.
mama: Beneatha—that just w
­ asn’t necessary.
beneatha: Well—neither is God. I get sick of hearing about God.
mama: Beneatha!
beneatha: I mean it! I’m just tired of hearing about God all the time. What has
He got to do with anything? Does He pay tuition?
mama: You ’bout to get your fresh little jaw slapped!
ruth: That’s just what she needs, all right!
beneatha: Why? Why ­can’t I say what I want to around ­here, like everybody ­else?
mama: It don’t sound nice for a young girl to say things like that—­you ­wasn’t
brought up that way. Me and your father went to trouble to get you and
Brother to church every Sunday.
beneatha: Mama, you don’t understand. It’s all a matter of ideas, and God is
just one idea I don’t accept. It’s not important. I am not going out and be
immoral or commit crimes because I don’t believe in God. I don’t even think
about it. It’s just that I get tired of Him getting credit for all the things the
human race achieves through its own stubborn effort. There simply is no
blasted God—­there is only man and it is he who makes miracles!
[mama absorbs this speech, studies her daughter and rises slowly and crosses
to beneatha and slaps her powerfully across the face. After, there is only
silence and the daughter drops her eyes from her mother’s face, and mama is
very tall before her.]
mama: Now—you say after me, in my mother’s h
­ ouse there is still God. [There is
a long pause and beneatha stares at the floor wordlessly. mama repeats the phrase
with precision and cool emotion.] In my mother’s ­house there is still God.
beneatha: In my mother’s h
­ ouse there is still God.
[A long pause.]
mama: [Walking away from beneatha, too disturbed for triumphant posture.
Stopping and turning back to her daughter.] There are some ideas we ain’t
going to have in this h
­ ouse. Not long as I am at the head of this family.
beneatha: Yes, ­ma’am.
[mama walks out of the room.]
ruth: [Almost gently, with profound understanding.] ​You think you a woman,
Bennie—­but you still a little girl. What you did was childish—­so you got
treated like a child.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene Two
beneatha: I see. [Quietly.] I also see that everybody thinks it’s all right for
Mama to be a tyrant. But all the tyranny in the world will never put a God in
the heavens!
[She picks up her books and goes out.]
ruth: [Goes to mama’s door.] She said she was sorry.
mama: [Coming out, going to her plant.] ​T hey frightens me, Ruth. My children.
ruth: You got good children, Lena. They just a little off sometimes—­but they’re
mama: No—there’s something come down between me and them that don’t let
us understand each other and I don’t know what it is. One done almost lost
his mind thinking ’bout money all the time and the other done commence to
talk about things I ­can’t seem to understand in no form or fashion. What is it
that’s changing, Ruth?
ruth: [Soothingly, older than her years.] ​Now . . . ​you taking it all too seriously.
You just got strong-­willed children and it takes a strong woman like you to
keep ’em in hand.
mama: [Looking at her plant and sprinkling a little water on it.] ​T hey spirited
all right, my children. Got to admit they got spirit—­Bennie and Walter. Like
this little old plant that ain’t never had enough sunshine or nothing—­and
look at it . . . ​
[She has her back to ruth, who has had to stop ironing and lean against
something and put the back of her hand to her forehead.]
ruth: [Trying to keep mama from noticing.] ​You . . . ​sure . . . ​loves that little old
thing, don’t you? . . . ​
mama: Well, I always wanted me a garden like I used to see sometimes at the back
of the ­houses down home. This plant is close as I ever got to having one. [She
looks out of the window as she replaces the plant.] Lord, ain’t nothing as dreary as
the view from this window on a dreary day, is there? Why ain’t you singing this
morning, Ruth? Sing that “No Ways Tired.” That song always lifts me up so—
[She turns at last to see that ruth has slipped quietly into a chair, in a state of
semiconsciousness.] Ruth! Ruth honey—­what’s the matter with you . . . ​Ruth!
Scene Two
It is the following morning; a Saturday morning, and h
­ ouse cleaning is in
progress at the Youngers. Furniture has been shoved hither and yon and mama
is giving the kitchen-­area walls a washing down. beneatha, in dungarees, with
a handkerchief tied around her face, is spraying insecticide into the cracks in
the walls. As they work, the radio is on and a Southside disk-­jockey program is
inappropriately filling the ­house with a rather exotic saxophone blues. travis,
the sole idle one, is leaning on his arms, looking out of the window.
travis: Grandmama, that stuff Bennie is using smells awful. Can I go downstairs, please?
mama: Did you get all them chores done already? I ain’t seen you doing much.
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travis: Yes’m—finished early. Where did Mama go this morning?
mama: [Looking at beneatha.] S
​ he had to go on a little errand.
travis: Where?
mama: To tend to her business.
travis: Can I go outside then?
mama: Oh, I guess so. You better stay right in front of the h
­ ouse, though . . . ​
and keep a good lookout for the postman.
travis: Yes’m. [He starts out and decides to give his aunt beneatha a good swat
on the legs as he passes her.] Leave them poor little old cockroaches alone,
they ain’t bothering you none.
[He runs as she swings the spray gun at him both viciously and playfully.
walter enters from the bedroom and goes to the phone.]
mama: Look out there, girl, before you be spilling some of that stuff on that child!
travis: [Teasing.] That’s right—­look out now!
[He exits.]
beneatha: [Drily.] I ­can’t imagine that it would hurt him—­it has never hurt the
mama: Well, little boys’ hides ain’t as tough as Southside roaches.
walter: [Into phone.] Hello—­Let me talk to Willy Harris.
mama: You better get over there behind the bureau. I seen one marching out of
there like Napoleon yesterday.
walter: Hello, Willy? It ain’t come yet. It’ll be h
­ ere in a few minutes. Did the
lawyer give you the papers?
beneatha: There’s really only one way to get rid of them, Mama—
mama: How?
beneatha: Set fire to this building.
walter: Good. Good. I’ll be right over.
beneatha: Where did Ruth go, Walter?
walter: I don’t know.
[He exits abruptly.]
beneatha: Mama, where did Ruth go?
mama: [Looking at her with meaning.] T
​ o the doctor, I think.
beneatha: The doctor? What’s the matter? [They exchange glances.] You don’t
mama: [With her sense of drama.] ​Now I ain’t saying what I think. But I ain’t
never been wrong ’bout a woman neither.
[The phone rings.]
beneatha: [At the phone.] ​Hay-­lo . . . ​[Pause, and a moment of recognition.]
Well—­when did you get back! . . . ​And how was it? . . . ​Of course I’ve missed
you—­in my way . . . ​This morning? No . . . ​house cleaning and all that and
Mama hates it if I let people come over when the ­house is like this . . . ​You
have? Well, that’s different . . . ​What is it—­Oh, what the hell, come on over . . . ​
Right, see you then.
[She hangs up.]
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene Two
mama: [Who has listened vigorously, as is her habit.] ​Who is that you inviting
over ­here with this ­house looking like this? You ain’t got the pride you was
born with!
beneatha: Asagai ­doesn’t care how h
­ ouses look, Mama—­he’s an intellectual.
mama: Who?
beneatha: Asagai—Joseph Asagai. He’s an African boy I met on campus. He’s
been studying in Canada all summer.
mama: What’s his name?
beneatha: Asagai, Joseph. Ah-­sah-­guy . . . ​He’s from Nigeria.
mama: Oh, that’s the little country that was founded by slaves way back . . . ​
beneatha: No, Mama—­that’s Liberia.
mama: I don’t think I never met no African before.
beneatha: Well, do me a favor and don’t ask him a ­whole lot of ignorant questions about Africans. I mean, do they wear clothes and all that—
mama: Well, now, I guess if you think we so ignorant ’round h
­ ere maybe you
shouldn’t bring your friends ­here—
beneatha: It’s just that people ask such crazy things. All anyone seems to know
about when it comes to Africa is Tarzan—
mama: [Indignantly.] W
​ hy should I know anything about Africa?
beneatha: Why do you give money at church for the missionary work?
mama: Well, that’s to help save people.
beneatha: You mean save them from heathenism—
mama: [Innocently.] ​Yes.
beneatha: I’m afraid they need more salvation from the British and the
[ruth comes in forlornly and pulls off her coat with dejection. They both
turn to look at her.]
ruth: [Dispiritedly.] ​Well, I guess from all the happy faces—­everybody knows.
beneatha: You pregnant?
mama: Lord have mercy, I sure hope it’s a little old girl. Travis ought to have a
[beneatha and ruth give her a hopeless look for this grandmotherly
beneatha: How far along are you?
ruth: Two months.
beneatha: Did you mean to? I mean did you plan it or was it an accident?
mama: What do you know about planning or not planning?
beneatha: Oh, Mama.
ruth: [Wearily.] She’s twenty years old, Lena.
beneatha: Did you plan it, Ruth?
ruth: Mind your own business.
beneatha: It is my business—­where is he going to live, on the roof? [There is
silence following the remark as the three women react to the sense of it.] Gee—​
I didn’t mean that, Ruth, honest. Gee, I don’t feel like that at all. I—­I think
it is wonderful.
ruth: [Dully.] ​Wonderful.
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beneatha: Yes—really.
mama: [Looking at ruth, worried.] ​Doctor say everything going to be all
ruth: [Far away.] ​Yes—­she says everything is going to be fine . . . ​
mama: [Immediately suspicious.] “She”—­What doctor you went to?
[ruth folds over, near hysteria.]
mama: [Worriedly hovering over ruth.] ​Ruth honey—­what’s the matter with
you—­you sick?
[ruth has her fists clenched on her thighs and is fighting hard to suppress a
scream that seems to be rising in her.]
beneatha: What’s the matter with her, Mama?
mama: [Working her fingers in ruth’s shoulder to relax her.] ​She be all right.
Women gets right depressed sometimes when they get her way. [Speaking
softly, expertly, rapidly.] Now you just relax. That’s right . . . ​just lean back,
don’t think ’bout nothing at all . . . ​nothing at all—
ruth: I’m all right . . . ​
[The glassy-­eyed look melts and then she collapses into a fit of heavy sobbing.
The bell rings.]
beneatha: Oh, my God—­that must be Asagai.
mama: [To ruth.] ​Come on now, honey. You need to lie down and rest awhile . . . ​
then have some nice hot food.
[They exit, ruth’s weight on her mother-­in-­law. beneatha, herself profoundly disturbed, opens the door to admit a rather dramatic-­looking young
man with a large package.]
asagai: Hello, Alaiyo—
beneatha: [Holding the door open and regarding him with plea­sure.] Hello . . . ​
[Long pause.] Well—­come in. And please excuse everything. My mother was
very upset about my letting anyone come ­here with the place like this.
asagai: [Coming into the room.] ​You look disturbed too . . . ​Is something
beneatha: [Still at the door, absently.] ​Yes . . . ​­we’ve all got acute ghetto-­itus.
[She smiles and comes toward him, finding a cigarette and sitting.] So—­sit
down! How was Canada?
asagai: [A sophisticate.] ​Canadian.
beneatha: [Looking at him.] I’m very glad you are back.
asagai: [Looking back at her in turn.] ​A re you really?
beneatha: Yes—very.
asagai: Why—you ­were quite glad when I went away. What happened?
beneatha: You went away.
asagai: Ahhhhhhhh.
beneatha: Before—you wanted to be so serious before there was time.
asagai: How much time must there be before one knows what one feels?
beneatha: [Stalling this par­tic­u­lar conversation. Her hands pressed together, in a
deliberately childish gesture.] What did you bring me?
asagai: [Handing her the package.] O
​ pen it and see.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene Two
beneatha: [Eagerly opening the package and drawing out some rec­ords and the
colorful robes of a Nigerian woman.] Oh, Asagai! . . . ​You got them for me! . . . ​
How beautiful . . . ​and the rec­ords too! [She lifts out the robes and runs to the
mirror with them and holds the drapery up in front of herself.]
asagai: [Coming to her at the mirror.] ​I shall have to teach you how to drape it
properly. [He flings the material about her for the moment and stands back to
look at her.] Ah—Oh-­pay-­gay-­day, oh-­gbah-­mu-­shay. [A Yoruba exclamation
for admiration.] You wear it well . . . ​very well . . . ​mutilated hair and all.
beneatha: [Turning suddenly.] My hair—­what’s wrong with my hair?
asagai: [Shrugging.] ­Were you born with it like that?
beneatha: [Reaching up to touch it.] N
​ o . . . ​of course not.
[She looks back to the mirror, disturbed.]
asagai: [Smiling.] ​How then?
beneatha: You know perfectly well how . . . ​as crinkly as yours . . . ​that’s how.
asagai: And it is ugly to you that way?
beneatha: [Quickly.] ​Oh, no—­not ugly . . . ​[More slowly, apologetically.] But it’s
so hard to manage when it’s, well—­raw.
asagai: And so to accommodate that—­you mutilate it every week?
beneatha: It’s not mutilation!
asagai: [Laughing aloud at her seriousness.] ​Oh . . . ​please! I am only teasing you
because you are so very serious about these things. [He stands back from her
and folds his arms across his chest as he watches her pulling at her hair and
frowning in the mirror.] Do you remember the first time you met me at
school? . . . ​[He laughs.] You came up to me and you said—­and I thought you
­were the most serious little thing I had ever seen—­you said: [He imitates her.]
“Mr. Asagai—­I want very much to talk with you. About Africa. You see, Mr.
Asagai, I am looking for my identity!”
[He laughs.]
beneatha: [Turning to him, not laughing.] ​Yes—
[Her face is quizzical, profoundly disturbed.]
asagai: [Still teasing and reaching out and taking her face in his hands and turning her profile to him.] Well . . . ​it is true that this is not so much a profile of
a Hollywood queen as perhaps a queen of the Nile— [A mock dismissal of the
importance of the question.] But what does it matter? Assimilationism is so
pop­u­lar in your country.
beneatha: [Wheeling, passionately, sharply.] ​I am not an assimilationist!
asagai: [The protest hangs in the room for a moment and asagai studies her, his
laughter fading.] ​Such a serious one. [There is a pause.] So—­you like the
robes? You must take excellent care of them—­they are from my sister’s personal wardrobe.
beneatha: [With incredulity.] You—­you sent all the way home—­for me?
asagai: [With charm.] For you—­I would do much more . . . ​Well, that is what I
came for. I must go.
beneatha: Will you call me Monday?
asagai: Yes . . . ​We have a great deal to talk about. I mean about identity and
time and all that.
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beneatha: Time?
asagai: Yes. About how much time one needs to know what one feels.
beneatha: You never understood that there is more than one kind of feeling
which can exist between a man and a woman—­or, at least, there should be.
asagai: [Shaking his head negatively but gently.] No. Between a man and a
woman there need be only one kind of feeling. I have that for you . . . ​Now
even . . . ​right this moment . . . ​
beneatha: I know—­and by itself—­it won’t do. I can find that anywhere.
asagai: For a woman it should be enough.
beneatha: I know—­because that’s what it says in all the novels that men write.
But it isn’t. Go ahead and laugh—­but I’m not interested in being someone’s
little episode in America or— [With feminine vengeance.] —one of them!
[asagai has burst into laughter again.] That’s funny as hell, huh!
asagai: It’s just that every American girl I have known has said that to me.
White—­black—in this you are all the same. And the same speech, too!
beneatha: [Angrily.] ​Yuk, yuk, yuk!
asagai: It’s how you can be sure that the world’s most liberated women are not
liberated at all. You all talk about it too much!
[mama enters and is immediately all social charm because of the presence of
a guest.]
beneatha: Oh—Mama—this is Mr. Asagai.
mama: How do you do?
asagai: [Total politeness to an elder.] ​How do you do, Mrs. Younger. Please forgive me for coming at such an outrageous hour on a Saturday.
mama: Well, you are quite welcome. I just hope you understand that our h
­ ouse
don’t always look like this. [Chatterish.] You must come again. I would love to
hear all about— [Not sure of the name.] —your country. I think it’s so sad the
way our American Negroes don’t know nothing about Africa ’cept Tarzan
and all that. And all that money they pour into these churches when they
ought to be helping you people over there drive out them French and
En­glishmen done taken away your land.
[The mother flashes a slightly superior look at her daughter upon completion
of the recitation.]
asagai: [Taken aback by this sudden and acutely unrelated expression of sympathy.] ​Yes . . . ​yes . . . ​
mama: [Smiling at him suddenly and relaxing and looking him over.] ​How many
miles is it from h
­ ere to where you come from?
asagai: Many thousands.
mama: [Looking at him as she would walter.] ​I bet you don’t half look after
yourself, being away from your mama either. I spec you better come ’round
­here from time to time and get yourself some decent home-­cooked meals . . . ​
asagai: [Moved.] Thank you. Thank you very much. [They are all quiet, then—]
Well . . . ​I must go. I will call you Monday, Alaiyo.
mama: What’s that he call you?
asagai: Oh—“Alaiyo.” I hope you don’t mind. It is what you would call a nickname, I think. It is a Yoruba word. I am a Yoruba.
mama: [Looking at beneatha.] I—­I thought he was from—
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene Two
asagai: [Understanding.] ​Nigeria is my country. Yoruba is my tribal origin—
beneatha: You didn’t tell us what Alaiyo means . . . ​for all I know, you might be
calling me Little Idiot or something . . . ​
asagai: Well . . . ​let me see . . . ​I do not know how just to explain it . . . ​T he
sense of a thing can be so different when it changes languages.
beneatha: You’re evading.
asagai: No—really it is difficult . . . ​[Thinking.] It means . . . ​it means One for
Whom Bread—­Food—Is Not Enough. [He looks at her.] Is that all right?
beneatha: [Understanding, softly.] Thank you.
mama: [Looking from one to the other and not understanding any of it.] ​Well . . . ​
that’s nice . . . ​You must come see us again—­Mr.—
asagai: Ah-­sah-­guy . . . ​
mama: Yes . . . ​Do come again.
asagai: Good-­bye.
[He exits.]
­ ere! [Insinuatingly,
mama: [After him.] ​Lord, that’s a pretty thing just went out h
to her daughter.] Yes, I guess I see why we done commence to get so interested in Africa ’round h
­ ere. Missionaries my aunt Jenny!
[She exits.]
beneatha: Oh, Mama! . . . ​
[She picks up the Nigerian dress and holds it up to her in front of the mirror
again. She sets the headdress on haphazardly and then notices her hair again
and clutches at it and then replaces the headdress and frowns at herself.
Then she starts to wriggle in front of the mirror as she thinks a Nigerian
woman might. travis enters and regards her.]
travis: You cracking up?
beneatha: Shut up.
[She pulls the headdress off and looks at herself in the mirror and clutches at
her hair again and squinches her eyes as if trying to imagine something. Then,
suddenly, she gets her raincoat and kerchief and hurriedly prepares for going
mama: [Coming back into the room.] ​She’s resting now. Travis, baby, run next
door and ask Miss Johnson to please let me have a little kitchen cleanser.
This ­here can is empty as Jacob’s kettle.
travis: I just came in.
mama: Do as you told. [He exits and she looks at her daughter.] Where you going?
beneatha: [Halting at the door.] T
​ o become a queen of the Nile!
[She exits in a breathless blaze of glory. ruth appears in the bedroom
mama: Who told you to get up?
ruth: Ain’t nothing wrong with me to be lying in no bed for. Where did Bennie
mama: [Drumming her fingers.] Far as I could make out—­to Egypt. [ruth just
looks at her.] What time is it getting to?
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ruth: Ten twenty. And the mailman going to ring that bell this morning just
like he done every morning for the last umpteen years.
[travis comes in with the cleanser can.]
travis: She say to tell you that she don’t have much.
mama: [Angrily.] Lord, some people I could name sure is tight-­fisted! [Directing
her grandson.] Mark two cans of cleanser down on the list there. If she that
hard up for kitchen cleanser, I sure don’t want to forget to get her none!
ruth: Lena—maybe the woman is just short on cleanser—
mama: [Not listening.] —­Much baking powder as she done borrowed from me
all these years, she could of done gone into the baking business!
[The bell sounds suddenly and sharply and all three are stunned—­serious
and silent—mid-­speech. In spite of all the other conversations and distractions of the morning, this is what they have been waiting for, even travis,
who looks helplessly from his mother to his grandmother. ruth is the first to
come to life again.]
ruth: [To travis.] Get down them steps, boy!
[travis snaps to life and flies out to get the mail.]
mama: [Her eyes wide, her hand to her breast.] ​You mean it done really come?
ruth: [Excited.] Oh, Miss Lena!
mama: [Collecting herself.] ​Well . . . ​I don’t know what we all so excited about
’round ­here for. We known it was coming for months.
ruth: That’s a ­whole lot different from having it come and being able to hold it
in your hands . . . ​a piece of paper worth ten thousand dollars . . . ​[travis
bursts back into the room. He holds the envelope high above his head, like a
little dancer, his face is radiant and he is breathless. He moves to his grandmother with sudden slow ceremony and puts the envelope into her hands. She
accepts it, and then merely holds it and looks at it.] Come on! Open it . . . ​Lord
have mercy, I wish Walter Lee was h
­ ere!
travis: Open it, Grandmama!
​ ow you all be quiet. It’s just a check.
mama: [Staring at it.] N
ruth: Open it . . . ​
mama: [Still staring at it.] Now don’t act silly . . . ​We ain’t never been no people
to act silly ’bout no money—
ruth: [Swiftly.] ​We ain’t never had none before—open it!
[mama finally makes a good strong tear and pulls out the thin blue slice of
paper and inspects it closely. The boy and his mother study it raptly over
mama’s shoulders.]
mama: Travis! [She is counting off with doubt.] Is that the right number of zeros.
travis: Yes’m . . . ​ten thousand dollars. Gaalee, Grandmama, you rich.
mama: [She holds the check away from her, still looking at it. Slowly her face
sobers into a mask of unhappiness.] ​Ten thousand dollars. [She hands it to
ruth.] Put it away somewhere, Ruth. [She does not look at ruth; her eyes
seem to be seeing something somewhere very far off.] Ten thousand dollars they
give you. Ten thousand dollars.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene Two
travis: [To his mother, sincerely.] ​What’s the matter with Grandmama—­don’t
she want to be rich?
ruth: [Distractedly.] You go on out and play now, baby. [travis exits. mama starts
wiping dishes absently, humming intently to herself. ruth turns to her, with
kind exasperation.] You’ve gone and got yourself upset.
mama: [Not looking at her.] I spec if it ­wasn’t for you all . . . ​I would just put that
money away or give it to the church or something.
ruth: Now what kind of talk is that. Mr. Younger would just be plain mad if he
could hear you talking foolish like that.
mama: [Stopping and staring off.] ​Yes . . . ​he sure would. [Sighing.] We got
enough to do with that money, all right. [She halts then, and turns and looks
at her daughter-­in-­law hard; ruth avoids her eyes and mama wipes her hands
with finality and starts to speak firmly to ruth.] Where did you go today,
ruth: To the doctor.
mama: [Impatiently.] ​Now, Ruth . . . ​you know better than that. Old Doctor
Jones is strange enough in his way but there ain’t nothing ’bout him make
somebody slip and call him “she”—­like you done this morning.
ruth: Well, that’s what happened—­my tongue slipped.
mama: You went to see that woman, didn’t you?
​ hat woman you talking about?
ruth: [Defensively, giving herself away.] W
mama: [Angrily.] That woman who—
[walter enters in great excitement.]
walter: Did it come?
mama: [Quietly.] ​­Can’t you give people a Christian greeting before you start
asking about money?
walter: [To ruth.] ​Did it come? [ruth unfolds the check and lays it quietly
before him, watching him intently with thoughts of her own. walter sits down
and grasps it close and counts off the zeros.] Ten thousand dollars— [He turns
suddenly, frantically to his mother and draws some papers out of his breast
pocket.] Mama—­look. Old Willy Harris put everything on paper—
mama: Son—I think you ought to talk to your wife . . . ​I’ll go on out and leave
you alone if you want—
walter: I can talk to her later—­Mama, look—
mama: Son—
mama: [Quietly.] ​I don’t ’low no yellin’ in this ­house, Walter Lee, and you know
it— [walter stares at them in frustration and starts to speak several times.]
And there ain’t going to be no investing in no liquor stores. I don’t aim to
have to speak on that again.
[A long pause.]
walter: Oh—so you don’t aim to have to speak on that again? So you have
decided . . . ​[Crumpling his papers.] Well, you tell that to my boy to­night
when you put him to sleep on the living-­room couch . . . ​[Turning to mama
and speaking directly to her.] Yeah—­and tell it to my wife, Mama, tomorrow
when she has to go out of ­here to look after somebody e­ lse’s kids. And tell it
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to me, Mama, every time we need a new pair of curtains and I have to watch
you go out and work in somebody’s kitchen. Yeah, you tell me then!
[walter starts out.]
ruth: Where you going?
walter: I’m going out!
ruth: Where?
walter: Just out of this ­house somewhere—
ruth: [Getting her coat.] I’ll come too.
walter: I don’t want you to come!
ruth: I got something to talk to you about, Walter.
walter: That’s too bad.
mama: [Still quietly.] ​Walter Lee— [She waits and he finally turns and looks at
her.] Sit down.
walter: I’m a grown man, Mama.
mama: Ain’t nobody said you ­wasn’t grown. But you still in my ­house and my presence. And as long as you are—­you’ll talk to your wife civil. Now sit down.
ruth: [Suddenly.] Oh, let him go on out and drink himself to death! He makes
me sick to my stomach! [She flings her coat against him.]
walter: [Violently.] And you turn mine too, baby! [ruth goes into their bedroom
and slams the door behind her.] That was my greatest mistake—
mama: [Still quietly.] Walter, what is the matter with you?
walter: Matter with me? Ain’t nothing the matter with me!
mama: Yes there is. Something eating you up like a crazy man. Something more
than me not giving you this money. The past few years I been watching it happen to you. You get all ner­vous acting and kind of wild in the eyes—[walter
jumps up impatiently at her words.] I said sit there now, I’m talking to you!
walter: Mama—I don’t need no nagging at me today.
mama: Seem like you getting to a place where you always tied up in some kind
of knot about something. But if anybody ask you ’bout it you just yell at ’em
and bust out the ­house and go out and drink somewheres. Walter Lee, people ­can’t live with that. Ruth’s a good, patient girl in her way—­but you getting to be too much. Boy, don’t make the mistake of driving that girl away
from you.
walter: Why—what she do for me?
mama: She loves you.
walter: Mama—I’m going out. I want to go off somewhere and be by myself
for a while.
mama: I’m sorry ’bout your liquor store, son. It just w
­ asn’t the thing for us to do.
That’s what I want to tell you about—
walter: I got to go out, Mama—
[He rises.]
mama: It’s dangerous, son.
walter: What’s dangerous?
mama: When a man goes outside his home to look for peace.
walter: [Beseechingly.] ​T hen why ­can’t there never be no peace in this ­house
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act I, Scene Two
mama: You done found it in some other h
­ ouse?
walter: No—there ain’t no woman! Why do women always think there’s a
woman somewhere when a man gets restless. [Coming to her.] Mama—­
Mama—I want so many things . . . ​
mama: Yes, son—
walter: I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy . . . ​
Mama—­look at me.
mama: I’m looking at you. You a good-­looking boy. You got a job, a nice wife, a
fine boy and—
walter: A job. [Looks at her.] Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day
long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, “Yes, sir; no, sir; very
good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir?” Mama, that ain’t no kind of job . . . ​that
ain’t nothing at all. [Very quietly.] Mama, I don’t know if I can make you
mama: Understand what, baby?
walter: [Quietly.] ​Sometimes it’s like I can see the future stretched out in front
of me—­just plain as day. The future, Mama. Hanging over there at the edge
of my days. Just waiting for me—­a big, looming blank space—­full of nothing.
Just waiting for me. [Pause.] Mama—­sometimes when I’m downtown and I
pass them cool, quiet-­looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting
back and talking ’bout things . . . ​sitting there turning deals worth millions
of dollars . . . ​sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me—
mama: Son—how come you talk so much ’bout money?
walter: [With im­mense passion.] Because it is life, Mama!
mama: [Quietly.] ​Oh— [Very quietly.] 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. [She looks at him.] 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 . . . ​Now ­here come you and Beneatha—­talking ’bout things we ain’t
never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy. You ain’t satisfied or
proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out
of trouble till you was grown; that you don’t have to r­ ide to work on the back
of nobody’s streetcar—­You my children—­but how different we done become.
walter: You just don’t understand, Mama, you just don’t understand.
mama: Son—do you know your wife is expecting another baby? [walter stands,
stunned, and absorbs what his mother has said.] That’s what she wanted to talk
to you about. [walter sinks down into a chair.] This ain’t for me to be
telling—­but you ought to know. [She waits.] I think Ruth is thinking ’bout
getting rid of that child.5
walter: [Slowly understanding.] No—­no—Ruth ­wouldn’t do that.
mama: When the world gets ugly enough—­a woman will do anything for her
family. The part that’s already living.
5. Abortions ­were illegal and dangerous in the United States prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme
Court decision.
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walter: You don’t know Ruth, Mama, if you think she would do that.
[ruth opens the bedroom door and stands there a little limp.]
ruth: [Beaten.] Yes I would too, Walter. [Pause.] I gave her a five-­dollar down
[There is total silence as the man stares at his wife and the mother stares at
her son.]
mama: [Presently.] ​Well— [Tightly.] Well—­son, I’m waiting to hear you say
something . . . ​I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man
he was . . . ​[Pause.] Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m
waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life,
not who destroys them— [She rises.] I’m waiting to see you stand up and look
like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t
going to give up nary another one . . . ​I’m waiting.
walter: Ruth—
mama: If you a son of mine, tell her! [walter turns, looks at her and can say
nothing. She continues, bitterly.] You . . . ​you are a disgrace to your father’s
memory. Somebody get me my hat.
Scene One
Time: Later the same day.
At rise: ruth is ironing again. She has the radio going. Presently beneatha’s
bedroom door opens and ruth’s mouth falls and she puts down the iron in
ruth: What have we got on to­night!
beneatha: [Emerging grandly from the doorway so that we can see her thoroughly
robed in the costume asagai brought.] ​You are looking at what a well-­dressed
Nigerian woman wears— [She parades for ruth, her hair completely hidden
by the headdress; she is coquettishly fanning herself with an ornate oriental fan,
mistakenly more like Butterfly6 than any Nigerian that ever was.] Isn’t it beautiful? [She promenades to the radio and, with an arrogant flourish, turns off the
good loud blues that is playing.] Enough of this assimilationist junk! [ruth
follows her with her eyes as she goes to the phonograph and puts on a record and
turns and waits ceremoniously for the music to come up. Then, with a shout—]
[ruth jumps. The music comes up, a lovely Nigerian melody. beneatha
listens, enraptured, her eyes far away—“back to the past.” She begins to dance.
ruth is dumbfounded.]
6. Madame Butterfly, a Japa­nese woman married to, and then abandoned by, an American man in the
opera Madama Butterfly (1904), by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858–­1924).
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A Raisin in the Sun, Act II, Scene One
ruth: What kind of dance is that?
beneatha: A folk dance.
ruth: [Pearl Bailey.]7 What kind of folks do that, honey?
beneatha: It’s from Nigeria. It’s a dance of welcome.
ruth: Who you welcoming?
beneatha: The men back to the village.
ruth: Where they been?
beneatha: How should I know—­out hunting or something. Anyway, they are
coming back now . . . ​
ruth: Well, that’s good.
beneatha: [With the record.]
Alundi, alundi
Alundi alunya
Jop pu a jeepua
Ang gu soooooooooo
Ai yai yae . . . ​
Ayehaye—alundi . . . ​
[walter comes in during this per­for­mance; he has obviously been drinking.
He leans against the door heavily and watches his sister, at first with distaste.
Then his eyes look off—“back to the past”—­as he lifts both his fists to the
roof, screaming.]
walter: YEAH . . . ​
AGAIN! . . .8
ruth: [Drily, looking at him.] ​Yes—­and Africa sure is claiming her own to­night.
[She gives them both up and starts ironing again.]
walter: [All in a drunken, dramatic shout.] Shut up! . . . ​I’m digging them
drums . . . ​them drums move me! . . . ​[He makes his weaving way to his wife’s
face and leans in close to her.] In my heart of hearts— [He thumps his chest.]
—I am much warrior!
ruth: [Without even looking up.] ​In your heart of hearts you are much drunkard.
walter: [Coming away from her and starting to wander around the room, shouting.] Me and Jomo . . . ​[Intently, in his sister’s face. She has stopped dancing to
watch him in this unknown mood.] That’s my man, Kenyatta.9 [Shouting and
thumping his chest.] FLAMING SPEAR! HOT DAMN! [He is suddenly in
possession of an imaginary spear and actively spearing enemies all over the
[He pulls his shirt open and leaps up on a table and gestures with his spear. The
bell rings. ruth goes to answer.]
beneatha: [To encourage walter, thoroughly caught up with this side of him.]​
7. That is, in the manner of the pop­u­lar African American singer and entertainer (1918–­90).
8. See Psalms 68.31: “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto
9. Jomo Kenyatta (1893–­1978), African po­liti­cal leader and first president of Kenya (1964–­78) following its in­de­pen­dence from British colonial rule.
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walter: [On the table, very far gone, his eyes pure glass sheets. He sees what we
cannot, that he is a leader of his people, a great chief, a descendant of Chaka,1
and that the hour to march has come.] Listen, my black brothers—
beneatha: OCOMOGOSIAY!
walter: —Do you hear the waters rushing against the shores of the coastlands—
beneatha: OCOMOGOSIAY!
walter: —Do you hear the screeching of the cocks in yonder hills beyond
where the chiefs meet in council for the coming of the mighty war—
beneatha: OCOMOGOSIAY!
walter: —Do you hear the beating of the wings of the birds flying low over the
mountains and the low places of our land—
[ruth opens the door. george murchison enters.]
beneatha: OCOMOGOSIAY!
walter: —Do you hear the singing of the women, singing the war songs of our
fathers to the babies in the great h
­ ouses . . . ​singing the sweet war songs?
beneatha: [Completely gone.] W
​ e hear you, Flaming Spear—
walter: Telling us to prepare for the greatness of the time— [To george.]
Black Brother!
[He extends his hand for the fraternal clasp.]
george: Black Brother, hell!
ruth: [Having had enough, and embarrassed for the family.] ​Beneatha, you got
company—­what’s the matter with you? Walter Lee Younger, get down off
that table and stop acting like a fool . . . ​
[walter comes down off the table suddenly and makes a quick exit to the
ruth: He’s had a little to drink . . . ​I don’t know what her excuse is.
george: [To beneatha.] ​Look honey, ­we’re going to the theatre—­we’re not
going to be in it . . . ​so go change, huh?
ruth: You expect this boy to go out with you looking like that?
beneatha: [Looking at george.] That’s up to George. If he’s ashamed of his
george: Oh, don’t be so proud of yourself, Bennie—­just because you look
beneatha: How can something that’s natural be eccentric?
george: That’s what being eccentric means—­being natural. Get dressed.
beneatha: I don’t like that, George.
ruth: Why must you and your brother make an argument out of everything
people say?
beneatha: Because I hate assimilationist Negroes!
ruth: Will somebody please tell me what assimila-­who-­ever means!
1. Zulu chief (1786–­1828), also known as “Shaka” and called “The Black Napoleon” for his strategic
and or­gan­i ­za­t ion­a l genius.
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A Raisin in the Sun, Act II, Scene One

george: Oh, it’s just a college girl’s way of calling people Uncle Toms—­but that
isn’t what it means at all.
ruth: Well, what does it mean?
beneatha: [Cutting george off and staring at him as she replies to ruth.] It
means someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case, oppressive culture!
george: Oh, dear, dear, dear! H
­ ere 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! [Nastily.] Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-­assed spirituals and some grass huts!
beneatha: Grass huts! [ruth crosses to her and forcibly pushes her toward the
bedroom.] See there . . . ​you are standing there in your splendid ignorance
talking about people who ­were the first to smelt iron on the face of the earth!
[ruth is pushing her through the door.] The Ashanti ­were performing surgical
operations when the English— [ruth pulls the door to, with beneatha on the
other side, and smiles graciously at george. beneatha opens the door and
shouts the end of the sentence defiantly at george.] —­were still tattooing
themselves with blue dragons . . . ​[She goes back inside.]
ruth: Have a seat, George. [They both sit. ruth folds her hands rather primly on
her lap, determined to demonstrate the civilization of the family.] Warm, ain’t it?
I mean for September. [Pause.] Just like they always say about Chicago weather:
If it’s too hot or cold for you, just wait a minute and it’ll change. [She smiles
happily at this cliché of clichés.] Everybody say it’s got to do with them bombs
and things they keep setting off.2 [Pause.] Would you like a nice cold beer?
george: No, thank you. I don’t care for beer. [He looks at his watch.] I hope she
hurries up.
ruth: What time is the show?
george: It’s an eight-­thirty curtain. That’s just Chicago, though. In New York
standard curtain time is eight forty.
[He is rather proud of this knowledge.]
ruth: [Properly appreciating it.] ​You get to New York a lot?
george: [Offhand.] ​Few times a year.
ruth: Oh—that’s nice. I’ve never been to New York.
[walter enters. We feel he has relieved himself, but the edge of unreality is
still with him.]
walter: New York ain’t got nothing Chicago ain’t. Just a bunch of hustling
people all squeezed up together—­being “Eastern.”
[He turns his face into a screw of dis­plea­sure.]
george: Oh—you’ve been?
walter: Plenty of times.
ruth: [Shocked at the lie.] ​Walter Lee Younger!
2. In the 1950s, people commonly blamed weather fluctuations on atomic testing.
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walter: [Staring her down.] ​Plenty! [Pause.] What we got to drink in this ­house?
Why don’t you offer this man some refreshment. [To george.] They don’t
know how to entertain people in this h
­ ouse, man.
george: Thank you—­I don’t really care for anything.
walter: [Feeling his head; sobriety coming.] ​Where’s Mama?
ruth: She ain’t come back yet.
walter: [Looking murchison over from head to toe, scrutinizing his carefully
casual tweed sports jacket over cashmere V‑neck sweater over soft eyelet shirt and
tie, and soft slacks, finished off with white buckskin shoes.] Why all you college
boys wear them fairyish-­looking white shoes?
ruth: Walter Lee!
[george murchison ignores the remark.]
walter: [To ruth.] ​Well, they look crazy as hell—­white shoes, cold as it is.
ruth: [Crushed.] You have to excuse him—
walter: No he don’t! Excuse me for what? What you always excusing me for!
I’ll excuse myself when I needs to be excused! [A pause.] They look as funny
­ ere all the time.
as them black knee socks Beneatha wears out of h
ruth: It’s the college style, Walter.
walter: Style, hell, She looks like she got burnt legs or something!
ruth: Oh, Walter—
walter: [An irritable mimic.] ​Oh, Walter! Oh, Walter! [To murchison.] How’s
your old man making out? I understand you all going to buy that big hotel on
the Drive?3 [He finds a beer in the refrigerator, wanders over to murchison,
sipping and wiping his lips with the back of his hand, and straddling a chair
backwards to talk to the other man.] Shrewd move. Your old man is all right,
man. [Tapping his head and half winking for emphasis.] I mean he knows how
to operate. I mean he thinks big, you know what I mean, I mean for a home,
you know? But I think he’s kind of running out of ideas now. I’d like to talk
to him. Listen, man, I got some plans that could turn this city upside
down. I mean I think like he does. Big. Invest big, gamble big, hell, lose
big if you have to, you know what I mean. It’s hard to find a man on this
­whole Southside who understands my kind of thinking—­you dig? [He
scrutinizes murchison again, drinks his beer, squints his eyes and leans in
close, confidential, man to man.] Me and you ought to sit down and talk
sometimes, man. Man, I got me some ideas . . . ​
george: [With boredom.] Y
​ eah—­sometimes we’ll have to do that, Walter.
walter: [Understanding the indifference, and offended.] Yeah—­well, when you
get the time, man. I know you a busy little boy.
ruth: Walter, please—
walter: [Bitterly, hurt.] I know ain’t nothing in this world as busy as you colored
college boys with your fraternity pins and white shoes . . . ​
ruth: [Covering her face with humiliation.] Oh, Walter Lee—
walter: I see you all the time—­with the books tucked under your arms—­going
to your [British A—­a mimic.] “clahsses.” And for what! What the hell you
3. Lake Shore Drive, a scenic thoroughfare along Lake Michigan.
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lorraine hansberry
A Raisin in the Sun, Act II, Scene One
learning over there? Filling up your heads— [Counting off on his fingers.] —
with the sociology and the psychology—­but they teaching you how to be a
man? How to take over and run the world? They teaching you how to run a
rubber plantation or a steel mill? Naw—­just to talk proper and read books
and wear white shoes . . . ​
george: [Looking at him with distaste, a little above it all.] ​You’re all wacked up
with bitterness, man.
walter: [Intently, almost quietly, between the teeth, glaring at the boy.] ​A nd
you—­ain’t you bitter, man? Ain’t you just about had it yet? Don’t you see no
stars gleaming that you ­can’t reach out and grab? You happy?—­You contented
son-­of-­a‑bitch—you happy? You got it made? Bitter? Man, I’m a volcano. Bitter? ­Here I am a giant—­surrounded by ants! Ants who c­ an’t even understand
what it is the giant is talking about.
ruth: [Passionately and suddenly.] ​Oh, Walter—­ain’t you with nobody!
walter: [Violently.] ​No! ’Cause ain’t nobody with me! Not even my own
ruth: Walter, that’s a terrible thing to say!
[beneatha enters, dressed for the eve­ning in a cocktail dress and earrings.]
george: Well—hey, you look great.
beneatha: Let’s go, George. See you all later.
ruth: Have a nice time.
george: Thanks. Good night. [To walter, sarcastically.] Good night, Prometheus.4
[beneatha and george exit.]
walter: [To ruth.] ​Who is Prometheus?
ruth: I don’t know. Don’t worry about it.
walter: [In fury, pointing after george.] ​See there—­they get to a point where
they ­can’t insult you man to man—­they got to go talk about something ain’t
nobody never heard of!
ruth: How do you know it was an insult? [To humor him.] Maybe Prometheus
is a nice fellow.
walter: Prometheus! I bet there ain’t even no such thing! I bet that simple-­
minded clown—
ruth: Walter—
[She stops what she is doing and looks at him.]
walter: [Yelling.] ​Don’t start!
ruth: Start what?
walter: Your nagging! Where was I? Who was I with? How much money did I
ruth: [Plaintively.] Walter Lee—­why don’t we just try to talk about it . . . ​
4. In Greek mythology, Prometheus represented the bold creative spirit; defying the gods, he stole
fire from Olympus (the locale of the gods) and gave it to humankind. Though successful, he was
harshly punished by Zeus.
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walter: [Not listening.] ​I been out talking with people who understand me.
People who care about the things I got on my mind.
ruth: [Wearily.] ​I guess that means people like Willy Harris.
walter: Yes, people like Willy Harris.
ruth: [With a sudden flash of impatience.] ​Why don’t you all just hurry up and
go into the banking business and stop talking about it!
walter: Why? You want to know why? ’Cause we all tied up in a race of people
that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies!
[The line is too bitter even for him and he looks at her and sits down.]
ruth: Oh, Walter . . . ​[Softly.] Honey, why c­ an’t you stop fighting me?
walter: [Without thinking.] Who’s fighting you? Who even cares about you?
[This line begins the retardation of his mood.]
ruth: Well— [She waits a long time, and then with resignation starts to put away
her things.] I guess I might as well go on to bed . . . ​[More or less to herself.] I
don’t know where we lost it . . . ​but we have . . . ​[Then, to him.] I—­I’m sorry
about this new baby, Walter. I guess maybe I better go on and do what I
started . . . ​I guess I just didn’t realize how bad things was with us . . . ​I
guess I just didn’t really realize— [She starts out to the bedroom and stops.]
You want some hot milk?
walter: Hot milk?
ruth: Yes—hot milk.
walter: Why hot milk?
ruth: ’Cause after all that liquor you come home with you ought to have something hot in your stomach.
walter: I don’t want no milk.
ruth: You want some coffee then?
walter: No, I don’t want no coffee. I don’t want nothing hot to drink. [Almost
plaintively.] Why you always trying to give me something to eat?
ruth: [Standing and looking at him helplessly.] What e­ lse can I give you, Walter
Lee Younger?
[She stands and looks at him and presently turns to go out again. He lifts his
head and watches her going away from him in a new mood which began to
emerge when he asked her “Who cares about you?”]
walter: It’s been rough, ain’t it, baby? [She hears and stops but does not turn
around and he continues to her back.] I guess between two people there ain’t
never as much understood as folks generally thinks there is. I mean like
between me and you— [She turns to face him.] How we gets to the place
where we scared to talk softness to each other. [He waits, thinking hard himself.] Why you think it got to be like that? [He is thoughtful, almost as a child
would be.] Ruth, what is it gets into people ought to be close?
ruth: I don’t know, honey. I think about it a lot.
walter: On account of you and me, you mean? The way things are with us.
The way something done come down between us.
ruth: There ain’t so much between us, Walter . . . ​Not when you come to me
and try to talk to me. Try to be with me . . . ​a little even.
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A Raisin in the Sun, Act II, Scene One
walter: [Total honesty.] ​Sometimes . . . ​sometimes . . . ​I don’t even know how
to try.
ruth: Walter—
walter: Yes?
ruth: [Coming to him, gently and with misgiving, but coming to him.] ​Honey . . . ​
life don’t have to be like this. I mean sometimes people can do things so that
things are better . . . ​You remember how we used to talk when Travis was
born . . . ​about the way w…
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