A Raisin In The Sun: Unknown Results Of Dreams Deferred
“What happens to a dream deferred,” Langston Hughes asks in his poem, Harlem, which he published in 1951. Through his poem, he offers various possibilities of what can happen to a deferred dream, but he does not give a definite answer. Few years later, Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, was published, which was inspired by Hughes’ poem. The title, A Raisin in the Sun, derived from the lines “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” (Hughes 429). The title suits the play as the play takes the readers through the lives of an African American family, known as the Youngers, whose family members have an individual dream, but they are not able to fulfill it for socioeconomic reasons. They live in a time where racial prejudice is prevailing and is one of the main problem between the Youngers and their dream. Understanding the significance of the title, A Raisin in the Sun, will make it easier to understand why Hansberry might have chosen to not answer the question. Similarly, to Hughes’ poem, Hansberry does not clearly answer the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, in A Raisin in the Sun because of the difficulty of the question, the lack of proper conclusion, and to possibly maintain a resemblance to Hughes’ poem, Harlem.
The title of the play is very significant to the play. The play, because of its setting and plot, can always be matched with the title. A Raisin in the Sun is based around the dreams of a family and the individual members of the family. The Younger family wants a better future and want to get out of the poor condition they live in. They face internal conflicts, often leading to tension between two or more family members. This adds to their difficulty of achieving their individual dreams and possibly their shared dream of improving their future. For example, Walter does not want to move into a new house in the beginning. However, after making the mistake, he knows what Lena is doing is beneficial for his child’s future. He often clashed with his sister about her dreams putting a heavy financial load on the family. A lot of these dreams are not fulfilled, and as a result, they might make the family dry up like a raisin in the sun. Whether that is what happens or not is unknown as Hansberry does not answer the question which Hughes asked in his poem, Harlem.
There are many reasons why Hansberry’s play lacks a proper conclusion and does not answer Hughes’ question. To answer Hughes’ question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, is not as simple as the question might seem. As seen in the play, many things could happen to a postponed dream. It could be forgotten as the title suggests or it could stay in the mind and keep hurting for a long time. It could lead on to a better opportunity or dream which can be fulfilled. Hughes offers various possibilities of the results of a deferred dream. They can hurt like a sore, or they could become septic and rot if left as is.
Dreams for the Younger family were difficult to achieve due to the racial segregation during that time. Big Walter and Lena had a dream of buying a new house for their children. However, due to financial restraint that they faced, they were unable to buy a new house at that time. The dream of a new house was almost ignored if not forgotten for many years. Walter has a dream of becoming rich and successful, and he wanted a better future for his family. However, he loses all the money he invests when his friend, Willy Harris, runs away with the money. He betrayed Walter and flees with the money. This thieving of Willy Harris leaves Walter’s dream deferred. Because of Walter’s bad choices, Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor is also affected. The tuition money needed for her college is also used by Walter to invest in his liquor business. Readers can only ponder whether they forget the dream and have a new and practical dream, or they try to fulfill the same dream again later. As there is no right answer to the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, the conclusion or the lack of one of the play is not what many readers might have been expecting.
The play lacks a proper conclusion because there are many questions left unanswered by Hansberry. She ended the play when the Younger family decide to decline Linder’s offer to not move in the new neighborhood. They have everything ready, and they decide to move to the new neighborhood regardless of the possible negative outcomes because of this decision. However, because of an abrupt ending like this, many questions were remained unanswered. The lack of conclusion does not help to answer Hughes’s question. It only amplifies it and adds even more questions to the reader’s minds. Many of these questions, if answered, would have helped to answer the question which Hughes poses in Harlem.
Some of the questions are what happened to the Younger family after they moved to the neighborhood? Did they experience racism or racial segregation, or did they eventually assimilate with the people in the neighborhood? What happened to Beneatha and Joseph? Did they go to Africa? Did they marry each other? Did Beneatha ever achieve her dream of becoming a doctor? Did Walter try to find Willy Harris and get his money back? If he did, did he manage to recover his money and use it for Beneatha’s education if she is still lives here? Did Walter continue to work in the same profession or did he try to improve his family’s situation again? Did they ever overcome their financial problems? Did Ruth have another child? These and many other questions that the readers developed throughout the play were left unanswered by Hansberry, and due to the lack of conclusion, the question Hughes asked remained unanswered. However, this lack of conclusion in which several major questions remain unanswered might have been Hansberry’s possible attempt to maintain a resemblance to the Harlem.
There is a possibility that Hansberry left the question unanswered because she wanted to maintain a resemblance to Hughes’ poem and did not intend to answer his question in the first place. Hughes did not answer the question, and instead, he suggested various possibilities by asking questions such as, “does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore — and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat?” (429). Similarly, in A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry suggests various possibilities through the action of the characters, and Hansberry might have picked certain lines from the poem, especially one showing the negative outcomes of deferred dreams, and show it through the actions of the characters in the play to resemble the poem.
When Big Walter and Lena were unable to buy the new house, their deferred dream crumples under the pressure of unfavorable social and economic conditions. “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams…” (Hansberry 723). This quote shows how Big Walter almost gave up on his and Lena’s dream of a new house. However, he still worked hard because he wanted a better future for their children. Many years pass by but the dream of a new house, a house they own and not rent, was not fulfilled. It dried up like “a raisin in the sun” (Hughes 429). Walter “festers like a sore” after his dream of becoming a rich businessman has been broken because of him losing the insurance money. He is heartbroken and cannot believe that his friend fled with the money. “The white man is going to walk in that door able to write checks for more money than we ever had” (Hansberry 776). He breaks down and almost gives up on everything. He is even ready to accept Lindner’s offer of not moving in the neighborhood, which shows him giving up. He feels so helpless and upset that the pride he had when he told Lindner to get out of his house because the family had decided to move in was all gone. Beneatha was sad and extremely angry at her brother. She could not attend college anymore because Walter invested all the insurance money, even the amount that was supposed to be set aside for Beneatha’s education, into his liquor business. This makes her “explode.” “That is not a man. That is nothing but a toothless rat…. He’s no brother of mine” (Hansberry 777). She is so angry and disappointed at her brother that she even goes on to say that Walter is not her brother. When Willy Harris betrayed Walter, all family members’ dreams were shattered.
However, because of the mistake of Walter, he realizes that Lena is doing the right thing by buying the new house. She is doing the best for her children and is finally about to fulfill the dream she shared with Big Walter years ago. This could also mean that achieving one’s dream is extremely difficult, especially if faced with social and economic problems because of race relations not being very well at that time.
A Raisin in the Sun is based on Harlem in which Langston Hughes asked a question. Whether Hansberry intentionally did not answer the question Hughes presents in his poem is unknown. However, she does not answer the question and the lack of conclusion makes it evident that the question was left unanswered. There could have been many reasons for doing so. One of the reasons could have been because of the difficulty of the question. The question asked by Hughes, “What happens to a dream deferred?”, does not have a simple answer as it might seem. Many things could happen as Hughes writes in his poem, Harlem. The second reason why Hansberry left his question unanswered could be because of a lack of a conclusion. Hansberry left many answers unanswered by ending the play where she did. If she had continued, she probably would have answered the questions that arises in a readers’ mind as they read the play, and along with that, she would have probably answered Hughes question. Another reason why she might not have answered Hughes is that she did not have major intentions to answer. She might have only wanted to resemble the poem, Harlem. She, through the actions of the characters, helps the reader visualize the poem which Langston Hughes wrote. Hughes poses the question and writes various ways a deferred dream could affect a person, but he does not give an answer. He only suggests possible outcomes. To maintain resemblance, Hansberry might have chosen the lines from the poem and elaborated on it through her play. These may be some of the reasons why Hansberry did not answer Hughes’ question, “What happens to a dream deferred,” in A Raisin in the Sun. Regardless of the reason, the question is unanswered in A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Literature: The Human Experience, Abcarian, Richard, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen, editors. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp. 710-81.
Hughes, Langston. Harlem. Literature: The Human Experience, Abcarian, Richard, Marvin Klotz, and Samuel Cohen, editors. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp. 429.
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