What Happens to a Dream Defferred in Charlotte Hansburry’s Play, A Raisin in the Sun

The underlying theme of Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, is in the question posed by Langston Hughes’ poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” when he asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” and then goes on to list the various things that might happen to a person if his dreams are put “on hold,” emphasising that whatever happens to a postponed dream is ultimately never good. Even the Bible concerns itself with this problem; in Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” It can be clearly seen what happens to Walter as his dream continues to be postponed by too many circumstances that are beyond his control.

While the play addresses intergenerational issues, due to the large Younger lineage, there are many underlying themes which indicate the importance of time. For the purpose of this essay, the thematic scheme of past and present will be discussed and analysed, with reference to the characters and their interaction within the play.



Confrontation appears to be a common theme within the play. This may be largely due to the differing views on what the meaning of life is. An exchange occurs in Act 1, Scene ii between Mama and Walter. Mama questions why Walter constantly speaks about money, such that it appears that “money is life”. Walter explains to Mama that in order to live a successful life, money has to be the most important factor in achieving this. This conversation takes place early on in the play and reveals the Younger’s economic struggles, which were very common for African Americans at the time. The conversation illustrates the ideological differences between their generations. Throughout the play, Mama’s views oppose her children’s vi…

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…cy differ from Mama’s, who would never agree to Ruth having an abortion.


Throughout the play, Hansberry expresses her own desire to see blacks in entrepreneurial ventures. So few blacks were in business in 1959 that sociologists of that day addressed this concern in academic publications (REFERENCE). Mama says, in response to Ruth’s echoing Walter’s dream of owning his own business, “We ain’t no business people, Ruth. We just plain working folks,” (REFERENCE) and Ruth answers with conviction that in order for that statement to be true, then there must be a lack of interest in “go[ing] into business” and that their people will never achieve anything with that mindset. Due to the percentage of black people who own their own businesses has increased dramatically since 1959, one might conclude that, here once again, Hansberry had an accurate view of the future.

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