A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun

An Analytical Breakdown of Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and its Intended Messages

Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)” poses a question: “what happens to a dream deferred?” Why do you think Lorraine Hansberry chose this poem as the epigraph for A Raisin in the Sun? Write an essay in which you discuss the various “dreams” that come into conflict in the play. Which “dream” does the play seem to endorse? Does it ultimately answer Hughes’s question?
A Raisin in the Sun-Lorraine Hansberry


A Raisin in the Sun

An Analytical Breakdown of Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and its Intended Messages

            What happens to dreams when they become frozen in time? Do they remain postponed within a man throughout his life, dormant, distant, and far away? Or do they eat away at him, morphing his own perceived purpose for his life until it is completely modified from his original idea of it? These are questions that Lorraine Hansberry posed for deliberation in her play, A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry chose Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem”, as an entryway into the brilliant experience of simple living and working for a better tomorrow as portrayed and emoted by her play’s characters, the Youngers. More precisely, she uses Mama Younger to reiterate the poem’s style of thought-provocation to surmise an answer of whether dreams deferred do, in fact, “crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet” or “sag like a heavy load” (Hughes, 433). This paper will inspect the significance of the title as well as the role of dreams, the development of the family, and gender roles in A Raisin in the Sun.

            The American Dream is the ideology that every person living in the United States has the uniform chance to achieve his or her visions or goals through perseverance, hard work, and diligence. One major theme of Hansberry’s play is the importance of dreams; these dreams drive each member of the Younger family to continue their everyday routines. Mama Younger dreams of owning her home in the nice part of town, farther from South Chicago. Beneatha Younger dreams of attaining an education, receiving her doctorate degree, and marrying a nice man. Walter Younger dreams of owning a successful business so that he can rise above the poverty he has always known. While the play yields its title a line in the poem, the notion of deferred dreams became one of various themes in A Raisin in the Sun. Hughes’ usage of the title “Harlem” provides the answer to the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” Taking into consideration the themes Hughes mainly wrote about, the dream discussed in his poem is most likely the deferral of the individual American dream of wealth or success as well as the combined African American dream of racial equity. In Hansberry’s play, she links both the American dream and the African American dream in order to exhibit racial disparity within the nation. Ultimately, Hansberry critiques the ideology of the American Dream by suggesting its validity if African Americans are deprived of basic civil rights. Hansberry then extends her criticism by focusing on the ways in which African American women are further limited by gender disparity, arguing that women are another muffled voice in the national discussion. “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people – then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet…” (Hansberry, 41). Hansberry’s treatment of the deferred dream allows A Raisin in the Sun to be read as another answer to the question of what happens to a deferred dream. Like Hughes’ “Harlem”, the characters in Hansberry’s play, chiefly Walter and Beneatha Younger, were frustrated with the lies of a nation that excluded them while claiming to employ inclusionary practices.

            Family is a central theme in Hansberry’s play. The Younger family experiences poverties that, in the moment, appear to tear them apart; but no matter the issue, they were able to persist through it all together. The importance of family is intensified by Walter’s and Beneatha’s actions as they appear to initiate the disastrous cracks in the Younger family’s foundation. Walter’s and Beneatha’s relationships with each other are quite complex. Walter struggles with understanding who he needs to be to support his family. He believes that it is his place to be the head of the family, but he feels unable to provide them with the lifestyle they deserve. This matter is always at the forefront of his mind and affects his attitude and outlook on certain things. The concern that Walter deals with creates conflict with his sister. He worries that her dream will obstruct his own plan of bettering his family’s life. The severity of the strain between them becomes more and more obvious with Walter’s ill-advised investment. Walter is now dealing with the problem that he has disappointed his family, while Beneatha is astounded by the reality that her future has been hastily snatched away from her at no knowledge to her. While reflecting on the state of affairs, Beneatha says, “Asagai, while I was sleeping in that bed in there, people went out and took the future right out of my hands! And nobody asked me, nobody consulted me — they just went out and changed my life!” (Hansberry, 134). An event as significant as jeopardizing a family member’s future endeavors has the ability to make family behave like enemies. Mama is the glue who encourages her family to stay together as a familial unit. The hardships of the family aid in the development of a sense of unity for the Younger household.

            In general, the males in A Raisin in the Sun are depicted as reckless (like Walter), deficient of ambition or raw genuineness (Joseph or George), or intimidating and aggressive (Mr. Lindner); the females in the poem are responsible (like Mama), determined and self-controlled (Beneatha), and kindly supportive (Ruth). In short, it seems that Hansberry purposely molds the male characters to embody mostly undesirable characteristics while the female characters epitomize mostly desirable characteristics. It is as if the poem foresees the later huge alterations in gender roles and expectations, “principally, the rise of feminism and the Sexual Revolution – that would transform American life in the 1960s. Hansberry explores controversial issues like abortion (which was illegal in 1959), the value of marriage, and morphing gender roles for women and men” (Marre, 4). Each member of the Younger family takes on a different outlook on the readjustment of gender roles, and the characters’ viewpoints shed light on their own diverse personalities. Beneatha, who Hansberry has often compared to herself, has the most progressive views, chasing her dream to become a doctor in a time when the profession was male-dominated and telling Mama and Ruth that she is not concerned or alarmed about marriage — and that she might not ever get married at all. Walter Leer repetitively critiques his sister’s ambition, suggesting that she “just get married.” Beneatha’s faith in her progressive outlook and strength serves as an unintended expression of Hansberry’s attitudes. Ruth and Mama share more old-fashioned views on women’s role and marriage. Both characters employ traditionally “women roles” as domestic subservients, one of the scarce occupations open to African-American women in that time period. Likewise, Walter carries conservative opinions on gender, and his ability to sufficiently fulfill his role as a “head” of the family significantly affects his confidence. Walter links his own self-worth and personality to his sense of “manlihood,” which recedes and resurfaces various times during the play. Walter dislikes his inferiority-inducing occupation as a white man’s chauffeur and the fact that Mama acts as the “head” of the family, which restrains him back to the position of being treated like a child in his home. Mama’s final decision to brand Walter as head of the family “like you supposed to be,” along with Walter’s brave denial of Karl Lindner’s offer, prompt Mama and Ruth to notice that Walter has “finally come into his manhood today.” As a result, Walter’s position as a man matches both his achievement as the “man” of the house and his capability to ground himself as an equal individual in his communications with Lindner and other people.

            A Raisin in the Sun is a very deep and well-written play, and still relays to the current atmosphere of today’s generation. We, as a whole, would all be intelligent to attempt to integrate and imitate the intentions and behaviors of Hansberry and Hughes. According to Hansberry, her intentions to express strength in the capability of each familial unit spreads to levels of ethics, compassion, and sense of thoughtfulness and understanding. As she said in her own words, “Let’s keep in mind what we’re talking about. We’re talking about oppressed peoples who are saying that they must assert themselves in the world …” (Robinson and Barranger, 17). Because of this, we can realize that everyone in one way or another is being oppressed, and we all must work for a better life than we are living.  After the civil rights movement, individuals like Hansberry, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X all made major impacts in history by shedding lights on situations that must be changed. Though some of these activists spread their messages in different manners, Hansberry used her words to influence, and for that her name will forever be known in history, and her legacy will live on forever. In conclusion, Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun can be interpreted in many ways; though it cannot be refuted that each family member and their dreams are like raisins, the money they receive is the sunlight that shrivels their dreams away while opening their eyes to their small-mindedness at the same time.

Works Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun”. 1959. The Norton Introduction to Literature. By Mays, Kelly J New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 1471-534. Print. Accessed 20 Jan 2019.

Hughes, Langston. Montage of a Dream Deferred. New York: Holt, 1951. Print. Accessed 23 Jan 2019.

Marre, Diana. “Lorraine Hansberry: (1930-1965): Playwright, Activist.”      Notable Black American Women. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992. 453-4. Print. Accessed 22 Jan 2019. 

Robinson, V. Roberts and M. S. Barranger. “Hansberry, Lorraine Vivian: (1930-1965)”. Ed. Darlene Clark Hine. Black Women in America. New York: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1993. 527-8. Print. Accessed 20 Jan 2019.

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