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Both Langston Hughes’ "Harlem (A Dream Deferred)" and Lorraine Hansberry’s "A Raisin in the Sun" focus on the effect of racism on African-Americans. In both cases, the focus of the authors is not merely to document incidents of racism and show its practical effects, although many details of the economic effects of racism surface in both works, but also to analyse the psychological effect of racism on its victims. The specific theme is dreams and ambitions, and the way that living in a racist society prevents subalterns from having the opportunities to pursue their dreams freely and succeed at them.
Of course, there is the obvious social racial component where blacks are unfairly singled out and treated as inferior by whites. However, the connection between the two pieces of literature is much more complex. It is about the psychological constitution of the aggrieved who suffers under a foul system that consistently delegates him or her to a lower social pecking order; and it is about dangerous choices and possible outcomes weighed against unfulfilled, broken dreams.
Nevertheless, when Langston Hughes wrote "Harlem (A Dream Deferred)", the armed forces had already been desegregated by President Harry Truman. Moreover, before Lorraine Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun, a play loosely based on her own experience with housing discrimination in Chicago, Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall had already argued and won several, major civil right victories as a private practicioner including Brown v, Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark ruling that declared separate schools for whites and blacks to be unconstitutional.
Thus, by the time Hughes wrote his poem, dreams for elite blacks had been deferred but not totally wasted, a marked improvement within the span of Hughes' life; and by the time Hansberry wrote her screenplay, dreams of equal housing no longer needed to explode into the void. Legal venues were righting wrongs of yesteryears and clearing the path for blacks to advance.
Both pieces of literature are as relevant today as they were more than 50 years ago. The dream of equality and equal justice under the law has been realized by many blacks but still remains but pitch-black shadows marked by their skin color. Yet, blacks have the same choice today as they always have, for the theme in the poem and play is one and the same. One can give up or fight on; one can explode with either positive or negative energy; it is up to him or her to choose; and the momentous outcome could not be more different.
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