In Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” she does a great job of intertwining Langston Hughes’ poem “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” to incorporate her underlying theme of dreams. In his poem, Hughes asks "What happens to a dream deferred? " and then goes on to list the different things that might happen to a person if his dreams are put "on hold. " His overall point is that whatever happens to a postponed dream is never positive. Meanwhile, the question Hansberry poses in her play is, "What happens to a person whose dreams grow more and more passionate — while his hopes of ever achieving those dreams grow dimmer each day? Dreams get put on hold for many different reasons but in the case of the Youngers, it was their home environment that ensured that none of them would be able to accomplish their ultimate dreams. Lena, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha Younger were a poor African American family that shared a small one-bedroom apartment in the south side of Chicago. Each person had vastly different goals and dreams. Being the head of the household, Lena dreamed the dreams of her children and would do whatever it took to make those dreams come true.
Walter, Lena's oldest son, set his dream on starting his own business with a liquor store. He had the basic “American Dream” of starting from the bottom before ultimately working your way to the top with his entrepreneurial spirit. Beneatha, on the other hand, wanted to become a doctor when she got out of college and Ruth, Walter's wife, wanted to be wealthy. While trying to reach these dreams, each member of the the Younger family had their own dreams postponed and put on hold at some point or another for various reasons.
Lena was a widow in her early sixties who devoted her life to her children after her husband's death. Retired from working for the Holiday's family, she was waiting for her husband's insurance money to arrive. With the ten thousand dollar check in her hand, Lena decided to buy a three thousand dollar house in Clybourne Park and she was also going to put some of the money in the bank for Beneatha's medical school. She realized this money was a one-way ticket for her family to get out of their environment and improve their lives and believed buying a house in a different neighborhood was the best way to do this.
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However, Walter was upset when he heard his mother had spent the insurance money on the house and thought it wasn't fair that Beneatha got some of it for her medical school while he got nothing for his liquor store business. Lena, who always wanted her son to be happy, trustingly gave the rest of the insurance money to Walter. However, he then gave the money to Bobo and Willy, two of his friends with questionable character, to help him get his liquor license. Unsurprisingly, Willy betrayed Walter, taking off with the money and causing his dream to crumble to pieces.
Walter was deceived by his friend Willy but the reality is his dream was never going to happen anyway, and the rest of the family knew this. Living where they lived, the environmental pressures were extremely high. There were five people living in a tiny, run-down, roach-infested one-bedroom apartment, with two families sharing a bathroom. Everyone was looking for a way to improve their lives and Walter wanted to be the one to do it with his liquor store. “Sometimes it’s like I can see the future stretched out in front of me – just plain as day. The future, Mama.
Hanging over there at the edge of my days. Just waiting for me – a big, looming blank space – full of nothing. Just waiting for me” (980). Walter knew there was no future ahead of him if he continued on his life path and he knew he needed to get out. Living in this type of environment, your dreams will always be put on hold until you can finally get out. Ruth, Walter's wife, was pregnant at the time her husband was trying to start up his liquor store and she realized her dream of being wealthy and having a fine family was simply just that – a dream.
To her, it was a consolation that her husband had come back to reality after his goals fell through. The problem Walter faced and the reason he was so unsuccessful was that his main goal was not to escape their environment, but merely to improve it. Due to where they lived, the family was destined to fail unless they made a move to get away from it. A lot of the family realized this but Walter didn’t. As Kristin Mathews says in her article “The Politics of “Home” in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, “Walter’s failing is his acceptance of the capitalist economic system that necessarily excludes him from ascendancy” (par. ). She says that Walter doesn’t wish to change the system but merely change his position in it and until the very end of the play, he is willing to “surrender his will to this system and exchange his dignity for whatever ‘life’ it might offer him and his family” (7). Unlike Walter, Beneatha, on the other hand, knew that she wanted to escape the system altogether. This is why she was extremely upset when she found out Walter didn't put anything in the bank for her medical school because she knew that was her way out.
She gave up hope and her dream of becoming a doctor seemed to fade away with Walter’s liquor store business. Fortunately, her friend Asagai came over and took her out of her environment. By marrying him and moving to Nigeria to practice her medical career, she found her new ticket out of the environment and system that was setting her up for failure. Lena was also well aware of the difficulties of living where they did. She knew moving away was the best decision for the family which is why she bought the house in Clybourne Park with some of the insurance money she received.
However, prior to the family moving, Mr. Lindner, a representative from Clybourne Park, offered to pay the Youngers to not go into his neighborhood. Lindner, along with the rest of the community, didn’t want a black family living in their neighborhood. Taking the money would have been immoral in the family's eyes, and prioritizes money over human dignity. They understand that moving is the best choice for the family but once again, Walter did not. He was willing to push all his ethical beliefs to the side to take the money and improve his life within his system before ultimately changing his mind.
Even though the road ahead will be difficult, they know that they have made an honorable choice and have finally gotten out of the environment that has been holding them back this whole time. They didn’t just improve their lives within the system, they got out of it. Lorraine Hansberry had successfully described the four main characters in the story as human beings with desires, dreams, aspirations, conflict, foibles, and strength. It was "A Raisin in the Sun" that expressed those dreams and desires and how they ended up as "dreams deferred. Once the family was finally able to leave their home environment in the south side of Chicago, their dreams began to form into more of a reality. A major underlying theme of the book is to not give up on your dreams and do whatever it takes to accomplish those dreams as soon as possible. It is very rare that putting your dreams on hold turn out in a positive way so you need to seize the moment at all times and push aside anything that holds you back. The Youngers realized that what was holding them back was the system of their home environment and they got away from it as soon as they could and they were happier for it.
Works Cited Hansberry, Lorraine. "A Raisin in the Sun. " The Norton Introduction to Literature. By Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2011. 950-1021. Print. Hughes, Langston. "What Happens to a Dream Deferred? " The Norton Introduction to Literature. By Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2011. 950. Print. Kristin L. Matthews. "The Politics of “Home” in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. " Modern Drama 51. 4 (2008): 556-578. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. .
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