A Raisin in the Sun Summary

A Raising in the Sun is a play that depicts a heavy life of an African-American family of Youngers who are living at the brink of poverty in a tiny and old apartment where Lena (a.k.a. Mama), the matriarch of the family, her two kids Walter and Beneatha, Walter’s wife Ruth and their son Travis can hardly accommodate themselves. Travis is the innocent little kid who loves all his family and Grandma, but he is the only one who goes along well with everyone. The rest of the family, suffering from lack of private space, quarrels almost constantly. The harsh and strong personalities of both Walter and Beneatha don’t help either.

Walter works hard to keep his family afloat, but he is a hopeless dreamer and equally hopeless alcoholic. All his free time he spends with his friends Willy and Bobo, planning to open an alcohol store once they miraculously get rich (the easiest part of the plan, indeed). Beneatha, from the other hand, is much more level-headed, she wants to become a doctor and finally escape the poverty her family lives in. Despite the profession of the doctor is very unusual for black women, Beneatha clearly identifies herself as such, proudly growing her hair to show her prominent curls and connecting herself with her roots in Africa. Even the fact that the family can’t afford to pay for her study doesn’t stop her. The only family member who doesn’t have ambitious dreams is Ruth. The only thing she wishes is the happiness of her family and Travis in particular. Ruth allows her husband to indulge his dreams, working as a cleaner in neighboring homes and cleaning her own home as well.

The play starts with the news that Mama’s husband and Walter’s and Beneatha’s father have died in the car accident and the insurance company paid them $10 000. This sum of money, enormously huge for the 50th, belongs to Mama, but everyone except Travis and Ruth have their own idea about spending it. Beneatha hopes that Mama will finally pay for her study allowing her to be a medic, Walter tries to persuade everyone that he needs the whole sum to open a liquor store and become rich.

The situation becomes even more complicated when silent Ruth appears to be pregnant - but the house is already crowded. With a heavy heart the woman decides to abort her child, knowing that the family can’t strain the already scarce resources to feed one more member. She doesn’t want to sacrifice Travis’ future so Ruth rejects another possible kid to leave more money and space for already existing one.

But Mama indeed is a matriarch, wise and experienced. Learning that Ruth is pregnant and Walter doesn’t mind her aborting their child, she immediately spends some part of money to buy another, more spacious house for the whole family. The only trouble is that the house they can afford is situated in the “white” district, where black people are still not welcomed at all. When Mama announces her decision, the quarrels in the family start anew. Walter is offended that his genius plan was rejected. Beneatha isn’t amused at all with perspective for them to move into the white district and become the inferior people there again. Only Ruth agrees with Mama. She rarely says her opinion aloud, but in this case she stands not for herself but for Travis, who needs his space to study and grow up and her unborn child who she will be able to afford in the new house.

Meanwhile Beneatha shuns off one of her suitors named George Murchison for his insensitivity to the racial issues (she is really serious when it comes to her black heritage). He insisted on her assimilating and accept the white rules of play, lecturing her for her disagreement to do so. Instead she hangs with another man, Joseph Asagai from Nigeria. Joseph says lots of harsh things about Walter’s alcohol dependency and lack of manners, but he supports both Beneatha’s desire to become a doctor and her wish to return to her origins. He encourages her not to straighten her hair anymore to proudly show that she is black and teaches her African history and culture.

Seeing that the quarrels divide the family even further, Mama makes a second decision. She gives the rest of the money to Walter, ordering him to put them to the bank account. $3 000 are reserved for Beneatha’s study, the rest will support the family for the first time and after the birth of Ruth’s second child. Mama is definitely not fond of the idea of the liquor store. She insists that the money shall be invested in real future, not some dreams.

But Walter is as weak-willed as we see him from the first scene of the play. He immediately goes to have a drink with his friends to tell Willy and Bobo everything that happened in his family. He feels offended and his friends immediately come up with a plan. Walter doesn’t put money to the bank account, they use them for starting their business and, at the time Beneatha is ready to enroll, they will earn enough to return her part back. It looks like a great idea, what can possibly go wrong?

Hearing about the black family moving into their district, its inhabitants and the members of Clybourne Park Improvement Association (Clybourne Park is the name of the district) send their representative, Karl Lindner, to offer their unwanted neighbors even more money than they spent for the house just to keep them away from their shiny white district. Karl comes to the Younger’s house, behaving incredibly snobbish and almost throwing the money into Walter’s face. But he doesn’t answer at once, knowing that Mama and other women are very excited to finally move to a better home.

Mama and the rest of the family gather in the living room. They have already packed all the luggage including Mama’s favourite plants and lots of other old things that are dear to her heart. Walter hesitates to tell them about Lindner’s visit, but then Bobo comes in, breaking in tears. Walter asks him what happened and Bobo tells him a horrible story: Willy scammed them both taking all the money and leaving the town. Hearing about money, Mama demands explanation. Now Walter has no options except to tell the truth: he never went to the bank. The whole family is shocked and despair. Mother cries and, ignoring Walter who tries to explain everything, prays God to give her strength to bear it.

The last act shows how each of the family copes with this news. Walter just lies on his bed and is immersed in his thoughts, not showing any emotions. Beneatha, stripped of her dream, sits in the living room stunned. Asagai knocks at the door, he came to help with packing. Beneatha tells him everything and finally bursts into tears, remembering her childhood and her desire to heal people, mourning her dream, shouting at him, thinking that Asagai doesn’t understand her loss. But the man listens to her carefully and then simply proposes her to go to Africa with him and to help and care for people there. Her knowledge and her education is enough to help Africans even if she won’t be a doctor. Beneatha is fascinated with this possibility and he seems to cheer up with the romantic story Asagai tells about their future life in Nigeria. But still she needs to think it over and Asagai leaves, content, hoping that she will tell him her decision soon.

Walter finally walks down, frantically searching for the business card left by Karl. Disregarding Beneatha’s bitter mockery he finds it and runs away with it. Mama enters the room, she isn’t a bit as upbeat and confident as she was during all the play. She doesn’t even want to move anymore, despite the women’s attempt to persuade her. Mama blames herself entirely. Walter soon returns and says that he found a solution. He gladly announces that they have to give Karl what he wants to see. The show of humiliated beggars, glad to receive money from the big white man. That show will be rewarded with lots of money, more than they will need to repair their old house.

Mama, who seems to be ignorant, finally regains her will to say Walter that her ancestors were slaves for many generations, they worked to death but none of them was paid for hiding from sight of the white masters. She asks Walter what he is going to say to Karl and how will he feel afterwards. Walter harshly replies that he is a breadwinner and all he does is for his family to live better and to correct his mistake. He starts to impersonate a servile, stupid and self-loathing black slave Karl wants to see, almost breaking down and leaves to his room. Mama solemnly concludes that death came into their house and Beneatha agrees that Walter is dead inside now. She angrily adds that there is nothing left of her brother, but Mama confronts her that they should still love Walter because there is always something left.

Travis comes to say that the van for moving their baggage came and so did a stranger man. Walter returns to the living room to greet Karl and asks Travis to go to his room, but Mama stops him. She says that now Walter stands where all the generations before him stood and his choice will teach Travis what the boy should do in such a situation. This breaks Walter completely. Mama closes her eyes as she is convicted and says Walter to start.

Walter starts his awkward speech about them being a simple and poor people, but as he speaks his voice strengthens. He remembers his father who once beat his offender, to Lindner’s shock, and concludes that they all are proud people. Here stands his sister and she will be a doctor, no matter what. Here stands his son and he will live as equal to white people. They promise to be good neighbors and that’s all they have to say. They don’t need his money.

Mama still sits with her eyes closed but now she nods and whispers Amen as in church, thanking God for giving strength - not to her but to her son to confront the white men and his own weak-willed nature. Lindner, confused, asks Mama to influence her son as a wise woman, but she happily answers that that young people nowadays are completely disobedient to their mothers and if Walter decided to leave the house to themselves than so be it. Lindner has to leave.

Life slowly returns to the house. Beneatha tells Mama about her intent to move to Africa, Mama immediately replies that she is too young for such a serious decision as marriage. Beneatha and Walter immediately start to quarrel as they did before, indicating that everything is fine now and is returning to normal. Ruth quietly offers Mama to start moving the boxes with their luggage and Mama gladly agrees, saying that today it was Walter’s rite of passage and he is a man indeed now.