A Raisin in the Sun

Enhance understanding with a teaching guide for Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun contains an annotated list of characters, a brief synopsis of the screenplay, and teaching suggestions to be used before, during, and after reading the play. This literature guide makes a perfect lesson for Black History Month.
Teaching Strategies:
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Updated on: November 21, 2000
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Understanding the Difference Between a Play and a Screenplay

Turn the screenplay into a stage play. To do this, students should be in groups of three to five. Give the following instructions to each group.

  1. Carefully analyze the screenplay's directions for shifts in location as well as action between/among the characters.
  2. Divide the screenplay into two acts that follow conventional dramatic form:

    Act I - Exposition and Rising Action; Act II - Turning Point and Resolution. Determine if any scenes should be omitted or added.

  3. Select a scene that includes important camera directions to present to the class (e.g., shots of white neighborhoods, Chicago's South Side, Walter Lee's aimless driving, etc.). Be sure your staging of the scene incorporates the message the camera conveys in the film version. You will need to decide how you will incorporate the fluid cinematic approach into the more "static" stage medium.

Comparing the Screenplay to the Film

  1. Show the original 1961 film version of A Raisin in the Sun.

  2. Review the screenplay, noting the scenes that have been omitted from the film. Discuss the possible reasons why. (To expedite this process, the screenplay could be divided into three sections [3-80, 81-143, 144-206] with a group of students assigned to each. Each group should summarize its discussion for the class.)

  3. Read Margaret Wilkerson's Introduction (xxix-xliv) and Spike Lee's Commentary (xlv-xlvii) for background information.*

  4. Respond in writing to one of the following:
    • Which missing scene affected you most deeply? Why?

    • Agree or disagree with one of Wilkerson's or Lee's arguments.*

    • Why do you think David Susskind, the producer, used so few of Hansberry's camera directions? Would the film have been better or worse if he had used them?

    • If you were going to remake the film, how would you change it?

Understanding Character

With a partner, pretend you are a producer and director who is auditioning actors for a new film of A Raisin in the Sun. Make a list of the characteristics you would seek in actors portraying each of the major characters. Include physical as well as personality characteristics.

Students can experiment with making their own mini-video production of a sequel to A Raisin in the Sun, featuring the same characters. For example:

  • Walter Lee two years later. What has he done about the liquor store?

  • Ruth and the new baby. Is she staying home?

  • Lena and her family. Did she return to work for the Holidays? How is her garden growing?

  • Beneatha. Did she stay in school? Did she marry Asagai?

  • Travis. How is he contributing to the family now?

  • Mr. Lindner and the neighbors. Are they still hostile?

Designing Units Based on A Raisin in the Sun

The film and the screenplay's introductions might form the basis for an interdisciplinary America in literature/U.S. history unit on Civil Rights and Racism. Hansberry was a keen observer of racist attitudes of both black and white Americans. Suggested activities/writing assignments might include the following:

  • See a video or film about the Civil Rights period (many good ones are available) and/or do small group research on the period.

  • Have the students conduct a panel discussion about this period and create a timeline of it. Invite parents or other adults to join the panel to add a historical perspective.

  • As a class, discuss racial attitudes in the 1990s. Include the students' experiences in and observation of school, places of employment, social situations, films, and music.

  • Invite parents or other adults in to participate in the discussion.

  • Discuss the differences in attitudes of the three generations in A Raisin in the Sun.

  • Discuss the white Americans in the screenplay: Mrs. Holiday, the Arnolds, Herman the grocery store clerk, and Mr. Lindner. What are their attitudes towards the African-Americans they deal with? Are these attitudes typical of the 1950s? How would the attitudes be the same or different today?

  • Do a group research project on the status of African-Americans in the late 1950s, when the play was written, and today. Include such things as level of salaries, types of jobs, housing, and other demographic information available in numerous sources. Compare this data to data on white Americans during both periods. Present your information to the class and discuss.

  • A Raisin in the Sun was written in 1958. Discuss as a class or in a small group the following: What makes it drama-worthy? Why does it appeal to multiracial audiences? Is it dated, or are the issues raised still relevant?*

  • Read Jewell Gresham-Nemiroff's remarks about Hansberry's purpose for writing A Raisin in the Sun (x-xiii). Does Hansberry succeed in creating real people rather than racial stereotypes? What does she teach us about the American dream (xii) for both African and white Americans?*

Various Thematic Units Can Focus on A Raisin in the Sun

In a unit on Dreams Deferred, compare A Raisin in the Sun with The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams) and/or Death of A Salesman (Arthur Miller). Film versions of all three can be shown to help students fully appreciate the integration of image and the artistry of the playwright. Points covered can include film techniques, characters, conflicts, symbols, tone, and themes.*

The bibliography in this teachers' guide suggests books that can be used in other units based on themes.

Another unit could focus on the life and work of Lorraine Hansberry.*

Read Hansberry's other writings (compiled by her husband, Robert Nemiroff, in To Be Young, Gifted, and Black).

In small groups and as a class compare her various writings.

Hold a panel discussion on her contention that art is a social responsibility. How does Raisin reflect her belief that a writer must be a teacher rather than merely an entertainer?

View the videotaped version of To Be Young, Gifted, and Black (1972), which is available as part of the PBS Great Performances series. This might serve as the basis for a discussion of what constitutes "art." Does the artist have a social responsibility as a teacher? In contemporary music and films, which artists do you admire and why?

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