What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore-- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? -A Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes
The similarities between Langston Hughes’ poem, A Dream Deferred and Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, are so astounding that one might believe that the later’s plot was constructed around the former’s hypothetical situations. At the incipient moments of the play, Hansberry makes the economic status of the Younger family evident. Some scenes and descriptions alluding to their wealth include a shared bathroom, a small and poorly lit apartment, and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. This establishment of little wealth is portrayed throughout the play as the main deferrer of the Younger family’s individual dreams.
The possible situations explored in A Dream Deferred all explain an individual’s dream that has for whatever reason, been put off and remains unfulfilled. Likewise, the primary character’s dreams in A Raisin in the Sun are obstructed by a lack of wealth. When the characters receive $10,000 (equivalent to approximately $88,000 today) from their deceased relative’s insurance, their previously dormant dreams come to fruition. This leads to many references to the poor financial status of the family. Ruth describes her and her husband’s home as a “rat trap,” (P.G. 44) primarily hinting at Ruth’s desire for Mama to use the insurance money to purchase a new home. In response, Mama comments that her and “Big Walter” (P.G. 44) were not “planning on living [there] no more than a year.” (P.G. 44). What is worth noting is the stage direction following the comment, Hansberry requests that Mama “(shake her head at the dissolved dream).” (P.G. 44) Which furthers the correlation between A Dream Deferred and A Raisin in the Sun.
Once the characters have realized their dreams are close to being accomplished, they become more adamant about achieving their dream. Beneatha states strongly that “[she] is going to be a doctor, and everybody around here better understand that!” (P.G. 50). It is quite evident by this, that the characters see the situation as a battle, and whoever is the strongest achieves their dream. Walter’s exact dream is difficult to decipher, but it becomes evident that he is primarily focused on the acquisition of money. At one point, Mama even asks: “Son-how come you talk so much ‘bout money?” (P.G. 74). This shows that Walter’s primary interest is money.
Some of the Younger’s deferred dreams can actually be confined to one of the possible results listed in A Dream Deferred. Walter’s dream can quite obviously be classified under the “Or does it explode?” possibility. In frustration with Ruth’s noncompliance with his desires, he states: “I got me a dream...I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby!” (P.G. 33) This refers to the volatile state Walter is in, showing that if his dream is not fulfilled, he may not be able to live another day. Mama’s dream can be considered a “Or crust and sugar over -- like a syrupy sweet?” This can be seen when Mama describes her dying dream of purchasing a house. She describes her dream as “But Lord, child, you should know all the dreams I had ‘bout buying that house and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back -- And didn’t none of it happen.” (P.G. 45). As we can see, Mama’s unfulfilled dream certainly did not leave an angry mess like Walter’s, but it certainly left an unpleasant memory of things that could have been.
The premise of A Raisin in the Sun is captured beautifully and succinctly in Hughes’ A Dream Deferred. And although it appears as though they both capture the same concept, they still appear to compliment each other. It is seen throughout the play that the main deferrer of the Younger’s dreams was money, and when given a chance to fulfill those dreams, the essence of each dream was revealed.