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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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Explain the connection between the poem “A Dream Deferred” and A Raisin in the Sun.

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The dream deferred in Langston Hughes's famous poem is the dream of an America where there will be true equality among the races and where African Americans, specifically, will no longer be discriminated against and oppressed. Hughes's final question, "or does it explode?", carries the implication that when a people's freedom is denied for years and years, the possible result is violence of some kind.

In the play A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family's dream is to move to a better neighborhood. The attempt is made, by a so-called "welcoming committee" of residents, to prevent them from doing so, purely out of racist motives. This is the specific dream that has been deferred, although the family decide to defy the bigots and take their chances.

The broader dream that has been put off or deferred is, of course, that of equality and freedom from oppression in general, as implied in Hughes's poem. Each member of the Younger family understandably feels stymied in his or her personal life as a result of this deferral. Walter wonders why he can only be a chauffeur for a rich white man. Beneatha feels trapped because she is both black and a woman, and the rest of the family have little understanding of why she feels frustrated. Even Asagai, who as one born in Africa is in some sense less affected by the mindset that results from systematic discrimination, seems a bit amused by Beneatha's inward struggle.

Mrs. Younger is the one whose steadfastness holds the family together. Though her dream is the one that's been deferred the longest, it's chiefly through her guidance that the family resist the forces ranged against them and intend to fight to make the dream a reality.

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The title of Lorraine Hansberry's celebrated play A Raisin in the Sun is taken from a line in Langston Hughes's famous poem "Harlem," which explores the effects of deferred dreams in the oppressed African American community. Hansberry's play and Hughes's poem share many similar themes and examine the consequences attached to the postponed dreams of African Americans dealing with discrimination and obstacles in the United States. In Langston Hughes's poem, the narrator asks the hypothetical question of what happens to a dream deferred and proceeds to list several outcomes. The narrator questions if the dreams dry up "like a raisin in the sun," "fester like a sore," sag "like a heavy load," or "does it explode." The various outcomes of postponed dreams that Hughes illustrates in his poem directly parallel the emotions of Walter Jr. in Hansberry's classic play.

Similar to Hughes's poem, Hansberry depicts the different dreams of each member of the Younger family as they anticipate Lena's ten thousand dollar insurance check. Walter Jr. is the protagonist of the play and dreams of one day entering the liquor business. Initially, his dream is deferred when Lena refuses to give him money to invest. Walter's dream initially dries up and it seems to "fester like a sore"...

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as he mopes around all day. His negative attitude stinks "like rotten meat" before he explodes into a tirade about living an unsuccessful, meaningless life. After Lena acquiesces and gives Walter Jr. the majority of the insurance money, his business partner steals it. Walter Jr. is once again forced to deal with his deferred dreams and experiences the same emotions Hughes vividly describes in his poem. Fortunately, Walter Jr. experiences a change of heart by the end of the play and properly copes with his deferred dream.

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What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Walter Lee Younger is a dreamer. He dreams of having his own business. When that dream falls apart, Walter's dream can be compared to Langston Hughes's poem "A Dream Deferred." In Hughes poem, he compares a broken dream to various concepts.

No doubt, Walter is carrying a dream deferred. It is as a raisin that dries up in the sun. Walter loses all of Mama Younger's insurance money and Walter is left with a dried up dream. His deferred dream is like a sore that festers and runs from the infection. Walter's dream can be compared to a sore that festers and runs. He erupts from all the disappointment of his broken dreams. He drinks heavily and comes home verbally abusive. He is sarcastic and filled with infection from his festering dream. His dream "stink[s] like rotten meat." Walter's dream is gone, along with the money that Willy Harris took from Walter.

Truly, Walter can relate to Hughes's poem. His dream sags and explodes, leaving Walter to pick up the pieces of his broken dream. Walter screams and yells like a wounded animal. His dream explodes as he explodes. He shouts out in anger and hurt. Willy Harris has destroyed Walter's dream of having his own business. What happens to Walter's deferred dream? Does it resemble Hughes poetic comparisons?

No doubt, Walter's dream is found among the deferred dream of Hughes's poem. He is a bitter man who has lost all hope. His dream is an infectious sore which runs and sags until it explodes. Hughes, in his descriptive imagery, understands what a dream deferred looks like. The visual images he conveys are metaphorically expressed and show a connection to Walter and his deferred dream.

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