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A Raisin in the Sun

Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 960L




Prompt: Today you will read and analyze passages from two texts. The excerpt from the play, A Raisin in the Sun, describes a young man's belief that wealth leads to the pursuit of happiness, and the excerpt from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass describes a young man's belief that education leads to the pursuit of happiness. Write an essay that analyzes the similarities and differences between the two texts pertaining to the common theme of the American Dream. Be sure to use support from both texts in developing your response.




Source 1

From A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry


(WALTER enters in great excitement)


WALTER: Did it come?


MAMA: (Quietly) Can't you give people a Christian greeting before you start asking about money?


WALTER: (To RUTH) Did it come? (RUTH unfolds the check and lays it quietly before him, watching him intently with thoughts of her own. WALTER sits down and grasps it close and counts off the zeros) Ten thousand dollars. (He turns suddenly, frantically to his mother and draws some papers out of his breast pocket) Mama look. Old Willy Harris put everything on paper.


MAMA: Son I think you ought to talk to your wife … I'll go on out and leave you alone if you want.


WALTER: I can talk to her later Mama, look.


MAMA: Son.




MAMA: (Quietly) I don't 'low no yellin' in this house, Walter Lee, and you know it. (WALTER stares at them in frustration and starts to speak several times) and there ain't going to be no investing in no liquor stores.


WALTER: But, Mama, you ain't even looked at it.


MAMA: I don't aim to have to speak on that again. (A long pause)


WALTER: You ain't looked at it and you don't aim to have to speak on that again? You ain't even looked at it and you have decided (Crumpling his papers) Well, you tell that to my boy tonight when you put him to sleep on the living room couch … (Turning to MAMA and speaking directly to her) Yeah and tell it to my wife, Mama, tomorrow when she has to go out of here to look after somebody else's kids. And tell it to me, Mama, every time we need a new pair of curtains and I have to watch you go out and work in somebody's kitchen. Yeah, you tell me then! (WALTER starts out)

MAMA: (Still quietly) Walter Lee (She waits and he finally turns and looks at her) Sit down.


WALTER: I'm a grown man, Mama.


MAMA: Ain't nobody said you wasn't grown. But you still in my house and my presence. And as long as you are you'll talk to your wife civil. Now sit down.


RUTH: (Suddenly) Oh, let him go on out and drink himself to death! He makes me sick to my stomach! (She flings her coat against him and exits to bedroom)


WALTER: (Violently flinging the coat after her) And you turn mine too, baby! (The door slams behind her) That was my biggest mistake.


MAMA: (Still quietly) Walter, what is the matter with you?


WALTER: Matter with me? Ain't nothing the matter with me!


MAMA: Yes there is. Something eating you up like a crazy man. Something more than me not giving you this money. The past few years I been watching it happen to you. You get all nervous acting and kind of wild in the eyes (WALTER jumps up impatiently at her words) I said sit there now, I'm talking to you!


WALTER: Mama I don't need no nagging at me today.


MAMA: Seem like you getting to a place where you always tied up in some kind of knot about something. But if anybody ask you 'bout it you just yell at 'em and bust out the house and go out and drink somewheres. Walter Lee, people can't live with that. Ruth's a good, patient girl in her way but you getting to be too much. Boy, don't make the mistake of driving that girl away from you.


WALTER: Why what she do for me?


MAMA: She loves you.


WALTER: Mama I'm going out. I want to go off somewhere and be by myself for a while.


MAMA: I'm sorry 'bout your liquor store, son. It just wasn't the thing for us to do. That's what I want to tell you about.


WALTER: I got to go out, Mama (He rises)


MAMA: It's dangerous, son.


WALTER: What's dangerous?


MAMA: When a man goes outside his home to look for peace.


WALTER: (Beseechingly) Then why can't there never be no peace in this house then?


MAMA: You done found it in some other house?


WALTER: No there ain't no woman! Why do women always think there's a woman somewhere when a man gets restless? (Picks up the check) Do you know what this money means to me? Do you know what this money can do for us? (Puts it back) Mama Mama I want so many things.


MAMA: Yes, son.


WALTER: I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy … Mama look at me.


MAMA: I'm looking at you. You a good looking boy. You got a job, a nice wife, a fine boy and…


WALTER: A job. (Looks at her) Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, "Yes, sir; no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir?" Mama, that ain't no kind of job … that ain't nothing at all. (Very quietly) Mama, I don't know if I can make you understand.


MAMA: Understand what, baby?


WALTER: (Quietly) Sometimes it's like I can see the future stretched out in front of me just plain as day. The future, Mama. Hanging over there at the edge of my days. Just waiting for me a big, looming blank space full of nothing. Just waiting for me. But it don't have to be. (Pause. Kneeling beside her chair) Mama sometimes when I'm downtown and I pass them cool, quiet looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking 'bout things … sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars … sometimes I see guys don't look much older than me.


MAMA: Son how come you talk so much 'bout money?


WALTER: (With immense passion) Because it is life, Mama!


MAMA: (Quietly) Oh (Very quietly) So now it's life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life now it's money. I guess the world really do change …


WALTER: No it was always money, Mama. We just didn't know about it.


MAMA: No … something has changed. (She looks at him) You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too … Now here come you and Beneatha talking 'bout things we ain't never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy. You ain't satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don't have to ride to work on the back of nobody's streetcar. You my children but how different we done become.


WALTER: (A long beat. He pats her hand and gets up) You just don't understand, Mama, you just don't understand.



Source 2

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass


I lived in Master Hugh's family about seven years. During this time, I succeeded in learning to read and write. In accomplishing this, I was compelled to resort to various stratagems. I had no regular teacher. My mistress, who had kindly commenced to instruct me, had, in compliance with the advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct, but had set her face against my being instructed by anyone else. It is due, however, to my mistress to say of her, that she did not adopt this course of treatment immediately. She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.


My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel1, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practice her husband's precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.


From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell2.


The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent to errands, I always took my book with me, and by doing one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids — not that it would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offense to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to say of the dear little fellows, that they lived on Philpot Street, very near Durgin and Bailey's shipyard. I used to talk this matter of slavery over with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free as they would be when they got to be men. "You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?" These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.


I was now about twelve‐years‐old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled "The Columbian Orator."3 Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master — things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.


In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan's4 mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.


I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed. While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear anyone speak of slavery. I was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. It was always used in such connections as to make it an interesting word to me. If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did anything very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition. Hearing the word in this connection very often, I set about learning what it meant. The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was "the act of abolishing"; but then I did not know what was to be abolished. Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask anyone about its meaning, for I was satisfied that it was something they wanted me to know very little about. After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers, containing an account of the number of petitions from the North, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between the States. From this time I understood the words abolition and abolitionist, and always drew near when that word was spoken, expecting to hear something of importance to myself and fellow slaves. The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, "Are ye a slave for life?" I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the North; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to write.


1 Noun - : something (such as a slave, piece of furniture, too, etc.) that a person owns other than land or buildings.
2 An English unit of measurement, no longer used, equivalent to roughly 45 inches.
3 An anthology of speeches, essays, and literature that was widely used as a textbook in the early nineteenth century.
4 Richard Brinley Sheridan (1751 - 1816) was a playwrite and outspoken member of the British House of Commons. Catholic emancipation, a push to expand legal protections for Great Britain's religious minority, was one of the many causes he championed.








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