A Raisin in the Sun

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Themes and Colors
Dreams Theme Icon
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Raisin in the Sun, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Dreams Theme Icon

Dreams possess great importance in A Raisin in the Sun, with the play’s name coming from a 1951 Langston Hughes poem titled Montage of a Dream Deferred. In the poem, part of which serves as the play’s epigraph (a quotation at the beginning of a book that elaborates on its major themes) the poet asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” pondering whether it shrivels up “like a raisin in the sun” or explodes. Hughes’ open question forms the basis of Hansberry’s work, with the intertwined and conflicting ambitions of the Youngers driving the play’s plot. Each character clings to distinct dreams, which have long been deferred due to socioeconomic limitations placed on the family by racism. The persistence of these dreams lends the play a pervasive sense of hope, despite the conclusion’s foreshadowing of coming struggles for the family in Clybourne Park.

Mama and her late husband Big Walter’s dream of owning a home forms the crux of the play. Clinging to a dream deferred for nearly 35 years, Mama recalls Big Walter’s statement that it seems “like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams,” linking the postponement of her dream to racial inequality. Ironically, it is Big Walter’s death, with its resulting $10,000 insurance payment, that makes the realization of Mama’s dream possible by the end of the play. Like Mama, Ruth clings to the dream of a home, which generates conflict with her husband, Walter Lee, who dreams of becoming a self-sufficient business owner. Similarly, Walter’s dream of owning a liquor store (one of the few business ventures open to an African-American man in mid-century Chicago) stands in stark contrast to his sister Beneatha’s dream of becoming a doctor. However, by the play’s end Walter’s lost investment places both his and Beneatha’s dreams in jeopardy, casting a shadow over the play’s semi-hopeful conclusion, which centers on Mama’s actualized dream. With the insurance money gone, Walter’s and Beneatha’s dreams for the future appear in danger of further postponement, recalling broader struggles with social forces beyond the characters’ control.

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Dreams ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Dreams appears in each scene of A Raisin in the Sun. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Dreams Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun

Below you will find the important quotes in A Raisin in the Sun related to the theme of Dreams.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Walter: See there, that just goes to show you what women understand about the world. Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ‘less you pay somebody off!
Ruth: Walter, leave me alone! Eat your eggs, they gonna be cold.
Walter: That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say – Your eggs is getting cold!

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Ruth Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 33-34
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs midway through a discussion between Walter Younger and his wife Ruth. Their son Travis has gone to school and Ruth cooks breakfast for Walter. As she cooks, Walter tells Ruth that he hopes to use his deceased father’s $10,000 life insurance money to invest in a down payment on a liquor store with his friends, Willy Harris and Bobo. Ruth is wary of the investment. She doesn’t trust Willy and Bobo and continuously evades discussing the prospect of Walter using his father’s money on an investment. She finally tells him to leave her alone and he reacts with frustration at both his wife and his own position in life; a black man in the 1950’s trying to provide for his family.

This is the first time Hansberry touches on the idea of dreams and dreaming in A Raisin In The Sun, as well as differentiates between the dreams of men and the dreams of women. This scene highlights Walter’s aspirations for wealth and thereby an escape from his family’s poor Southside Chicago life. He is filled with hope and a deep longing for financial stability. This moment also underlines Walter’s continual feeling of being out of control and at the mercy of others. He is a chauffeur for a wealthy white family, and his mother is the sole inheritor of the $10,000, and so she will ultimately have the final say. In the time-period of the play, men were expected to lead and provide for their families, so Walter, who is the only man in the family but neither the final decision-maker nor the primary breadwinner, feels emasculated. He needs dreams in order to survive and retain his dignity. Ruth on the other hand is pragmatic, as women had to be at the time. Her aspirations are less expansive. For her, survival means cooking breakfast, making sure her son gets to school and she and her husband get to work. Thus, she responds to Walter’s big dreams with the utilitarian and simple task of "eat your eggs." As a woman (particularly a black woman) in this time period, she doesn’t have room to dream the way Walter dreams.


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Walter: Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people – then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet . . .
Beneatha: Well – you finally got it said . . . It took you three years but you finally got it said.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Beneatha Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Walter chastises his 20-year-old sister Beneatha for wanting to be a doctor. Before this, Beneatha wakes up in the room she shares her mother and comes out to talk with her family. Already in a fit of frustration regarding the insurance money, Walter suggests that his mother will play favorites and give a portion of the $10,000 to Beneatha to finish her schooling. He is both frustrated that his mother holds control of the money and bitter that a portion of it will go to his sister. 

This moment excavates themes of gender and feminism and dreams and dreaming. A Raisin In The Sun is set in the mid-1950s, a time where women weren’t seen as leaders in the workplace. Instead of doctors, they were more commonly nurses. Instead of business owners,  they were secretaries. Many were housewives and mothers. Beneatha challenges the socially constructed expectations of both her gender and her race. As a black woman pursuing a career in medicine, she fights stereotypes and aspires to go beyond what is culturally expected and even acceptable.

Beneatha and Walter are more similar than they both think. Both of their aspirations extend beyond what society expects of them. However, Walter sees Beneatha’s role as exclusively mother and wife. Beneatha, on the other hand, doesn’t take Walter’s dream of opening a liquor store seriously. This moment is just the beginning of what will be an ongoing discourse between Walter and Beneatha regarding the validity of one another's dreams. 

Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena.

Related Characters: Ruth Younger (speaker), Lena Younger (Mama), Walter Lee Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs during a conversation between Mama and Ruth. After breakfast, Walter exits the apartment and we are introduced to “Mama” or Lena Younger—Walter and Beneatha’s mother. She enters complaining about how loudly Walter slammed the door, and then goes through a series of questions and commands. She checks in about how Walter is doing and makes jokes about her children. It becomes clear that the role of mother is etched in her soul. This seems appropriate as she remains mostly nameless throughout the play, primarily referred to as “Mama.” In a moment alone, Ruth tells Mama that Beneatha and Walter have been fighting about the insurance money. Ruth then asks Mama how she actually plans on using that money. Mama dismisses this, but Ruth suggests that maybe gambling on the liquor store isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Mama asks why she’s changed her mind.

In response, Ruth suggests that she can’t give Walter what he needs; a chance to fulfill his own dreams. Ruth is exhausted and tired of working for hardly any pay, and in this moment shares that she wants more for herself, in the same way Walter and Beneatha do. Except as as more traditional wife and mother, Ruth's dreams are her husband’s dreams. She hopes to fix the problems in her marriage by helping Walter fulfill his dreams, and for this he needs the insurance money.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

George: You’re all wacked up with bitterness, man.
Walter: And you – ain’t you bitter, man? Ain’t you just about had it yet? Don’t you see no stars gleaming that you can’t reach out and grab? You happy? – You contented son-of-a-bitch – you happy? You got it made? Bitter? Man, I’m a volcano. Bitter? Here I am a giant – surrounded by ants! Ants who can’t even understand what it is the giant is talking about.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), George Murchison (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Just before this, Walter mocks George's appearance and then comments on the success of George's father. He hints that he has a business venture he wants to get into, and would like to sit down with George to talk about it. George clearly dismisses Walter. This infuriates Walter, who retorts with a series of insults. Walter tells George that his education is pointless and all he is learning is to "talk proper and read books and wear them faggoty looking white shoes." George tells Walter that he's just bitter about his own lack of success. Walter, angrily expresses that he doesn't understand why people won't allow themselves to dream as big as he does. In his mind, George should also be bitter. Walter has dreams he can't touch and George chooses to ignore them. In Walter's perspective, George is an ant with small goals and small aspirations. 

In this scene, Hansberry brings up themes of dreams, pride, and gender roles. George's blatant ignoring of Ruth (as he does earlier in the conversation) and engagement with Walter highlights different forms of disrespect. George doesn't bother paying attention to or listening to Ruth because she is a woman. On the other hand, he is also rude and sarcastic with Walter. This moment also highlights different types of pride. George's pride lies in his social standing, education, and assimilation into white society. Walter's pride is in his dreams. Both also hold pride in their manhood. Walter comments on George's clothes, hinting that they are flamboyant and feminine, while also referencing himself as a "volcano" as a means to reinforce his masculinity. 

Well – well! – All I can say is – if this is my time in life – MY TIME – to say good-bye – to these goddamned cracking walls! – and these marching roaches! – and this cramped little closet which ain’t now or never was no kitchen! . . . then I say it loud and good, HALLELUJAH! AND GOOD-BYE MISERY . . . I DON’T NEVER WANT TO SEE YOUR UGLY FACE AGAIN!

Related Characters: Ruth Younger (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs when Mama re-enters the house after being gone for several hours. Walter asks her where she's been, and she replies that she went downtown for "business," She calls Travis to the room and reveals to the family that she has used the insurance money to make a down payment on a house. Walter "turns away from all of them in fury" while Ruth, Travis, and Mama celebrate.

Mama then wails "Praise GOD" and asks Walter, who has been silent, to please be happy for her. Mama then describes the house in detail. Ruth asks Mama where the house is located, and Mama tells her it's in Clybourne park. Ruth is shocked, as Clybourne park is an all-white neighborhood. Mama replies that it was the nicest and cheapest house she could find. Ruth recovers and says the following quote with excitement and joy. She expresses her joy to be leaving their tiny apartment and screams goodbye to the pain and tumult the Younger family faced while living there. 

In this moment we see one of Ruth's dreams come to fruition. She is thrilled to say goodbye to her two-bedroom Southside Chicago home and move forward, to a better home and a better life for Travis and her unborn child. Here, Hansberry suggests that the decision to have an abortion was a product of Ruth's poverty, not her will. This is another moment of female pragmatism and self sacrifice for the family. Furthermore, in an act of empowerment, Mama has made the decision to spend the insurance money on a new home. She has solidified herself as head of household, something uncommon during the 1950s.

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. Walter – what you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. . . . There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. . . . I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Mama tells Walter that she finally understands where his anger and frustration is coming from. Before this quote, Mama used her deceased husband's life insurance money for a down payment on a new house in Clybourne Park. Mrs. Arnold, Walter's boss, then calls to tell Walter that if he doesn't show up for work tomorrow he will be fired. Ruth and Mama learn that Walter hasn't been to work in three days. Mama asks Walter what he's been doing, and Walter tells her that he's been borrowing Willy Harris' car, driving through Illinois, and drinking at The Green Hat—a Jazz club—every afternoon. He has given up on his job and, in many ways, himself. He is lost. 

This moment reveals Walter's complete loss of pride and deep need for escape. Mama blames herself and tells Walter that she was the one who did this to him. Here, Hansberry touches on the gender roles put in place during the time period in which A Raisin In The Sun was written. By taking control of the insurance money, Mama has emasculated Walter. He is the man, and so by cultural standards is supposed to be the "head of household," and the one to decide how to allocate finances.  Mama laments that she has been doing "what the rest of the world been doing,"—depriving Walter of his manhood and keeping him from his dreams and his pride. After she says this she hands Walter the $6,500  left over from the down payment on the house. Mama asks him to put some away for Beneatha's schooling and use the rest however he wants, even for his investment on the liquor store. Mama has relinquished her role and, in order to save Walter, offers him control over the money. 

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Man, I trusted you . . . Man, I put my life in your hands . . . Man . . . THAT MONEY IS MADE OUT OF MY FATHER’S FLESH –

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Walter Younger (Big Walter), Willy Harris
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

During this quote, Bobo, Walter's business partner, comes to the Younger home to relay some news. Directly before this moment, Walter has been celebrating his investment on the liquor store with his family, regaling them with fantasies of fine clothes and celebrating the future. Bobo then enters and nervously tells Walter that he was supposed to meet Willy Harris to get the liquor license, but Willy never showed up. Bobo also tells Walter that Willy was the one who had all of the money. Bobo hasn't been able to reach Willy since. The money is gone.

Walter grabs Bobo by the collar and shakes him furiously. He is in shock and doesn't know what to do with himself. He tells Bobo that the money was his entire life. It was the money he inherited from his dead father, his very "flesh." Walter then reveals to the family that he gave Willy the entire $6,500 of insurance money instead of putting some away for Beneatha. 

Here Walter's dreams are shattered. Throughout the play his pride and manhood have been questioned and tirelessly compared to his father's. Here he realizes that the money was the last bit of his father's legacy, and it was also the last bit of Walter's pride. The money and the investment meant freedom for himself and his family, as well as his only opportunity to exercise choice and power. Now Walter is left with nothing, as his own ambition has gotten in the way of his father's dream for his family to have a better life. 

Act 3 Quotes

Independence and then what? What about all the crooks and thieves and just plain idiots who will come into power and steal and plunder the same as before – only now they will be black and do it in the name of the new Independence – WHAT ABOUT THEM?!

Related Characters: Beneatha Younger (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this quote, Asagai has returned to the Younger home to help Beneatha with packing for the big move. Beneatha tells Asagai that Walter has lost rest of the insurance money. Asagai asks her how this makes her feel, and she replies, "Me, I'm nothing." Beneatha tells Asagai that when she was a child, she discovered she wanted to be a doctor when she saw a little boy get badly cut on the face while sledding. She realized then that "fixing" someone else was the most "marvelous thing in the world." Beneatha goes on to tell Asagai that after today, she's learned that there are things in this world that can't be fixed. Mankind is sick with something that seems incurable. Asagai tries to help, but Beneatha tells him that his "Back to Africa" ideals are silly and that they won't cure anything. Asagai is the ultimate idealist, but what comes after his ideas of independence? What is the point of fighting if people don't seem to ever change?  

Here we see Beneatha's tenacity and passion for self-discovery deflated by the loss of the insurance money. Without the money for her education she feels aimless, like she has lost who she is, and the result of this is that she feels betrayed by humanity itself.

Then isn’t there something wrong in a house – in a world! – where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man? I never thought to see you like this, Alaiyo.

Related Characters: Joseph Asagai (speaker), Beneatha Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote happens after Beneatha tells Asagai that she has given up on her dreams of becoming a doctor. She has also, in many ways, lost hope in the world. She no longer believes that  humanity can be cured of its problems.

Always an optimist and idealist, Asagai tells Beneatha that the first step for change is acting, having a voice. Beneatha tells him that nothing has changed, and that "there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around," and that dreams are all a "mirage".

Asagai argues that life isn't a circle but rather a long line. "We cannot see the end" or how it will change—we cannot see our dreams but they are there. Asagai then tells Beneatha that the money didn't belong to her, she has lived without it and wouldn't have had it at all if her father hadn't died. He even calls into question the morality of a dream built upon a man's death. Asagai is disappointed by Beneatha's aspirations for wealth and how easily her dreams have deteriorated—if her dreams were purer and stronger, Asagai seems to argue, they wouldn't be affected by such setbacks.

And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick. We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. We don’t want your money.

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Walter Younger (Big Walter)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Lindner arrives back at the Younger home and expresses that he's happy that Walter has changed his mind about re-selling their new house in Clybourne Park. Walter asks Travis to go downstairs but Mama makes him stay, telling Walter she wants Travis to see what is going to happen, "where our five generations done come to." Nervously, Walter goes on to explain to Mr. Lindner that he comes from a long line of people with a lot of pride. He calls Travis over and explains that Travis will be the sixth generation of Youngers in America. Then, in an act of sudden bravery, Walter tells Lindner that they will keep the Clybourne Park house. Walter explains that his father earned that house and died for that house. His family has worked for five generations for that house, and they deserve it just as much as anyone else, white or black. 

Walter completely shifts his outlook on pride in this moment. Instead of seeing success and pride as linked to monetary wealth, he realizes that it is the groundwork of the people before him, the pride and dignity of his father and the generations before him, that are important. With his son—a symbol of the future—on his lap, Walter shows unwavering commitment to his family and his history, even in the face of the full power of institutional racism.