There are prominent thematic elements and motifs in “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)”, but among these is the prominence and meaning of dreams, as we experience them. Both stories seek to analyze the nature of dreams, as well as their effect on the dreamer, and the concept of dreaming itself. Both of the stories are heavily influenced by the concept of dreaming, even so far as to say that their titles reference dreaming itself (Miller, 2002). Through analyzing dreams themselves, the characters in both pieces address the oppressive nature of their lives, the societies around them and the world, at large, seeking to answer more difficult questions about their world in the process.

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In the case of “A Raisin in the Sun”, written by Lorraine Hansberry, the title itself is a reference to a hypothesis that Langston Hughes, who wrote “Harlem (A Dream Deferred)” famously posited in a poem he wrote in regards to dreams that were either postponed or forgotten (Miller, 2002). In doing so, he ponders the notion of whether or not those forgotten dreams shrivel up “like a raisin in the sun.” This thought is the central driving thematic element of “A Raisin in the Sun”, as eventually every member of the protagonist family, the Youngers, have individual dreams which are explored in detail. The first, Beneatha, wishes to eventually become a doctor one day (Miller, 2002).

Walter, the father, wants to eventually have enough money to be able to afford the things that his family want and need. The family itself have issues in attaining these dreams over the course of the play, and much of the happiness and elation they go through is directly correlated to their ability to ascertain these dreams, or their inability to do so. While they each pursue individualistic dreams, it’s ultimately the dream of having a house which causes the family to unite and, as a result, is viewed by the members as the most important. This is symbolic of their views of what’s important, both intrinsically, and as a result of the societal pressures and injustices that they face.

Over the course of the play, the characters experience the varying effects of racial discrimination, and it becomes an issue that none of the family can avoid (Miller, 2002). While the family has experiences which make them more aware of the discrimination and segregation in the society around them, it also unifies them more and, as a result, causes them to have more achievable, realistic goals of coming together (Miller, 2002). The symbolic utilization of dreams, as Hansberry uses them, and the way in which she found the title for her play, are discussed in Langston Hughes’ classic “Harlem (A Dream Deferred).”

In this poem, Hughes addresses the nature of what causes dreams, and the way in which we perceive them (Miller, 2002). The reference of the title of this poem alludes to the area of Harlem in New York City, and the way in which the area collapsed following the Harlem Renaissance, during the Great Depression. The ways in which the dreams are “deferred” are varying ways in which something experiences decay, eventually until it “explodes” as he says in the very end (Miller, 2002). These reflections on the way in which a dream is deferred reflect the societal decay experienced in the Harlem area, and also reflect the challenges faced by African-Americans in our country to experience growth and oppose the segregation and oppression that they face, especially at the time that Hughes wrote this piece.

Hughes’ poetry is often held as a reflection of his views on society at large, and the title “A Raisin in the Sun” reflects the fact that Hansberry believes the dreams that the family have are subsequently deferred, as the ultimate dream that they come upon is to have a house and attempt to stand together against the segregation and discrimination that they face, as compared to pursuing their individualistic dreams.

Both pieces use dreams to symbolize loss and oppression, as well as the relationship that the primary characters have with society.

  • Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: A Drama in Three Acts. New York: Random House, 1959. Print.
  • Miller, W. Jason. “Foregrounding And Prereading: Using Langston Hughes’s Poetry To Teach A Raisin In The Sun.”Notes On American Literature 21.(2012): 4-14. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 July 2015
  • Bizot, Richard. “Harlem.” Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition (2002): 1-3. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 July 2015.