What happens to a dream deferred? Coming from the famous poem of Langston Hughes, the title of the book sums up the central idea of the play—when a dream is deferred, it not only dries up like a raisin in the sun but is also capable of exploding. Surrounding a three-generation African American household, the play explains what happens to a deferred dream because of racial discrimination, systematic segregation, and institutional racism. The play does a good job explaining the essential problems that the African American family faces—monetary struggles, self-esteem issues, identity crisis, and unachievable dreams—but the play is too plain and the pacing is too fast for the audiences to fully capture the emotions experienced by the protagonists or the essences of the different characters who seem to represent different things.
As a realist play, the 100-page play successfully elaborates on the economic hardships that many African American families face. The family in the play rely on the ten thousand dollar-check that the grandmother receives, and the entire play evolves around the money—whether when the investment fails or when the grandmother decides to buy a new house. At the same time, the play reveals the struggles that many African American families face because of the deeply rooted racism and prejudice in society. Throughout the book, the playwright creates a great contrast between dreams and reality, connecting the economic impossibilities to social problems. In the first scene, for example, the playwright juxtaposes the conversations regarding breakfast with Walter’s dreams of making investments and becoming an entrepreneur: “I want to fly! I want to touch the sun,” claims Walter while his wife Ruth reminds him of the reality—”Finish your eggs first.” The play truly exposes the hidden ambitions and the harsh realities of the lives of African Americans. Under difficult and subservient situations, dreams have become the only hope and motivation for people because they are the possibilities of becoming someone different. As Walter tells his mother, “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy…” Unlike romanticized novels, the realist play is a great form of literature to simply disclose the very real and everyday problems that African Americans confront from generations to generations.
Another commendable aspect of the play is the discourses of progress and stasis, although the talks could seem absurd coming from an ordinary conversation between two friends. The play discusses the differences between idealism and realism, with two different characterizations of progress—one is a line, and the other is a circle. As Asagai reminds Beneatha, “[progress] isn’t a circle–it is simply a long line–as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity.” He argues that “it is very odd by those who see the changes–who dream, who will not give up–are called idealists…and those who see only the circle we call them the “realists”!” In similar conversations, the protagonists share their opinions about assimilation, colonialism, and even civil rights. These conversations bring special insights into the minds of the characters, and they slow down the pace of the play.
There are, however, many things in the play that disappointed me. For most of the times, the pacing of the play is too fast for the audiences to grasp the emotional development of the characters or empathize with what they are going through. Presumedly, there are too many things that the playwright wants to cover in too few pages, which resulted in the fast pacing of the play. For example, while one second Beneatha is absorbed in the Nigerian garment, the next second she would start fighting with her brother. The transitions from one scene to the next is also very weak, and some scenes and acts seem rather disconnected—as if they play started all over from the new scene.
I understand what the playwright is trying to do, but the disconnected plots, monologues, and the characteristics that come through in these scenes can make the characters very capricious. In the first scene, Beneatha denies the God and claims that “it’s all a matter of ideas, and God is just one idea I don’t accept. It’s not important…It’s just that I get so tired of Him getting credit for all the things the human race achieves through its own stubborn effort. There simply is no God! There is only Man, and it’s he who makes miracles!” In other sections of the play, however, Beneatha becomes a capricious girl who transitions from anger to exhilaration to depression and so on so forth, and she never carries on her comments on religion.
Because of the inappropriate pacing of the play, the character development is lacking. Obviously, the playwright uses each character as a symbol and representation of something else—whether it is a failed dream, the African origin, assimilated culture, the older generation, traditional thinking, racist hypocrites, or the educated awakening younger generation. By doing so, the playwright simplifies the complex characters to fit them into specific categories of people or the so-called products of a failed dream, education, or systematic racism. Throughout the entire play, the characters are rather trapped inside their own representations that their characters lack emotions, colors, or rational behavior.
It is almost impossible to experience the emotions in the play; the play provides special insights and messages, but it is overall too plain to impress the readers. Although the playwright designs great storylines, she failed to tell the stories in a way that appealed to the audiences.
It was nice reading about an African American family and its struggles to “move up” and live a better life, but the play itself lacks eye-catching elements that could best make the story stand out.
Information: Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry