Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry
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What is the main idea or theme of A Raisin in the Sun, and what does it say about the time in which the play is set?

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The main theme of Lorraine Hansberry ’s play is hinted at by the title, which is a line from a poem by Langston Hughes. The idea that deferring one’s dreams will lead either to those dreams’ shrinking and shriveling like a dry raisin or to frustration that causes an explosion...

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The main theme of Lorraine Hansberry’s play is hinted at by the title, which is a line from a poem by Langston Hughes. The idea that deferring one’s dreams will lead either to those dreams’ shrinking and shriveling like a dry raisin or to frustration that causes an explosion is highly consistent with the late 1950s in the United States. In 1948, the US Supreme Court had ruled in Shelley v. Kraemer that segregation in housing was unconstitutional. The practice of redlining, which legally preserved segregated neighborhoods, was still widespread. The incident involving the Youngers’ decision to move to a white enclave was based on Hansberry’s family’s experiences. Lena’s dream of providing a good home for her family was ultimately realized.

Lena’s children, Walter and Beneatha, had very different dreams, both of which were influenced by the times in which they lived. Walter had the spirit of an entrepreneur but not the opportunities. Beneatha was both creative and ambitious, as well as strongly motivated to serve others. In the end, we do not know if either of them fully achieved their dreams of becoming a business owner and a doctor, respectively. In the 1960s, medical schools and medical care began to be integrated, but there were still very few African American female students.

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