Does A Raisin in the Sun ultimately answer Langston Hughes's question, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
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It seems to me that reading the play as an extension of the poem and an exploration of the questions posed therein might be a bit more helpful than reading the play as an answer to the questions of Hughes' poem.
The poem presents us with the notion that a dream can be a challenge, a burden, a weight when it is not fulfilled. The Youngers have a dream of moving out of poverty in a very literal way. This dream presents a very real challenge to the family as many road-blocks emerge as they move toward achieving this dream.
Walter cannot see past his own limitations. Beneatha cannot find any redemption within the confines of the family. The neighborhood where the Youngers plan to move is resistant to that prospect. The dream of moving out of poverty is certainly deferred.
The characters are embittered by this deferment. They are beaten. They are hopelss, at points. But they don't give up in the end. And they decide that it's time to stop holding on to a dream. It's the dreams that have eluded them and disappointed them. They decide in the end that it's time to refuse to defer and that it is up to them. They move. They step away from the poem's anguish.
In Hughes's poem, a dream deferred has many possible endings; the same is true for Hansberry's play. At the end of A Raisin in the Sun, there is certainly hope. The family is once more united and working together toward a common goal, and the unborn baby which was nearly aborted will live. However, there is also the possibility of an explosion, as Hughes suggests. The Youngers are living in an all-white community which wanted to pay them not to live there, and we know similar situations have ended in violence, as their neighbor gleefully tells them. Both literary works, then, end with a question mark.
Hughes' poem does not give a direct and simple answer to the question, so it would make sense that Hansberry follows suit. I am not sure there is a direct answer that Hansberry gives. Both the Hughes poem and the Hansberry play admits the difficulty of having dreams in the modern setting for people of color. Both works fully concede that there are conditions in the world that make dreams difficult to realize and to accomplish. Both works talk about how different dreams experience different realities. Yet, I do not think that Hansberry gives an immediate answer. I think that she presents the case of the Younger family as a possible, and hopeful, representation of what does happen to dreams that are deferred. While there is disappointment present in the Younger home, there is also redemption in that individuals can act in the name of collective notions of the good and seek to find hope in absolute despair. The plant that is set outside has a chance to grow in better conditions, experiencing some of the heat from the sun, but also the cool of the water and the nutrients of the soil. In this light, I think that Hansberry's work admits and accepts the difficulty present for dreams, and for dreams of people of color. However, she does not close those doors, as Hughes does not close those doors. Rather, both authors would suggest that it might require a bit more of a push to open them and it is here where one must exert force in order to make sure that one's dreams are protected and cherished in a world that might not reciprocate.
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