Raisin in the Sun - Dreams Deferred

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 12:46   /   Views: 1 067
What happens to a dream when it suspends in time? Does it stay suspended within a man through his lifetime, dormant, unreachable, and far away? Does its power grow and ultimately force him to act to make it happen sometime in the future—if not in his lifetime then in the future members of his kin? On the other hand, does it eat away at him, crystallizing and internally segmenting his own derived purpose and meaning of life until it is indiscernible from its original state of grandeur and grace? Those are some of the questions that Lorraine Hansberry poses for consideration in her play, A Raisin in the Sun. It is no accident that she chose Langston Hughes’ poem as a gateway into the incredible experience of true life, living, dreaming and working for a better tomorrow as enacted and emoted by her play’s characters, the Youngers. More specifically, she uses Mama Younger to echo the poem’s style of thought-provocation to at least partially surmise an answer of whether dreams deferred do, in fact, dry up, crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet, or sag like a heavy load.

Langston Hughes’ poem begins with a deceptively innocent question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” (Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun 1). From the opening line, the reader is left to contemplate an infinite number of possible outcomes, among them if it partially dies, if it continues to live into the next generation, if it matters what kind of dream it is, and many others. And then, suddenly, he adds to it to further focus the question and thusly to compound and raise its complexity. He asks, “Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?” (Hansberry 2-3). Now, whereas the reader could initially answer the first question in whichever way he wished, he now finds himself confined and struggling to formulate an answer and justifications to a closed-ended question. And, in dealing with Mama Younger, he is, at minimum, left at level ground. It is because, on the one hand, her dream when she first moved into that place in Chicago’s Southside to buy a house, fix it up, and make herself a little garden in the backyard didn’t happen (Hansberry 45). Or, as she says, “didn’t none of it happen” (Hansberry 45). She became too busy and occupied rearing her then-young family. For her, the initial plan with her husband to save and only stay in that apartment (if one can call it that) for no more than a year became nearly a lifetime (Hansberry 44-45). And, with that the “hopeless social conditions” that have forced them to “defer their dreams until their own strength and pride help them struggle toward opportunity,” as Diana Marre says in her essay on Lorainne Hansberry (“Lorainne Hansberry” 453). As like the once loved pattern of the couch upholstery that now fights to show itself from under acres of crocheted doilies and couch covers […],” she now struggles to keep her dream from drying up after now experiencing acres of life’s burdens and tribulations (Hansberry 23). In many respects, it is too late in her life to enjoy the house that she has purchased because she is nearing old age and death; the youth she once had is a distant past. Yet at the same time, and on the other hand, her shared subtler and greater dream with her husband of providing a better way of life and living for her family fills and moistens. Despite she and her family being in the ghetto because they are Negroes, as commentated by Hansberry herself, her ability to provide a house and new home for her family through her late husband’s insurance money replenishes the desolate condition of their shared, worthwhile dream (Marre 454). Her revelation to Travis of having bought a new home for his eventual inheritance, her description to Walter of how there are three bedrooms and a yard where she can grow some flowers, and her affirmative response to Ruth’s question of whether there is a whole lot of sunlight there act as clear indicators of her happiness for this accomplishment and progress from her family’s current socio-economic position (Hansberry 91-92; 94). Additionally, as the anonymous author speaks of the play’s signaling of a “new era for the role of the black artist in the American civil rights struggle,” in the article “Lorainne Hansberry: 1930-1965,” so does the author indirectly speak of Mama Younger’s reflected approach of “direct actions and protests […] against racism and discrimination in American life” as seen in the play and her talk with Travis (277).

Then, there is the matter of dreams crusting and sugaring over like a syrupy sweet. Hughes prompts, “Does it stink like rotten meat / Or crust and sugar over— / Like a syrupy sweet?” (Hansberry 6-8). Certainly for Mama Younger and her family, in the minute scheme of things, much of that was happening. Take Walter as an example. For much of his adult life, he has been a chauffeur (Hansberry 34). Like his late father, he has long dreamed of making his family’s condition better, of giving them something worthwhile that goes beyond the miniscule ability of his obviously low-class, low-rate, and low-paying, job. He wishes “to invest the money in a liquor store so he can leave his ‘nothing’ job as a white man’s chauffeur and go into business” because he feels “trapped and desperate” (Marre 454). At the dining table in Act I he expresses to his wife, “I’m thirty-five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room—and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live” (34). So is his dream rotten smelling and crusted and sugared-over like a syrupy sweet? The answer is yes and no. In terms of him having have worked as a chauffeur for at least the past fifteen years and still having nothing to show—monetarily, prestigiously, and the like—for it, yes, his dream has crystallized. However, when one considers his continuous efforts to try and attain a better life for his family—through his alcohol store venture and just working in general—then one sees that his dream is not forsaken and old because each moment he thinks of it and keeps faith, he in essence keeps that dream alive, well, and hardly anywhere close in the fermentation stage. He, Walter Younger, “supported by a culture of hope and aspiration, survives and grows” (Robinson and Barranger, “Hansberry, Lorraine Vivian: (1930-1965)” 527-8). Despite his mama’s “I don’t aim to have to speak on that again,” attitude, he yet continues pressing the issue (Hansberry 71). Then, finally, gives in because of her love for him. She confides, “I ain’t never stop trusting you. Like I ain’t never stop loving you,” and tells him to take the three thousand, deposit it for Beneatha’s schooling, and to place the rest in a checking account for his personal use (Hansberry 107).

As for Mama Younger, the case is similar. For as much as she has lived and has had Walter and Beneatha, her dream of owning a house has been on hold. She focused her energies on what she called her “beginning again,” her “harvest” (Hansberry 144). Because of that, owning a home as a young woman went to the back of her mind and her children to the front. In essence, she allowed that dream to crust and sugar over. Yet again, as is the peculiar character of paradoxes, her bigger dream lying within that other one of passing on her sense of value, strength and love stay with her and in that way keep it from getting ill, old, and replaceable. She places the value of owning a home for her family on pause, and instead plays and focuses on instilling her ethical codes onto her beloved children as seen in her confrontation with Beneatha about Walter in Act III and what she and her husband has taught her (Hansberry 144). In her true moment of wisdom and glory, she orders Travis to stay and witness what his father, Walter, is going to say to Mr. Linder, who is returning thinking that he will be able to repurchase the Youngers’ property (that Mama Younger initially bought) that day: “No. Travis, you stay right here. And you make him understand what you doing, Walter Lee. You teach him good. Like Willy Harris taught you. You show where our five generations done come to” (Hansberry 147). Her message marks the transference of power and wisdom to the next generation. How is that? Well, what is Walter’s response? Is it not that he showed to Mr. Linder that he valued his family’s integrity and honor more than the money that had so greatly changed them? Additionally, that he would not undermine those noble things for temporary possession of money and permanent disgrace and dishonor? Yes, I think so, too. In fact, he plainly says, “We don’t want your money” and that “we have decided to move into our house because my father—my father—he earned it for us brick by brick” (Hansberry 148). In this way, his actions prove that Mama Younger has managed, after all, to fulfill her greater dream of the preservation of her family’s values, ethics, love, and sense of responsibility. It appears that in the “big picture” view of her life in the play, she has managed to attain a dream that never really was like the possible, negative interpretation of Hughes’ rhetorical questions. Moreover, that the money she wishes she could stretch to satisfy everybody, turns out to be a blessing after all, since they will not have to put “with high rent and overcrowding,” as Marre says, and because she has managed to instill in her children her most important values after all (454).

So what do all of these speculations, conjectures, and interpretations of text on Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun have to do with real-life participators in living? If anything, it is the learning of the lesson that no matter what life experiences come in each person’s way he must learn to see and work towards its oftentimes hidden, positive embodiment. Additionally, as only Mama Younger says it best, that:

There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing. [And, …] when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning—because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is. (Hansberry 145)

Moreover, that he should stop seeing things in “black” and “white” because life just does not function that way. With Mama Younger, her experiences are a mixture of the good and bad, a mixture of possibilities as thought-provokingly presented by Langston Hughes’ poem. Yes, Mama Younger generally lived in a time of greater (“public” or “open”) oppression than today. And yes, she did have to deal with less than inadequate living conditions with her family. Also, that they did not have any sort of valuable monetary (or otherwise) possession. However, it does not mean that her life was grim and without happiness, hopes and fulfillment. On the contrary, she had a loving, living family, and a husband who took care of them even in his death. Those dreams (along with the explained aforesaid) fulfilled were among the most meaningful. Of course the ones deferred were also, but clearly not as much as the present ones.

We all would be only wise to incorporate and emulate the behaviors and intentions of Ms. Lorraine Hansberry, Mr. Langston Hughes, and Mrs. Lena Younger. For Hansberry, her intent to communicate strength in ability in each human family reaches levels of deep morality and sense of empathy and true understanding. And, as she says in her own words, “Let’s keep in mind what we’re talking about. We’re talking about oppressed peoples who are saying that they must assert themselves in the world …” and because of that, and since everyone in one way or another is oppressed, all must work for a better way of life than their present (276). Through Mama younger, she paints not a total plaintive state of restlessness and unfulfilled ambitions and goals, but rather, an overtone of wonders and possibilities that are infallible in spirit and love. For Hughes, his poem conspicuously shows to the general reader, thinker and philosopher that he is a man committed to weighing and considering, not confuting and refuting. For if he was not, then why would he even ask such questions? Through his prompting, he indirectly conveys that it is important to understand the foundations from which questions are based, the hidden meanings behind them, and the underlying intentions of the person or persons saying them because all those factors contribute to a person’s final interpretation of written (and spoken) words and whose recognition of them helps one to better and correctly interpret them, as initially intended by its author. Then, there is Mrs. Lena Younger, the reincarnation of the classic old and wise character oftentimes used within stories to provide the other entities guidance and life knowledge. Her life echoes the yin and yang duality of Hughes’ questions. In one respect, she physically is the dream is festering like a sore and then running (Hansberry 4-5). In another, she is that which sags like a heavy load (Hansberry 10). Yet, at the same time, she also is the dream that doesn’t crust over or explode, but rather that which moistens and remains continuous, assertive, and determined to achieve a better state of life (Hansberry 7; 11). Her greatest lesson to all of us is that although things may seem dim, that we should stand firm and fast, learn to keep hope, which is faith in action, and to continue to work hard because if our own dreams are not fulfilled or are deferred in one way, that they are surely fulfilled in many other ways—whether in our own or our future generations’ lifetime; we just have to learn to recognize those other ways in which they so are fulfilled.

So simply, what does happen to a dream deferred? It takes on a life of its own.

Works Cited
Hansberry, Lorainne. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Vintage Books, 1988.
“Lorainne Hansberry: 1930-1965”. The Black 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential African-Americans, Past and Present. Ed. Columbus Salley. USA: A Citadel Press Book, 1993. 276-7.
Marre, Diana. “Lorraine Hansberry: (1930-1965): Playwright, Activist.” Notable Black American Women. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992. 453-4.
Robinson, V. Roberts and M. S. Barranger. “Hansberry, Lorraine Vivian: (1930-1965)”. Ed. Darlene Clark Hine. Black Women In America. New York: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1993. 527-8.

Article name: Raisin in the Sun - Dreams Deferred essay, research paper, dissertation