Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun takes it name from Langston Hughes's poem “Harlem.” The two works also revolve around the same theme.
In “Harlem,” Hughes asks a question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” He then provides various possible answers that are also in the form of questions. Perhaps the dream dries up, he suggests, or festers or stinks or becomes sweeter or sags. Perhaps, he concludes, it explodes. Readers are left with the impression that any or all of these are conceivable based on the situation in which the dream is deferred.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry builds her story around dreams deferred. Mama has long had a dream of buying a house in a better neighborhood, a house where she and her daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and grandson can have a good, peaceful life together. Her dream becomes, perhaps, sweeter over time, but at times it must feel like a heavy load. Finally, when Mama's dream is about to come true (thanks to the insurance money she receives after her husband's death), it hits another snag. The white neighbors in their potential new neighborhood do not want a black family in their midst. Mama, however, holds onto her dream, and by the end of the play, the family is getting ready to move.
Walter also has a dream. He wants to own his own liquor store. His dream, however, festers and starts to stink, for his frustration boils over into a drinking problem. It finally dries up like the raisin in the sun when he loses the money Mama gives him (and the money she earmarks for his sister) to a dishonest “partner.”
Beneatha, too, has a dream. She is in medical school, studying to be a doctor. But throughout the play, she is questioning her dream, wondering if it is really right for her. She is sagging beneath its load, trying to figure out what she wants from life.
A Raisin in the Sun, then, provides a narrative illustration of the deferred dreams Langston Hughes presents in his poem “Harlem.”