Harlem street scene in the 1950s
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory
People of all backgrounds live in America and come to America dreaming of social, educational, economical opportunities as well as political and religious freedoms. Consequently, the notion of "The American Dream" has appeal and meaning to most of your students. Ask them to define "The American Dream" and you will probably become engaged in a lively discussion.
Read the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry with your students and you can enhance your discussion of "The American Dream" even while you and your students explore how the social, educational, economical and political climate of the 1950s affected African Americans' quest for "The American Dream."
In this lesson, the critical reading and analysis of the play is complemented with a close examination of biographical and historical documents that students use as the basis for creating speeches, essays and scripts.
This lesson can be taught as part of a unit on American Literature and the Civil Rights Movement. It works especially well as an introduction to the EDSITEment lessons "Let Freedom Ring: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King," "Dr. King's Dream," and "Ordinary People, Ordinary Places: The Civil Rights Movement."
How does the play A Raisin in the Sun mirror the social, educational, political, and economical climate of the 1950s and how does the play illustrate the impact this climate had on African Americans' quest for "The American Dream?"
After completing this lesson, students will be able to
Lead students in a succession of questions that engages them in a discussion about the concept of "The American Dream." Record students' responses on a board or on large display paper and categorize them according to social, educational, economical, political and religious reasons. If there are students from other countries in the class, allow them to discuss their stories of immigration if they choose. Ask students:
Have students write out their definition of "The American Dream". Allow students to read their definitions aloud and elaborate on them as they see fit.
Tell students that they will examine various documents and read and analyze the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry to understand how the quest for "The American Dream" affected African Americans during the 1950’s.
Remind students that writers do not write in a vacuum, but that much of their creativity has its roots in personal experiences. Lorraine Hansberry is no exception. The daughter of Carl and Nannie Hansberry, Lorraine grew up in a successful black family where both of her parents were political activists campaigning against Jim Crow laws.
Discuss students' responses and add any other details that you deem important based on your reading of To Be Young Gifted and Black.
Have students read silently and aloud "Montage to A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes, the preface to A Raisin in the Sun. You may also link to a video clip with the poem being read through Learner.org
Place the definition to the following words on the board or on large display paper: defer, fester and Montage.
Ask students "What central question does the poem ask?"
Tell students that rather than present his audience with the answer to the poem's central question, Hughes develops the poem using a series of questions.
Use the Figurative Language Chart (available here as a downloadable PDF) to analyze the similes and metaphors in the poem. Have students discuss their responses to the Figurative Language Chart
Explain to students that although the poem is phrased as a list of questions, Hughes is making a statement. Ask students:
To better understand Hughes' message about dreams deferred, have students work in groups analyzing the poem "Let America Be America Again" from The Academy of American Poets by Langston Hughes. Have each group respond to one or two of the following questions:
Complete the lesson by asking the class,
Begin the lesson by asking students how Hughes' poems Montage to a Dream Deferred and Let America Be America Again, implicitly reveal the role that segregation and racism played in preventing African Americans from attaining the American Dream.
Tell students that Jim Crow is the race based legislation that epitomized the era of segregation in America.
Engage students in a discussion based on their responses to the photo analysis worksheet and the questions.
To further enhance students understanding of Jim Crow law as a race-based legislation, have students conduct internet research in groups on one of the following documents:
Direct each group to complete the Written Document Analysis Worksheet and answer the following questions:
Allow each group to present their findings to the entire class.
Begin this lesson by introducing students to background information on Brown v. Board of Education. Tell students that the legal battle known as Brown V. Board of Education represented many years of social and legal battles against institutionalized racism in America. This is an ideal lesson for using an overhead projector.
Download and give students a copy of "Dissenting Opinion of Judge Waites Waring in Harry Briggs, Jr. et al. V. R.W. Elliot, Chairman et. al." Ask students to read pages 8, 9, and 10 and respond to the following questions:
Tell students that as a consequence of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, nine students from Little Rock Arkansas were chosen to integrate Little Rock High School.
Give students a copy of the Daisy Bates and Little Rock Nine Letter and complete the Written Document Analysis Worksheet. Engage students in a discussion about their responses to the document analysis worksheet. Ask students "How does this letter illustrate African Americans' quest for the American Dream?"
Tell the students to take the position of a student attending Little Rock Central High School at the time that the Little Rock Nine are scheduled to integrate the school. Write a speech speaking out against the opposition facing the Little Rock Nine. In your speech seek to convince the adults in your school and community to accept the Little Rock Nine.
Have students read their speeches aloud.
Given what we have learned about Hansberry, Jim Crow, and the African American Experience between 1850 and 1954, why do you think Hansberry chose to use a play to illustrate African Americans' quest for the American Dream?
At this point the teacher might want to distribute “Dramatic Elements” (downloadable as a PDF) to the students.
Engage students in a dramatic reading of the play by assigning parts to each student. Be sure to rotate so that all students have a chance to read a part.
At the end of each Act, have students work in groups of four analyzing the play using the following focus questions and activities:
Characterization. Use the “Character Analysis” handout (downloadable as a PDF) to record important information about each member of the Younger family.
Plot/Conflict. Use the “Plot Outline” handout (downloadable as a PDF) to map the dramatic structure of the central conflict.
Symbolism. Use the “Analyzing Symbols Chart” handout (downloadable as a PDF) to analyze the symbolic elements below.
Have students present their answers to the above activities. Summarize the unit by having students engage in a class discussion in which they answer the unit's guiding questions:
Have students demonstrate their understanding of the play's themes by responding to one of the following writing tasks: 1.
1–2 class periods