Yes, raisins are dried grapes, but think about what would happen if a raisin was left in the sun. What would it look like and feel like?The title comes from a Langston Hughes poem about dreams and what happens to our dreams when they're never realized. The first three lines of the poem are, "What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?"
Hansberry wrote her play about the Youngers, a poor, black family in the 1950s, who are each trying to achieve his/her own dreams. The husband and father of the family has just died, and they are expecting an insurance check. Each member of the family sees this money as a way to make his/her dreams come true. Walter,the son, wants to go into business for himself. Ruth, his wife, wants to keep her family together. Beneatha, Walter's sister,wants to be a doctor. Mama Younger wants a house with a garden where her family will be happy. As each member of the family sees his/her dream disappear, the family falls apart.
The family's dreams are like the raisin that is left out in the sun. The raisin becomes hard and crusty and shriveled and has to be thrown away. This is what happens to the Younger family after Walter loses the insurance money. In the end, however, the Youngers pull together as a family to fight the racism and bigotry of white people who don't want a black family living in their neighborhood.
The title alludes to Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred.”
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?
Racism constantly challenges the ability of the Younger family to fulfill its dreams. The big dream here is the American Dream of financial security and a “house of their own.” The conflict of the play concerns whether they will be able to overcome racism and achieve their dreams, and if they cannot, what will be the outcome? Will Walter Lee, for example, “explode in anger” (as he almost does at a certain point) or just “rot” and “stink” in his misery and resentment, becoming less of a human being.