Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “A Raisin in the Sun” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “Raisin in the Sun” offer a short summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Roles of Dreams in A Raisin in the Sun
Each of the characters in the Younger family has a particular individual dream. One wants to move to a bigger home, one wants to attend medical school, one wants to rise above his conditions though does not necessarily have a plan to do so. Each person’s dream serves an important psychological function (i.e.: hope, motivation, direction) for the character; however, the dreams also divide the characters, creating conflict among them. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the adaptive and divisive functions of dreams in A Raisin in the Sun. Consider whether there was a way to make each individual dream compatible with others’ dreams. If so, explain why the characters did not identify this alternative.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Significance of the Title “A Raisin in the Sun”
The title of Hansberry’s play makes a direct reference to the Langston Hughes poem, “A Dream Deferred." “What happens to a dream deferred?" asked Hughes. “Does it shrivel up like a raisin in the sun?" Consider the conclusion of “A Raisin in the Sun”—or lack of one—and write a persuasive essay on “A Raisin in the Sun” in which you attempt to convince the reader that Hansberry does or does not answer Hughes’s question through the actions of her play. Explain the significance of the play’s title as part of your discussion.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Development of the Younger Family
One of the most important themes in “A Raisin in the Sun” is the unity of the family. Initially, the Youngers are presented as a family that is loving but which experiences conflicts that intensify over the course of the play. Yet by the play’s end, the family members have been able to surmount their differences and support one another in the fight for a common cause: that of overcoming the racial discrimination they face as they prepare for their move to a new home in a neighborhood that was exclusively white. Write an expository essay on “A Raisin in the Sun” in which you observe how the Younger family develops, both as individual family members and as a family unit, during the play. Explain what variables supported this outcome, as opposed to a tragic ending.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 Gender Issues in A Raisin in the Sun
Generally speaking, the male characters in A Raisin in the Sun are portrayed as irresponsible (Walter), lacking in direction or authenticity (Joseph and George), or hostile (Mr. Lindner), while the female characters are responsible (Mama), ambitious and disciplined (Ruth), and supportively nurturing (Ruth). Write an essay in which you identify the gender dynamics in the play, considering whether the gender roles are as rigid or scripted as they appear to be. If you agree that the male characters represent mostly negative qualities while the female characters represent mostly positive characteristics, explain what Hansberry’s reason for employing such gender stereotypes might be. Additionally, indicate whether the stereotypes are open to changing by the play’s end. If so, identify the variables that made change possible.
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of Minor Characters in “A Raisin in the Sun”
Oftentimes, seemingly minor characters can actually have great significance to either the meaning or the actions of the play. In A Raisin in the Sun there is a handful of minor characters, including George and Joseph, who are significant to the play. Choose one or more of the minor characters in A Raisin in the Sun and write an essay in which you analyze the roles that they play in the development of the thematic content of A Raisin in the Sun. Assess whether the inclusion of these minor characters is necessary to develop the play’s message.
This list of important quotations from “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Raisin in the Sun” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Raisin in the Sun” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “A Raisin in the Sun” by Loraine Hansberry they are referring to.
“That’s it. There you are. A man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. " (15)
“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…." (17)
“Ain’t many girls who decide—to be a doctor." (18)
“Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you—why can’t you do something for the family?" (19)
“‘Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams….’" (29)
“Yes, [he was] a fine man—just couldn’t never catch up with his dreams that’s all." (30)
“I don’t go out with you to discuss the nature of ‘quiet desperation’ or to hear all about your thoughts—because the world will go on thinking what it thinks regardless–" (89)
“There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing….Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ‘cause we lost the money. I mean for him; what he been through and what it done to him. Child, when do you think it is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learnin’…."(135)
“Yes, death done come in this here house…. Done come walking in my house. On the lips of my children. You what supposed to be my beginning again. You—what supposed to be my harvest." (134)
“No….You teach him good….You show where our five generations done come to." (137)
Reference: Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Random House, 1959.
The Youngers are desperate, in varying degrees, for change and are presented with the means necessary for change in the form of a $10,000 life insurance payment which they are to receive following the death of the head of the family. Disagreements about what to do with the money, however, threaten to alienate them from one another.
Walter Lee Younger, a chauffeur with a wife and son, wants to buy a liquor store. Beneatha, his younger sister, wants to go to medical school. Lena, their mother, wants to buy a decent house in an all-white neighborhood. Lena decides to compromise and split the money between them, but Walter is robbed by a business partner. After Walter makes the conflict worse by accepting money from a representative of the white neighborhood for not moving there, he changes his mind, realizing he would be sacrificing his manhood.
The problems which might have destroyed the Youngers have unified them, made them stronger as individuals and as a family because they have gained self-knowledge and learned to love one another more.
The first of the two full-length works which Hansberry lived to complete, the play is one of the most widely known literary creations by a black American. She makes the Youngers more than typical American blacks; they are members of the universal family of those who strive to realize their dreams.
Abramson, Doris. Negro Playwrights in the American Theater: 1925–1959. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969. The definitive work in African American drama. Treats the origin and development of the black drama—its structure, themes, innovations, and impact—from its nineteenth century beginnings through Hansberry.
Bennett, Lerone, Jr., and Margaret G. Burroughs. “A Lorraine Hansberry Rap.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 226–233. A discussion between Bennett, a historian and editor of Ebony magazine, and Burroughs, an artist and teacher. The article focuses on Hansberry’s career, with much of the discussion devoted to an assessment of the themes and characters in A Raisin in the Sun and the reasons for its popularity with both black and white audiences.
Bigsby, C. W. E., ed. Poetry and Drama. Vol. 2 in The Black American Writer. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1969. Provides a historical development of African American drama, with a full chapter devoted to Hansberry’s plays.
Carter, Steven R. Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. A detailed study of Hansberry’s entire canon. Chapter 2 focuses on the stage version of A Raisin in the Sun, and the following chapter discusses the two film versions as well as the hit musical, titled Raisin, that appeared in 1973.
Cheney, Anne. Lorraine Hansberry. Boston: Twayne, 1984. In this generally complimentary biography, Cheney cites both Paul Robeson (as political radical) and Langston Hughes (as poet of his people) as major influences on Hansberry. She also defends Hansberry’s assimilationist views, which some African Americans criticized harshly.
Chinoy, Helen Krich, and Linda Walsh Jenkins, eds. Women and American Theatre. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987. In “Lorraine Hansberry: Artist, Activist, Feminist,” Margaret Wilkerson stresses Hansberry’s early awareness of the connection that exists between racism and sexism. She also makes the point that Hansberry understood and tried to dramatize the difference between Lena’s notion of material advance for the family and Walter Lee’s crass materialism. Furthermore, she asserts that the playwright had come to terms with her lesbianism, but she gives no concrete evidence for this assumption.
Cruse, Harold. The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. London: W. H. Allen, 1969. Ignoring completely the feminist value of A Raisin in the Sun and the fact that Hansberry was the youngest dramatist to win the Best Play award, Cruse is vehement in his criticism of the dramatist simply because she represents assimilation and integration as a solution for racial difficulties. Cruse is a separatist who believes that all black acceptance of middle-class [white] values is a “sell-out” and that therefore A Raisin in the Sun should be considered a “soap opera.”
Hansberry, Lorraine. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. Edited by Robert Nemiroff. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1969. Hansberry’s husband and executor of her estate has put together bits and pieces of her work—published and unpublished—letters, autobiographical statements, and speeches—which give a clear picture of this extraordinary woman. As a work for the stage, it had a long run at the Cherry Lane, off-Broadway in 1968 and 1969, and it has been done in a number of university and regional theatres since that time. The introduction, the affectionate essay “Sweet Lorraine,” by James Baldwin, poignantly describes the playwright from 1957 until her untimely death in 1965.
Hairston, Loyle. “Portrait of an Angry Young Writer.” Crisis 86 (April, 1969): 123–124. Examines the ways in which Hansberry’s activist philosophy and rebellious attitude influence her work, especially in terms of themes and character development.
Isaacs, Harold R. The New World of Negro Americans. New York: John Day, 1963. In the section on Hansberry, the author discusses the origin and development of Hansberry’s ideas on pan-Africanism and the degree to which these ideas are reflected in A Raisin in the Sun.
Keyssar, Helene. The Curtain and the Veil: Strategies in Black Drama. New York: Burt Franklin, 1981. A critical study of African American drama focusing on the ambivalence of black playwrights, with a full chapter devoted to A Raisin in the Sun.
Riley, Clayton. “Lorraine Hansberry: A Melody in a Different Key.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 205–212. Focuses on the universality of themes in Hansberry’s plays. It emphasizes the fact that because black experience strikes “a different key” in the American experience, this universality is frequently overlooked.
Scheader, Catherine. Lorraine Hansberry. Chicago: Campus, 1978. Part of a series subtitled “They Found a Way,” this biography written for young readers stresses events in the playwright’s life which show her determination to succeed. Many photographs embellish the work.
Schlueter, June, ed. Modern American Drama: The Female Canon. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1990. A collection of twenty-two essays on female American playwrights, with a full chapter devoted to Hansberry.
Ward, Douglas Turner. “Lorraine Hansberry and the Passion of Walter Lee.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 223–225. An in-depth study of the character of the protagonist of A Raisin in the Sun, Walter Lee Younger. Asserts that the character is much more complex than generally thought to be and that Hansberry’s skillful portrayal of him reveals these complexities.
Wilkerson, Margaret B. “Lorraine Hansberry: The Complete Feminist.” Freedomways 19, no. 4 (1979): 235–245. Looks at Hansberry’s plays as they reflect the feminist point of view, noting that as a descendant of early feminists such as Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells, Hansberry centers her feminism in human dignity and thus includes both men and women in her concept of feminism.