A Raisin in the Sun

Excerpt from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

Mama: Ruth Younger, what’s the matter with you today? You look like you could fall over right there.

Ruth: I’m tired

Mama: Then you better stay home from work today.

Ruth: I can’t stay home. She’d be calling up the agency and screaming at them, “My girl didn’t come in today—send me somebody! My girl didn’t come in!” Oh, she just have a fit…

Mama: Well, let her have it. I’ll just call her up and say you got the flu—

Ruth: (laughing) Why the flu?

Mama: ‘Cause it sounds respectable to ‘em. Something white people get, too. They know ‘bout the flu. Otherwise they think you been cut up or something when you tell ‘em you sick.

Ruth: I got to go in. We need the money.

Mama: Somebody would of thought my children done all but starved to death the way they talk about money here late. Child, we got a great big old check coming tomorrow.

Ruth: (Sincerely, but also self-righteously) Now that’s your money. It ain’t got nothing to do with me. We all feel like that—Walter and Bennie and me—even Travis.

Mama: (Thoughtfully, and suddenly very far away) Ten thousand dollars—

Ruth: Sure is wonderful.

Mama: Ten thousand dollars.

Ruth: You know what you should do, Miss Lena? You should take yourself a trip somewhere. To Europe or South America or someplace—

Mama: (Throwing up her hands at the thought) Oh, child!

Ruth: I’m serious. Just pack up and leave! Go on away and enjoy yourself some. Forget about the family and have yourself a ball for once in your life—

Mama: (Drily) You sound like I’m just about ready to die. Who’d go with me? What I look like wandering ‘round Europe by myself?

Ruth: Shoot—these here rich white women do it all the time. They don’t think nothing of packing up they suitcases and piling on one of them big steamships and—swoosh!—they gone, child.

Mama: Something always told me I wasn’t no rich white woman.

Ruth: Well—what are you going to do with it then?

Mama: I ain’t rightly decided. (Thinking. She speaks now with emphasis) Some of it got to be put away for Beneatha and her schoolin’—and ain’t nothing going to touch that part of it. Nothing. (She waits several seconds, trying to make up her mind about something, and looks at Ruth a little tentatively before going on) Been thinking that we maybe could meet the notes on a little old two-story somewhere, with a yard where Travis could play in the summertime, if we use part of the insurance for a down payment and everybody kind of pitch in. I could maybe take on a little day work again, few days a week—

Ruth: (Studying her mother-in-law furtively and concentrating on her ironing, anxious to encourage without seeming to) Well, Lord knows we’ve put enough rent into this here rat trap to pay for four houses by now…

Mama: (Looking up at the words “rat trap” and then looking around and leaning back and sighing—in a suddenly reflective mood—) “Rat trap”—yes, that’s all it is. (Smiling) I remember just as well the day me and Big Walter moved in here. Hadn’t been married but two weeks and wasn’t planning on living here no more than a year. (She shakes her head at the dissolved dream) We was going to set away, little by little, don’t you know, and buy a little place out in Morgan Park. We had even picked out the house. (Chuckling a little) Looks right dumpy today. But Lord, child, you should know all the dreams I had ‘bout buying that house and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back— (She waits and stops smiling) And didn’t none of it happen.

(Dropping her hands in a futile gesture)

Ruth: (Keeps her head down, ironing) Yes, life can be a barrel of disappointments, sometimes.

As a bonus, let me share with you the poem that the name of the play references. It’s a poem from Langston Hughes and is included in the book before the play starts.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

-Langston Hughes

Have you read this play? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

A Raisin in the Sun – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

“Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage,” observed James Baldwin shortly before A Raisin in the Sun opened on Broadway in 1959.

Indeed Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever.  The play’s title comes from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which warns that a dream deferred might “dry up/like a raisin in the sun.”

“The events of every passing year add resonance to A Raisin in the Sun,” said The New York Times.  “It is as if history is conspiring to make the play a classic.”  This Modern Library edition presents the fully restored, uncut version of Hansberry’s landmark work with an introduction by Robert Nemiroff.

Copyright © 1958 by Lorraine Hansberry.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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