Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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How does the title "Raisin In The Sun" apply to the story? Raisins are grapes that shrivel up, right?

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The title of A Raisin In The Sun comes from the third line of Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem." "Harlem" is a free-verse poem comprised of six possible answers to the question posed in the first line:

What happens to a dream deferred?

The first answer offered, which contains the title of the play by Lorraine Hansberry, is this:

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

From the very surface of the subject matter, we can see that the two works are related—Hansberry's work centers on a family of people attempting to achieve their dreams and being beaten down by circumstance. The context of the poem makes the title still more significant against the play's depiction of the hardship imposed on Black people and families by American white supremacy and racism.

The Harlem Renaissance was a period in the 1920s characterized by its enthusiastic celebration of Black history and life, and resulting in a multitude of artistic works made by African American people, for African American people. Langston Hughes is widely lauded as one of the most influential figures of the time. The poem "Harlem" is an explicit contemplation of the period and its impacts, and it refers to not only the romanticized explosion of culture but also the concurrent community organizing and civil rights activism. The last answer offered to the opening question—"What happens to a dream deferred?"—rings with a sense of collective cultural power:

Or does it explode?

It is this that gives context to the play: not the Jazz Age, art deco aesthetic, but the intense pursuit of freedom—the soul-crushing pain that drives it, the muddling fear and confusion that hinders it, and the explosive expression of will that is needed to reach liberation. There is no clear-cut choice for the Youngers, no certainty or easy way out of their financial plight and internal conflicts: just the need to move forward.

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The title of Lorraine Hansberry's play alludes to Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem," which focuses on the plight of marginalized African Americans and asks the question, "What happens to a dream deferred?" In the poem, the speaker responds to the question regarding deferred dreams by asking, "Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?" This question in the poem corresponds to the Younger family's dreams once Walter Jr. loses the majority of Lena's insurance money.

Throughout the play, Lorraine Hansberry depicts the Youngers as a lower-class, marginalized African American family with tremendous dreams of living successful, stable lives. Each family member has his or her own dreams, which are suddenly made possible with the arrival of Lena's ten-thousand-dollar insurance check. Walter Jr. dreams of investing in a liquor business, while Beneatha dreams of enrolling in college to become a doctor. Both Lena and Ruth dream of living in a comfortable home away from their lower-class South Side neighborhood. Hansberry portrays these dreams as extremely vulnerable yet possible to attain. When Walter is scammed, the entire family's dreams are compromised,...

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which corresponds to the question asked by the speaker in Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem." Overall, the Younger family's response to adversity relates to the subject of Langston Hughes's poem.

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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.

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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.

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