Before beginning with Hansberry’s
A Raisin In The Sun
the students will first have to be introduced to important elements of a play. This will be necessary before the actual reading of the play begins. Some of the key elements that will be examined are as follows:
Who are the main characters?
What is their relationship with each other?
What traits are important to these characters?
How does the writer develop their characterization?
(dialogue, speech, actions, descriptions, etc.)
Where does the story take place?
How is this essential to the story?
When does it take place?
Is the setting given, essential to the story?
Why does it happen?
What specific actions in the story move the story along?
Is there a climax or turning point?
Is there a resolution?
In addition to these elements, students will need to understand stage directions and dialogue. The play will be read aloud. I feel this could best be done by having students assigned specific roles. Emphasis in reading will be on literal comprehension as well as making inferences. Students will have to employ reading skills as well as listening and speaking skills. On another level, students will have to draw on their personal lives in order to make comparisons between the Younger family in Hansberry’s play and their own. Questions to be raised include: What similarities are there between the Younger family in Chicago and their own? What problems are common? What self-identity problems if any do the characters have to deal with? What attempts and/or solutions made to resolve the problem in this play are still viable options today?
I have anticipated that three weeks would be spent on explaining the elements of a play and the actual reading of the play itself with class activities. This is a flexible time line as it may be necessary to handle the play reading in small segments so that students fully comprehend the material involved. The play has three acts and as such, activities will be related to each act.
The major characters are introduced in this act. They include Lena Younger, her son Walter, his wife Ruth, Lena’s daughter Beneatha and her grandson Travis. In the first act relationships are examined, especially as they exist between mother and son and husband and wife. The family is confronted with a problem surrounding money acquired by Lena from her late husband’s insurance company. Students will read each scene aloud in this act, to be followed by a general question and answer period.
1. Students will be asked to locate passages from the first and second scene which through dialogue, author’s description and/or through character display of action, tell something about each character’s personality.
2. Students will be asked to identify what problem or problems each character faces.
3. In a writing assignment, students will be asked which character they feel is more concerned with family survival? They will be asked to support their answers using evidence from the play.
In Act Two, Lena Younger decides to buy a house, with the money she has acquired, in an all white neighborhood. She also decides to give her son Walter a chance at being the head of household, by giving him financial responsibility of the money that is left. At the conclusion of Act Two, two important developments have occurred. The family is offered a chance to sell out and not move into their house and Walter loses the money entrusted to him.
1. Students will be asked to respond to Lena Younger’s decision in Scene One to buy a house in an all white neighborhood. Students will be asked to defend or argue against her decision to do so in writing.
2. Students will be given the opportunity to act out the final scene in the Second Act involving the family’s reaction to the loss of their money by Walter. Afterwards, students will get together in small groups to discuss their reactions and how this loss will effect individual members of the family. They will also get a chance to offer some possible solutions.
3. At this time, students may want to voluntarily draw upon their personal experiences and relate how an action taken by themselves or a member of their family resulted in a serious problem and how that problem was resolved.
In Act Three, there are resolutions to several problems which were confronted in Act One and Act Two. In the end, the Younger family decides to go ahead and move into their new house and Walter regains his pride and self-respect.
1. Students will be asked to respond to the outcome of the play. Do they feel the actions taken at the end were believable?
2. Students will be asked to describe the qualities they admire in Lena Younger. Afterwards they will be asked to write about someone they know whom they feel possesses these same qualities.
The next part of the unit will cover readings from
Black Boy, I Know Why The Caged Bird
The first two are autobiographical. In
, students will read chapter one, the section describing hunger. This is a topic familiar to many of my students. I’m sure they will be able to draw comparisons not just to the physical hunger, but the emotional hunger as well.
That particular chapter deals with the struggle to have and keep what is yours. In this case, it’s keeping grocery money from neighborhood bullies. In this particular chapter Wright’s mother tells him to fight back or else be locked out of the apartment. In truth, there are two sets of rules that many of my students follow. The ones they follow in the streets and the ones they follow in school. It must be confusing to these students, ages 13 and 14, in sorting out what rules to follow. On the streets, they are told they must fight by their peers and even members of their family. Yet, they are severely punished for fighting the minute they step over the boundaries of street and school yard.
will present several important issues for the students to deal with. What are the rules for survival where you live? Are there ever exceptions to those rules? Students will respond to these and other questions in discussion groups as well as in debates. They will have to defend their positions before their classmates. As a writing assignment, students will also be asked to defend or argue in this chapter the action in the story taken by young Wright to survive during his youth. Students afterwards will be asked to make alternative solutions to the ones that Wright made. I’m making them do this because so many of my students feel that to most of their problems, there is only one solution. If they are to survive today they must learn early that there are choices in their lives, and they must seek them out. Another activity would involve students in role playing. Given problem situations on a card, students in small groups would role play to solve the problem.
A similar approach will be taken with Maya Angelou’s
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
. Students will read chapters 4 and 9, which deal primarily with self-identity. Upon completing the readings, students will be asked to make comparisons between the early childhood of Wright and Angelou, looking for similarities and differences in their early lives. I would also like at this time to have the students write a brief autobiography. This task will be assigned basically to get an idea of how they see themselves and their lives also, to draw any parallels from what they have read thus far. I suspect this will be difficult for them to do as it involves opening up and sharing their lives. Therefore they may write as little or as much as they feel comfortable doing. Emphasis will be on content not mechanics.
Before beginning Nella Larson’s
, I would like my students to spend some time discussing the issue of color. Right now for some of my students this issue is of less importance than economics or survival. However, in the late 20’s and 30’s this was a great issue.
To understand this more fully I would like my students to see excerpts from the movie
The Second Generation
. This is now available on video cassette. Many of my students have already seen this but with limited guidance and discussion. In one segment of the movie, one of the author’s great aunts falls in love with a man considered by her father “too light.” She was forbidden to marry him. As a result she swore she would never marry and she didn’t. I think the visual aspect of seeing this, how important color was, would be more effective than reading it. With some discussion they would be ready to begin reading the excerpt, Chapter 2 from Nella Larson’s
. There will be no planned activity other than oral discussion on the material read and on whether or not “passing” would be a viable option today.