Dream Deferred in A Raisin in the Sun
“What happens to a dream deferred?” (l. 1) Langston Hughes asks in his 1959 poem “Dream Deferred.” He suggests that it might “dry up like a raisin in the sun” (ll. 2-3) or “stink like rotten meat” (l. 6); however, at the end of the poem, Hughes offers another alternative by asking, “Or does it explode?” (l. 11). This is the view Lorraine Hansberry supports in her 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun. The drama opens with Walter reading, “Set off another bomb yesterday” (1831), from the front page of the morning newspaper; however, he is unaware that bombs will soon detonate inside his own house. These bombs are explosions of emotion caused by frustration among members of Walter’s family who are unable to realize their dreams. Although they all have a common dream of having a better life, they must compete with each other for the insurance money from the untimely death of Walter’s father. Walter wants to get rich quickly by investing the money in a liquor store, but his sister, Beneatha, would rather use it to finish medical school. Mama and Walter’s wife, Ruth, both want to leave their worn house in the ghetto for a nicer one where Walter’s son, Travis, can have his own bedroom and a yard in which to play. The dreams of these characters, however, are deferred for so long that frustration grows inside them and eventually bursts out.
Each day Walter has to continue working as a servant, his internal frustration and anger build, and he eventually releases his anger against Beneatha, Ruth, and Mama. “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor?” (1838) he demands of Beneatha. “If you so crazy ’bout messing ’round with sick people&emdashthen go be a nurse like other women&emdashor just …
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… all-white neighborhood. The opposition of Mr. Lindner (who offers a substantial amount of money to buy the house from them) unites the family in their mutual goal, and Walter finally comes “into his manhood” (1896): he declines Lindner’s money and declares, “we have decided to move into our house because my father&emdashmy father&emdashhe earned it for us brick by brick” (1894). When cooperation replaces competition, the family can finally realize its dreams.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Literature and Its Writers: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. 1829-96. Hughes, Langston. “Dream Deferred.” Literature and Its Writers: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Eds. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. 1138.