A Raisin in the Sun premiered on Broadway in 1959, and it is a play both about its own time and about the future. Hansberry wrote her landmark drama in the late 1950s, when the conservative postwar years were coming to a close and the radical 1960s were around the corner. In the United States, the 1950s are remembered as a time when the white middle-class underwent a massive expansion, which in turn fostered a growing emphasis on domestic life. This emphasis on domesticity gave birth to stereotypes of happy housewives as well as passive Black people who accepted their social subordination. But beneath the polished surface of postwar American society there brewed a great deal of discontentment, particularly among women and Black people. This discontentment found expression in the revolutionary movements of the 1960s, when feminist and radical Black movements took shape to level the social playing field. Hansberry’s play reflects the unhappiness of the 1950s and foreshadows the radicalism of the 1960s. In this sense, though historically situated in its time, the play also has a future orientation.

Read about another play written in the late 1950s, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

A Raisin in the Sun’s future orientation is hardwired into the very structure of the play, which effectively ends with a question about what’s next for the Youngers and suspends closure, leaving a door open to the future. But perhaps more importantly, the play’s foresight stems from its themes. One of those themes concerns women’s struggles. Hansberry displays this theme in the play’s first scene, which features an exhausted Ruth trying to get her family up and ready for the day. Ruth’s domestic duties have run her down, and her unexpected pregnancy presents another burden; she even considers an abortion.

In addition to Ruth’s struggles, Hansberry spotlights Beneatha’s desire to receive a first-rate education and become a doctor. In the play, Beneatha’s ambition runs up against the expectation that she should secure her future through marriage. She vehemently resists such expectations when Mama and Ruth voice them. Even so, she still struggles to decide on whose terms she will live her life, as symbolized by her attempt to choose between George Murchison and Joseph Asagai. Hansberry’s focus on these issues faced by Ruth and Beneatha foreshadow many of the concerns that would preoccupy the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960s.