A Raisin in the Sun is the fourth unit of seventh grade after The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, When I was Puerto Rican and Death of a Salesman. The purpose of all four units is for students to explore a diverse array of American families grappling with the myth of the American Dream—that anyone can make it big and live wealthy in the United States. In A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry zooms in on one working-class black family in Southside Chicago in the 1950s in order to demonstrate how race poses a significant barrier to achieving the American Dream.
Hansberry’s play is so significant because of her honesty in depicting the racial dynamics of her time. The play is set during a crucial time period for race relations in America- after WWII and before the Civil Rights movement. American soldiers in World War II fought to support equality for all, an idea that shed light on the hypocrisy of the profoundly unequal opportunities for blacks in America. The play captures the Younger family's fulfillment and nonfulfillment of the American Dream, further explaining how black Americans made some advances while mostly still being oppressed. Hansberry's work is so progressive because Americans were only starting to address these inequalities when the play opened in 1959.
A Raisin in the Sun represents a turning point in black art towards portraying ordinary and poor African-Americans. Historically, black intellectuals did not use literature, art or theatre to depict working class African Americans for fear they would reify harmful stereotypes. Both poet Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry believed that by portraying ordinary African Americans through art they would actually challenge the stereotypes.
In this unit, students will sharpen their independent reading and annotating skills so they are fully prepared to perform the play in class. By examining how the playwright develops the tone and perspectives of multiple characters, students will gain insight in how to best act out the dialogue which will lead to deeper understanding of the themes. Through a plethora of articles, poems and video clips (such as "The Doll Test" and "Black is Beautiful"), students will build background knowledge on the impact of segregation and the black power movement of the 1950s and 60s. Ultimately, students will emerge from this unit with a stronger sense of the time period in which Hansberry wrote as well as a clearer grasp on the literary devices employed to convey deep messages about race, gender, class and the American Dream.
Texts and Materials
- A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (First Vintage Books)
- Poem: “Harlem” by Langston Hughes
- Video: “This is Good Hair, Too: A Black Natural Hair Documentary”
- Poem: “Good Hair” by Sherman Alexie
- Article: “Brown at 60: The Doll Test”
- Video: “The Doll Test”
- Video: “Raisin in the Sun CH 15 Dance”
- Video: “Black is Beautiful”
- Video: “Blackface Montage from Spike Lee's Bamboozled”
- Poem: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes
- Article: “Where Beauty Means Bleached Skin”
- Article: “Booker T. Washington Biography”
- Death of a Salesman
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown and Company, 2009)
- When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir by Esmeralda Santiago (Da Capo Press: A Merloyd Lawrence Book edition)
- 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.
- Reading Standards for Informational Text
- RI.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.
- RI.7.2 — Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
- Writing Standards
- Speaking and Listening Standards
- SL.7.4 — Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with pertinent descriptions, facts, details, and examples; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
- 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. Write down questions for your coach.
- Read and annotate the unit test. Identify what question stems and vocabulary you need to weave into class to set students up for success.
- Write mastery response for Unit Test essay question.
- Read and annotate “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. Answer the questions below:
- There are all kinds of dreams. What kind of dreams do you think our speaker is thinking about?
- What does it mean to defer a dream?
- Our speaker offers several possible answers to his first question.
- Which of these answers do you think he believes in most?
- Text to Self: Describe a time when you had a dream (or someone close to you) that you could not pursue. What happened? Do you still think about it?
- How do race and class affect the notion of The American Dream?
- What happens to a dream deferred?
- Should blacks celebrate their differences from whites or assimilate into the dominant white culture?
- If Walter wasn’t a man, would he still feel so ashamed by his economic troubles? What are the expectations of being a black man?
- How does Beneatha challenge the expectations that both her race and gender place on her?
- What was the psychological impact of segregation on African American youth in the 1960s?
Content Knowledge and Connections
- Black Is Beautiful
- The Doll Test
- The American Dream
- Booker T. Washington
- Langston Hughes
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
- Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
- Poetry Unit: The Harlem Renaissance (7th grade)
- Fences by August Wilson (8th grade)
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (8th grade)
- The Bluest Eye by Tony Morrison (9th grade)
Theme, setting, character, stage directions, perspective, symbolism, synthesis, tension, sarcasm, climax, tone
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 (33), doggedly (39) meddling (40), self-righteous (43), flit (47-48), tyrant (52), dreary (53) semi-consciousness (53), idle (54), intellectual (56) ignorant (57), forlorn (57), dejection (57) suppress (59) mutilate (63-64), profile (62) psychological (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
Students will continue to dissect the prompt by breaking it into parts in order to fully grasp the question before starting their outlines and draft pages. In their literary essays throughout the unit and on the test, students will emphasize the theme of The American Dream as they focus on writing clear thesis statements, identifying relevant examples from the text and organizing their ideas in logical progressions. In the final lesson of the unit, students will write essays comparing how Langston Hughes’ reflects the experiences of main characters from two different seventh grade texts in his poem “Let America Be America Again.” This requires students to pull evidence and analyze three texts in one essay. It is therefore essential that teachers work on the organization of writing in order for students to succeed on this final writing project.
Literary Analysis Writing Focus 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. 58 — 67
- “This is Good Hair, Too: A Black Natural Hair Documentary” — Watch from 0:00 to 7:22
- “Good Hair”
Analyze the symbolism of Beneatha’s hair.
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 68 — 75
- “Brown at 60: The Doll Test”
- “The Doll Test” — Watch 0:00-3:00
- “Black is Beautiful”
- “Where Beauty Means Bleached Skin” — optional
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.
- “Raisin in the Sun CH 15 Dance”
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 76 — 85
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 Biography” — optional
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
Analyze the effects of Beneatha and Walter’s deferred dreams on their perspectives.
- “Blackface Montage from Spike Lee's Bamboozled”
- A Raisin in the Sun pg. 144 — 151
Explain how Walter has changed as a character by coming into his “manhood”.