Lorraine Hansberry’s acclaimed play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” delves into the complexities of family, dreams, and societal constraints. The play is prefaced by a poignant Langston Hughes poem, which sets the tone for the exploration of deferred dreams. As the Younger family grapples with their aspirations and struggles, the theme of the poem is mirrored in their experiences. Additionally, the inheritance of insurance money left by Big Walter serves as a catalyst for the plot’s development, offering a lens through which Hansberry magnifies the significance of leaving a legacy for one’s children.
Illustrating the Theme of the Poem
Langston Hughes’ poem, “Harlem,” raises the question of what happens to dreams deferred. The play mirrors this theme through the characters’ various aspirations and their struggles to attain them. Walter’s desire to open a liquor store exemplifies a deferred dream, echoing the poem’s question of whether a “dream deferred” dries up like a raisin in the sun. The Younger family’s cramped living conditions and financial constraints parallel the poem’s imagery of a “drying up” dream (SparkNotes). Hansberry illustrates how these deferred dreams impact the family members’ emotions and relationships, as their aspirations remain unfulfilled. This aligns with Hughes’ theme of the poem, emphasizing the emotional toll of unrealized dreams on individuals and families.
Walter’s transformation throughout the play showcases the theme of the deferred dream. At the outset, he is consumed by his aspiration for financial success and believes that money will solve all his problems. However, through his journey, he comes to realize that the dream is not just about monetary gain but also about dignity, identity, and pride. Walter’s experience resonates with the poem’s assertion that deferred dreams fester and become burdensome. By interweaving Walter’s evolution with Hughes’ theme, Hansberry reinforces the idea that unfulfilled dreams can corrode one’s spirit (SparkNotes).
Development of Leaving a Legacy
The insurance money left by Big Walter becomes a pivotal element in the play’s narrative, symbolizing the theme of leaving a legacy for one’s children. The money represents not only financial security but also the hope for a brighter future. This legacy, however, is not just about monetary inheritance; it carries the weight of Big Walter’s dreams and sacrifices. The inheritance encapsulates his aspirations for his family to escape poverty and racial discrimination, and Hansberry skillfully uses this legacy to explore the multi-faceted aspects of leaving something behind for one’s children (SparkNotes).
Mama’s decision to use the insurance money to buy a house signifies her commitment to realizing Big Walter’s dream. She envisions a better life for her family and wants to provide a stable and nurturing environment for her children and grandchildren. This resonates with the concept of legacy, where parents work to ensure their children’s prosperity beyond their own lifetimes. Mama’s determination to honor her husband’s memory by investing in a home aligns with the thematic idea of passing down not just material wealth, but also values, dreams, and hopes for a brighter future (SparkNotes).
Furthermore, Beneatha’s aspirations for education and self-discovery also connect to the theme of legacy. Big Walter’s sacrifice for the insurance money reflects his belief in the power of education to uplift his children. Beneatha’s pursuit of becoming a doctor represents a continuation of her father’s legacy. She seeks to fulfill her potential, contributing to society while also honoring her father’s dreams of empowerment through education (SparkNotes).
Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” masterfully intertwines Langston Hughes’ poem’s themes with the experiences of the Younger family, demonstrating the profound impact of deferred dreams. The insurance money left by Big Walter serves as a catalyst for the exploration of leaving a legacy for one’s children. Through Mama’s determination and Beneatha’s aspirations, Hansberry delves into the multidimensional nature of legacy—both as a material inheritance and a spiritual connection to the past. In the end, the play underscores the enduring power of dreams and the importance of passing on a meaningful legacy to future generations (SparkNotes).
Hansberry, L. (1959). A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Books.
Hughes, L. (1951). Harlem. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46548/harlem
SparkNotes. (n.d.). A Raisin in the Sun Study Guide. Retrieved from https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/raisin/summary/