The Dream Deferred – A Comparison
Axia College of University of Phoenix
In Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun, the author reveals a hard-working, honest African-American family struggling to make their dreams come true. Langston Hughes' poem, Harlem, illustrates what could happen if those dreams never came to fruition. Together, both Hansberry and Hughes show the effects on human beings when a long-awaited dream is thwarted by economic and social hardships.
Each of the characters in A Raisin in the Sun has a dream for which they base their whole happiness and livelihood on attaining. However, the character of Lena Younger, or Mama, differs from the other members of her family. Time after time, Mama postpones her dream of owning a house and garden to perpetuate the dreams of her family members. Finally, when Mama receives the $10,000 insurance check, she feels that her dream can become reality, and purchases a house in Clybourne Park. Her dream "drys up like a raisin in the sun" when she learns that Walter gave the money to Willy Harris, who mysteriously disappears. Mama does not shatter simply because her dream has not been fulfilled. "Lena Younger's strength of character has come from the steadfast endurance of hardship and a refusal to be conquered by it" (Phillips 51). Mama's economic hardships may have killed her dream, but she has not allowed it to kill her. You can feel the desperation not only in the poem but also through the character of Mama as you read the passages of the poem and story.
The symbolism of “the dream” in A Raisin in the Sun is equal to the symbolism used in the poem by Hughes. In the story, we see what can happen to a dream that is deferred, which is what the poem speaks directly about.
The social inequality which the Younger's encounter also does not hinder Mama's compassion. Mr. Lindner temporarily shatters Mama's dream of owning a home when he comes to the Younger’s prepared to give them money to move from Clybourne Park. The derogatory use of "you people" by Mr. Lindner has little to no effect on Mama's steadfast decision to move to Clybourne Park. Mama's dream of a house simply modifies. She does not care that the house is located in a neighborhood where there are no colored people. Mama concerns herself only with the fact that she and her family will own the house and not have to dwell in the tired, old apartment on Chicago's south side. In a sense, Mama's dream has "crusted and sugared over like a sugary sweet" (Hughes Lines 7-8). Her dream has changed to fit the circumstances she must cope with. The character of Mama represents those who do not shrivel up and die just because their dream does.
Walter Lee Younger, Lena's son, is second only to Lena in arousing sympathy and pathos from the audience. The entire play shows the development of Walter's quest for manhood. Similar to Lena, Walter's dream of owning a liquor store becomes hindered by his economic station, or lack of money, and his social position. In the opening scenes of A Raisin in the Sun, Walter does not occupy the position of head of the household. This secondary position to Mama demonstrates his frustration with his limiting environment, and even Walter's job show subservience and inequality as a chauffeur to wealthy white people. Elizabeth Phillips comments, "Consequently, he [Walter] is forever on the lookout for a means of making more money, not only to enable him to give luxuries as well as necessities, but also to satisfy the deep inner need of every man to prove that he is capable of great achievement" (54).
Walter's great achievement appears as a failure at first before revealing the man that he has become. The destruction of Walter's first and superficial dream of owning a liquor store perpetuates Walter's downfall. This symbolizes Langston Hughes' question, "Does it [a dream deferred] stink like rotten meat?": (Line 6). The death of Walter's dream...
Bibliography: Hansberry Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun.  Literature. 5th ed. Eds. James N. N. Pickering and Jeffery D. Hoeper. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, O. 1700-57.
Hughes, Langston. "Harlem."  Literature. 5th ed. Eds. James H. Pickering and Jeffery D. Hoeper. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1027-28.
Mullen, Edward J. Critical Essays on Langston Hughes. Boston: G. K. Hall, 142.
Phillips, Elizabeth C. The Works of Lorraine Hansberry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. 48-62.
Braiman, Jay. “Mr. Braiman’s English Online.” http://mrbraiman.hom.att.net/lit.htm.
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