Success/Values and the Generation Gap:
o Examine how the values of the different generations of the Younger family embody the transitioning phases of the African American experience at that unique point of intersection that was 1959—that moment in U.S. history when the postwar economic boon that seemed to put the American Dream within everyone’s reach was ending, and the very sanctity of that dream was about to come under increasingly heavy fire from the various “liberation” groups of the 1960s.
Walter Lee defines success as material and financial gain. Beneatha defines success as self-actualization, or learning about and nurturing oneself. But to their mother, Lena, success is less self-centered and lies more in creating a happy, healthy family. Lena frequently compares her children’s values to her own and her late husband’s, and finds her children to be less moral or spiritual in their hopes and dreams. She does not believe that material success will elevate the family, as Walter Lee does, instead observing that his grasping after this idea of success is damaging his family. Consider the generational differences in defining success, but also consider how Walter Lee’s and Beneatha’s notions of success resemble those of their parents.
Lena represents an old order, one in which the younger generation respects its elders and in which religious faith—rather than material wealth—is at the center of human life. Her children—disrespectful, opinionated, and success-hungry—represent the newer world that Lena cannot understand. Many of the struggles between the mother and her adult children revolve around one’s misunderstanding of the other’s perspective. In many ways, Ruth is a type of bridge character: she is a member of the younger generation by virtue of her age, but her belief in hard work and respect is more in line with Lena’s values. Lena has yet to relinquish her authority and power in the family, and continues to treat her children as children in spite of their age. By the end of the play she finally defers to her son as head of the household when he begins to rise to the role. What change in the characters’ values takes place in order for this shift in power to occur? Ultimately, what– if any–values are shared by the family?
Men and Women and Identity:
o What about relationships between men and women is admired or expected in the play? How do these relationships fit into the theme of dreams? For example, Walter often complains that he cannot be a man without the support of the women in his family. How do differences in the definition of what manhood is contribute to the conflict and resolution? Explore the power dynamics between male and female characters in the play and how they tie into ideas of “liberation” and success.
o Identity is a key issue in A Raisin in the Sun; readers see Beneatha in search of her own identity, but, ironically, she is searching for herself through the men she dates. Explain if you see Beneatha as a conformist or rebel/feminist.
o Another key conflict developed in the play is traditional roles vs. non-traditional; for instance, Beneatha represents the non-traditional roles of women, whereas Ruth represents the traditional role of women. Then explain which character (if any) advocates Baraka’s claim concerning liberation.
o Explore Walter Lee’s attempts to reconcile his “two warring ideals,” the two halves of his identity—a black man and an American (what W.E.B. Du Bois calls “double consciousness”). Trace Walter’s “longing to attain self-conscious manhood, [and his efforts] to merge his double self into a better and truer self” (Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, Ch. 1). How does Walter define manhood? Does that definition change by the end of the play? What obstacles does he face in his attempts to attain “self-conscious manhood,” and if he is finally able to achieve a “better and truer self,” how does he finally reach that goal?
Relationships between men and women in the play vary while commenting upon each other. Ruth is practical while Walter Lee is a dreamer, and Walter Lee complains that Ruth doesn’t understand or support him in his dreams, lamenting that black women in general don’t stand behind black men. George Murchison wants Beneatha to scale back her dreams and simply be a pretty girl on his arm. Asagai understands the passion and imagination that motivate Beneatha, precisely the qualities for which George