“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry: A Story About a Family as a Whole Rather Than Personal Experiences

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Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, published in 1957 and first performed in 1959, is one of the most notable works of the author. While many of the literary works that describe the lives of African Americans provide a single person’s perspective on the societal issues and hardships of black communities, Hansberry’s work portrays the life of a family as a whole. A Raisin in the Sun is filled with struggle, and it is not apparent who the protagonist and antagonist are.

At first glance, the role of the mother is limited, and Walter Lee is both a protagonist and an antagonist because much of the play orbits around him. However, Mama’s guidance, support, and perspective are the most vital for the preservation of the family. Therefore, Mama is the protagonist, and Walter is the antagonist.

Plot Summary

A Raisin in the Sun is a depiction of the life of an African American family living in Chicago of the 1950s. The play covers a few weeks of the family’s life, and the story starts with the family members waiting for 10,000 dollars from an insurance company – the senior member of the family, Mr. Younger, passed away some time ago. While each of the family members thinks about his or her own way of spending the money, their common idea is based on racial prejudice and black pride. The head of the family, Mama, dreams about “buying that house and fixing it up and make me a little garden in the back” (Hansberry 540).

Her son, Walter Lee, dreams about opening a liquor store with his friends (Hansberry 534). His wife, Ruth, however, supports the idea of his mother about moving to a larger house. Mama’s daughter, Beneatha, wants to go to a medical school and would want to spend the money to cover the tuition fees.

There is disagreement throughout the play on how to use the money. As each of the family members prove their points, Mama makes a down payment for a house, which located in an entirely white neighborhood (Hansberry 540). When future neighbors hear about a black family moving into the community, they decide to offer the family money so that they do not move in. Meanwhile, Walter proceeds with his plan of opening a liquor store and gives the rest of the money to his friend, who runs away with it. Despite this news, the Youngers do not accept the proposal of their future neighbors. They move into the neighborhood, and although the future seems uncertain, they are confident that they can achieve all of their goals if they stay together and help each other.


The story revolves around Walter Lee, his wrong and correct decisions, his strain to support his family, and his ambition to pull the Youngers out of the financial struggle. Although it is tempting to name Walter a protagonist of the play, it is Mama who acts as a leader and the most vital person in keeping the Youngers family from falling apart. She is a symbol of old values that are being forgotten in contemporary society. She always says that opening a liquor store does not align with Christian principles. She does not find it normal to sell drinks to people and have this business being mentioned on her ledger (Hansberry 539).

As it is later seen, she is right about Walter’s ambitions – un-Christian businesses are no place for righteous men. As Beneatha grows, Mama tries to be a guide and wishes that her daughter does not acquire depraved values. At the same time, when Walter’s wife informs about her willingness to do abortion, Mama shares her disappointment claiming that no hardship is unbearable, and the family is capable of looking after a child.

Mama is the most supportive character and is the most vital member of the family. She acts as a bridge between other members in times of disagreement. For instance, when Walter and his wife have disputes, and Ruth becomes sad, Mama talks to her, shares her opinion, and gives advice. She also supports her son – Mama gives the rest of the money to Walter despite criticizing his area of business. In summary, Mama is the protagonist of the play because she managed to keep the family together during the most challenging times. She is the heart of the Youngers and a genuine leader.


Walter Lee is the central character in the play and its antagonist. As Mama’s only son, Walter understands that he is responsible for providing for the family and continuously looks for ways of fast enrichment. However, his inability to listen to others and care for others’ dreams often harms the family. Therefore, despite being the character who develops the most throughout the play, he should be considered the antagonist of the story.

Walter is the character that does not have a good relationship with other members of the family. He constantly argues with Mama and his wife and acts pugnaciously toward his sister, Beneatha. He is obsessed with the idea that money is the only way of solving the family’s problems. However, this fixation, despite being the source of his ambitions, is also an obstacle. Walter is never successful with finances – he could not predict that all the excitement about the liquor store business is a lie to cheat him out of his money. He does not understand that, in order to help the family members, he should know what they want, what they feel, and what they think.

At the end of the play, however, Walter Lee begins to fix his previous mistakes. He agrees that getting a bigger house is more important for the family at the time being than opportunities for quickly becoming rich. He declines the offer of their future neighbors and moves into the white neighborhood along with his family. Despite this positive fact in the end, however, it should be noted that it is Mama who led to this outcome. The storyline should be viewed as the process of the protagonist guiding the antagonist out of fallacies.


A Raisin in the Sun is a story about a family as a whole rather than personal experiences. Each of the family members plays a crucial role, but the role of Mama is the most defining. It is reasonable to consider that the family would disperse if she were not present. Walter, on the other hand, despite his favorable goals, continuously harms the family. Therefore, the protagonist of the play is Mama, and Walter Lee takes the role of the antagonist, who is guided by Mama throughout the story.

Work Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. . Web.

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