The tone of A Raisin in the Sun is somber, and the opening scene clearly establishes this tone. According to Hansberry’s set description, the apartment itself is tired, full of furniture that has seen many years of use. For her part, Ruth seems just as exhausted as the apartment. Tired from the daily strain of the domestic labor she performs for other families as well as her own, Ruth has a short temper and is quick to snap at her son and husband. Walter seeks her support for his liquor store venture, but she rejects him and sends him into a bad mood—a mood that only gets worse when Beneatha comes out and the two start bickering. All of this transpires in the midst of the family’s frustrated battle to access the bathroom they share with a neighboring family. The portrait of a strained home life in the opening scene clearly illustrates the toll that social and financial circumstances have had on the Younger family. Things get increasingly grave as the family faces a growing pile of challenges that threaten to crush all their aspirations.
For all the somber subject matter, Hansberry also includes a degree of dry, ironic humor that gives her play a tongue-in-cheek and critical edge. For instance, Hansberry frequently uses stage directions that instruct actors to speak their lines “drily.” The drily-delivered lines often bring a sense of humor to the characters’ bickering, as when Ruth uses a gently rebuking tone in response to Beneatha and Walter acting like African warriors: “(Drily, looking at [Walter]) Yes, and Africa sure is claiming her own tonight.” Hansberry also uses “drily” in a more critically ironic way, to draw attention to contested ideas such as religion. In Act II, scene i, Mama affirms to Beneatha, “’Course you going to be a doctor, honey, God willing.” Beneatha replies: “(Drily) God hasn’t got a thing to do with it.” Beneatha resents her mother’s reliance on faith because it constrains her sense of personal freedom. Beneatha’s resentment also mirrors Walter’s, whose liquor store venture Mama rejects due to her religious aversion to alcohol. Just as Mama uses her faith to judge her children, her children judge their mother because of her faith. Hansberry therefore uses irony to highlight the contested status of religion in communities.