The A Raisin in the Sun unit falls immediately after Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir. All three units are an exploration of American families grappling with the myth of the American Dream—that anyone can make it big and live wealthy in this country. In A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry zooms in on one working-class black family in order to demonstrate how race poses a significant barrier to achieving the American Dream.
Hansberry’s writing is so remarkable because of her accuracy in capturing the racial dynamics of her time. The play’s setting covers a critical time period for race relations in America: after WWII and before the Civil Rights movement. American soldiers in World War II fought to uphold equal opportunity for all, an idea that exposed the hypocrisy of the very unequal conditions for blacks back home. Americans were starting to address these inequalities at the time Hansberry was writing; she does an exquisite job of capturing the tense mood of her time through the Younger family.
The Younger family’s fulfillment and nonfulfillment of the American Dream reflects how black Americans as a whole had gained some concessions while still being oppressed. Hansberry’s character Beneatha was ahead of her time. The play opened in 1959, before feminists started demanding their rights and before black Americans began embracing Africanness and “Black Is Beautiful” as parts of their identities. Beneatha embodies both movements before they ever existed.
A Raisin in the Sun is part of a larger shift in black art towards depicting poor and ordinary African Americans. Historically, black intellectuals did not use literature, art, or the stage to portray poor African Americans for fear they would perpetuate undesirable stereotypes. Both poet Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry challenged this notion and thought that by writing about lower class African Americans they would actually debunk the stereotypes.
While A Raisin in the Sun highlights another example of the illusion of the American Dream, it also provides a perspective that has not been captured in 7th grade ELA thus far—the perspective of a middle-class black family in Southside Chicago in the 1950s. This unit also offers an opportunity for students to continue to develop their skills from previous units such as finding themes, analyzing the author’s use of tone (especially sarcasm), and understanding how diction is used to build tension in another classic American drama.
Texts and Materials
- A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (First Vintage Books)
- Article: “Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark and "The Doll Test"”
- Video: “The Doll Test”
- Video: “Black is Beautiful”
- Excerpt: Prometheus
- Video: “Clip 1 on hair”
- Video: “Blackface Montage from Spike Lee's Bamboozled”
- Poem: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes
- Booker T. Washington
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Da Capo Press)
- When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir by Esmeralda Santiago (Da Capo Press: A Merloyd Lawrence Book edition)
- Poem: “Harlem” by Langston Hughes
- Death of a Salesman
- Reading Standards for Literature
- RL.7.1 — Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- RL.7.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
- RL.7.3 — Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).
- RL.7.5 — Analyze how a drama's or poem's form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning.
- RL.7.6 — Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.
- RL.7.9 — Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.
- Writing Standards
- Speaking and Listening Standards
- SL.7.5 — Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.
Read and annotate A Raisin in the Sun.Make sure to annotate as if you were a student, marking areas with strong descriptions of character, setting and tension. Note any student misconceptions you anticipate.
Read closely and annotate the unit plan and unit test. Identify what question stems and vocabulary you need to weave into class to set students up for success.
Read and annotate “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.
Read and annotate Lorraine Hansberry quick biography.
Read Context section of Spark Notes http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/raisin/context.html
- Research “assimilation” in the black movement.
- Read and annotate “The Doll Test” article. Then watch the video “The Doll Test.”
- Read and annotate Prometheus.
- Is the American Dream a romanticized phenomenon?
- Race: How do race and class affect the notion of the American Dream?
- Hope: What happens to a dream deferred?
- Assimilation: Should blacks celebrate their differences from whites or join the dominant white culture?
- Gender: What are the expectations of being a black man? What are the expectations of being a black woman?
Content Knowledge and Connections
- Assimilation (p. 63)
- Black Is Beautiful
- The Doll Test
- The American Dream
- Booker T Washington
- Langston Hughes
- The American Dream (past 7th grade units)
- Langston Hughes' “Mother to Son” and “Dreams” (3rd grade)
Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots
vi/vit/vig-, semi-, psych-
deferred (poem, “Harlem”), weariness(23), contradictions (23), disheveled (25), indictment (25), indifference (26), gleefully (28), exasperated (28, 41), sullen (29), gruffness (30), defiance (31), vigorously(ROOT Alert: “vi/vit/vig-= life”) (33), doggedly (39), meddling (40), self-righteous (43), flit (47-48), tyrant (52), dreary (53), semiconsciousness (ROOT Alert: “semi”) (53), idle (54), intellectual (56), ignorant (57), forlorn (57), dejection (57), suppress (59), mutilate (63-64), profile (62), psychological (ROOT Alert: “psych”), (The Doll Test, lesson 6), eccentric (80), heritage (81), wearily (102), exuberance (112), facetiousness (120), indignantly (124), agony (128), profound (131)
Idioms and Cultural References
Uncle Toms (81), Assimilationist Negroes (81), Prometheus (86), Booker T. Washington (103)
Writing Focus Areas
Literary Analysis Focus Correction Areas
Stated their claim and previewed reasons that accurately support the claim.
Got their readers to care by including a cool fact or jazzy question about topic
Introduction matches the organization of the body paragraphs.
- Interested readers in their argument and helped them to understand the backstory through purposeful word choice
- Grouped information and related ideas into paragraphs.
Put the parts of their writing in the order that most suited their purpose and helped their prove their reasons and claim
The order of the sections and the internal structure of each section made sense
Used topic sentences, transitions, formatting (where appropriate) to clarify the structure of the piece and to highlight their main points.
Gave at least three accurate reasons/examples and information to support their reasons, perhaps from a text, their knowledge, or their life to support their claim that were parallel and did not overlap
Discussed and explained the way that the evidence went with the claim in at least 2 sentences
Put reasons in an order that they thought would be most convincing
- Provided context for evidence/introduced quotations
- Made choices about how to angle evidence to support main points.
- A Raisin in the Sun — Epigraph
Explain what the title A Raisin in the Sun reveals about the theme of the play.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 24 — 34
Make inferences on setting and characters based on the stage directions.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 47 — 57
Explain how Beneatha’s education makes her perspective different from the rest of the family.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 68 — 75
- “Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark and "The Doll Test"”
- “The Doll Test” — first 3 minutes
Annotate an informational text using SSS (set a purpose, synthesize the paragraph, summarize the central idea) strategies. Students will be able to synthesize the psychological impact of segregation on the black community according to the article.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 76 — 85
- “Black is Beautiful”
Explain the tension between Beneatha and George’s political views on black identity whether blacks should celebrate their differences from whites or join the white culture.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 86 — 95
Identify the ways Hansberry manipulates the tone of different characters.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 96 — 109
- Booker T. Washington
Explain why Hansberry includes the character Mrs. Johnson.
- A Raisin in the Sun
- Death of a Salesman
Compare and contrast the theme of the American Dream in Death of a Salesman and A Raisin in the Sun.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 110 — 121
Explain how sarcasm helps Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha cope with the upsetting news from Karl Lindner.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 122 — 132
Identify and explain how the author develops the climax of the plot.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 133 — 143
Compare the imagery in Hughes’ “Harlem” to the characters in A Raisin in the Sun.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 144 — 151
- “Blackface Montage from Spike Lee's Bamboozled”
Explain how Walter has changed as a character by coming into his “manhood”.