Racial prejudices and difficulties of assimilation of Afro-Americans in white society are commonly discussed throughout the literature, especially in works of the 20th century. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun initially takes its name from Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred, or Harlem, namely, from the author’s answer to the question about the consequences of a delayed dream. Thus, it is immediately possible to see the connections between two pieces of writings. This essay will analyze the interplay of social injustice, unrealized dreams, and the sense of community in Hansberry and Hughes’ literary works.
Both a play and a poem are set and written in the United States in the 1950s, in Chicago and New York, respectively, which give them a shared context of social inequality and the origination of the Civil Rights movements. Racial discrimination in all spheres is flourishing during this time, and the authors’ personal experience mainly inspires their literature. Consequently, the works of Hansberry and Hughes seem to be the reflection of the reality of that day. A Raisin in the Sun focuses on the Youngers family, analyzing their problems with work, private life, and assimilation due to society’s hostile attitude (Hansberry, 1984). A Dream Deferred is a demonstration of the complex life conditions of Black Americans during that time and of the possible result of their postponed dreams.
In A Raisin in the Sun, each member of the three-generation family has their dream and ten thousand dollars insurance payment for all. Mama wants a house; her daughter, Beneatha, dreams about becoming a doctor; Walter Lee, in turn, wishes for a liquor store, considering it the only opportunity for a better future, whereas his wife, Ruth, tries to balance between Mama and husband’s desires. It is evident that this amount of money is not enough to realize all their dreams. Still, the question arises which one to choose as they all were deferred already for a long time due to the African-American family’s complicated social and financial situation. Moreover, after Walter loses investment money, the family finds themselves on the verge of a crisis. It is possible to make an analogy of the effect of these constantly postponed dreams with the lines in Harlem: Ruth is “dried up” as she is disappointed and feels older than she is in reality. Walter’s dream “fester[s] like a sore” because his desire was so close to realization and then “runs” after the money is stolen. Mama’s desire “crust and sugar over,” making her reality sweeter due to her strong faith and religiosity. Hence, the consequences of the deferred dream presented by Hughes find their reflection in the Hansberry characters’ feelings.
Still, considering the last line from Harlem, it is possible to infer the counter-effect of such dreams – explosion. In A Raisin in the Sun, it can be observed through the determination to pursue their goals despite the dangers and obstacles that the family is facing and the explosion of the mechanisms of oppression and injustice. It is important to note that the only chance to confront the world during this time is to be united. Although the arguments are present between the family members throughout the play, they decide to use the last chance and move together to the white neighborhood in the final scene. Therefore, the sense of community and belonging to a broader group is the only possible way to survive and could be a result of the ‘explosion’ after constantly unrealized dreams.
To conclude, the undeniable connection between Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun and Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred can be observed through the main themes of social inequality, delayed dreams, and the sense of community. The works serve as a reflection of the historical background of the US in the middle of the 20th century and allow the readers to understand all the difficulties and injustices to which the African-Americans were subjected.
Hansberry, L. (1984). A Raisin in the Sun. Concord Theatricals.