What is a dream? A dream can be described as a cherished desire. Everyone has dreams, many dream to be successful or to take themselves out of their current state and into a better one. Our dreams belong to us and it is up to ourselves whether or not to try to achieve them. What if you chose to purse your dream of becoming successful, but were limited due to outside forces such as financial status, social status or even family. The play “A Raisin in the Sun”, the poem “Dream Deferred” and a story titled “The Lesson” all share the same theme. All three works focus on the idea of having, wanting, or being denied your dreams.
A dream may not necessarily be just a dream. With ambition and determination, it can come true in time. Lorraine Hansberry illustrates this theme of achieving success in her play “A Raisin in the Sun”. The play is about the problems that the economically impoverished African American Younger family faces in trying to make their dreams come true, and the means by which they finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. Lena is Walter and Beneatha’s mother. Walter is married to Ruth and has a son whose name is Travis. Lorraine Hansberry shows how Lena’s dream of having a house in a good neighborhood finally comes true in spite of the multitude of difficulties that she faces. The ambition and determination exemplified by Lena, Walter and Ruth makes this happen.
Keeping the dream of stability and wellness constantly in mind, and working towards it, Lena is surely the protagonist in the play. Her husband’s decease is a big setback for her but she still continues to struggle towards achieving stability. Her moral values of self-pride and encouragement help Walter to produce strength in him to do the right thing. Her installation of love in Beneatha for the members of her family makes Beneatha not hate her brother Walter when he makes some terribly wrong decisions. She has had a dream of moving into a bigger and better house since many years. Even after a large amount of the money was lost, she still adamantly acted on that dream and made it come true. This was projected in the play by her plant. It stayed alive in spite of all the difficulties such as very little sunshine, etc. that it faced. It also gave her hope along the way. She is thus the best example of putting the family’s needs first.
Walter, mama’s son, feels that every dream he has gets taken away from him. When he learns that mama was receiving a large amount of money, he decided to want to use it towards his dream of owning a business and thus not having to work for someone. As long as the money was there, he did whatever he could to fulfill his dream because he was selfish. However, his dream quickly came to an end when his partner stole Walter’s investment. The money disappeared and so did any dreams for the family. Hence, even though he has an unselfish character, it gets overshadowed by his unwise decision of giving the money away to his friend who cheated him. He then learns that he has to set his dreams aside for the sake of the family, that pride in him and his family were inseparable and that anything that harms one would harm the other. He proves that by surprisingly telling Mr. Lindner that his family was moving into the house in the white neighborhood in spite of them being not wanted there. Right when this was about to occur, there is a feeling of dislike towards Walter because he had resulted in the loss of a large part of the money. What was thereby expected was that he would continue worrying about money and sell their dream house to Mr. Lindner. Instead, he does an unexpected, honorable thing.
Walter’s wife Ruth too seems to be hand in hand with mama as far as mama’s dreams of achieving wellness and stability goes. She too like Walter saw a resolution in the insurance check arriving in the mail. The money would let her fulfill hers and mama’s dream of owning a house and deserting the dilapidated apartment that she was now living in. She wanted to keep her family together and in working order. The hopes for that began to fall apart when Walter lost a large part of the money. She in fact had even warned him in advance of the undependability of his friend Willy Harris. Later, she even thought about sacrificing her second unborn baby due to financial reasons by having an abortion even though it was highly risky to do so then. Finally, she persuaded mama to purchase the house by assuring her that she would strive to make regular payments for the house. In this way, her nature was symbolic of possessing ambition and determination to make deferred dreams come true.
The Younger family’s situation gave them a reason to fight for their dreams and overcome the obstacles set before them. By leaving the apartment and moving into the house, not only were they surmounting an economical situation, but also the racial barriers. Especially through Lena, and also through Walter and Ruth, the play shows that dreams have to be held on to with relentless ambition and determination, so that success can be achieved. What if your dreams were put on hold? Or even denied?
The poem, Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes, is one man’s expression of his dreams during a difficult time period. As a black man in a time period where African-Americans were considered an inferior group of people, dreams and goals would have been difficult to realize. Langston Hughes expresses his frustrations in his poem, Dream Deferred. As people read this poem, in any time period, they can relate to the simple universal message that the poet expressed. Hughes is very expressive in how he feels about dreams he has had and his frustration at not being able to pursue or fulfill those dreams. In his poem, Hughes asks the reader to think by posing the question, “What happens to a dream deferred?”(1). This first line opens up a whole world of thought. Hughes was a man living in a difficult time period where such things as dreams were hard to come by, and those that a person did have were given little or no credit, much less opportunity to be fulfilled. He begins answering his question with various similes, each seeming to represent what could happen to various dreams. Hughes asks “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”(2-3), signifying dreams that are so old they are hard to recognize. Each subsequent line seems to focus on a different aspect of unfulfilled dreams, yet each one is typical of the time frame of Hughes’ life. The words and phrases, “Or fester like a sore”(4), and “Or crust and sugar over”(7) are both symbolic of the hard manual labor that African-Americans had during the early 1900’s. Historical studies have recounted the work that many men did during this time period, in the cotton and sugar fields, or working with crops. “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load”(9-10) is a powerful illustration of a dream that sits within a person and weighs there making everything else one does never enough. As the reader puts all of these illusions together, one’s own dreams and ideals are brought to the surface just as Hughes brings his poem to a close. “Or does it explode” (11) is the most powerful line of the poem. It is separated from the other lines of the poem and italicized, adding emphasis to it visually. The concept of a dream exploding is a powerful conclusion of what could happen to the poet’s or reader’s dreams if they are pushed aside or unable to be pursued.
What if you did not understand the importance of even having a dream? Our children must be taught this valuable lesson in life. “The Lesson” by Toni Barmbara does this for us in a short story. It features two essential elements that add to the depth and enhance a reader’s comprehension of “The Lesson” are Bambara’s use of symbolism and theme. The Lesson takes place in New York’s inner city. The story involves a group of underprivileged children who are being taught by lady in the neighborhood by the name of Mrs. Moore. She feels it is her duty to teach these children due to the fact that she is the only person in the neighborhood to have earned a degree. The main character Sylvia is a young African American girl, who is very judgmental about the world around her. By Bambara’s choice of words, the reader can tell that she is extremely opinionated, presents a very tough, hostile exterior and not at all happy about having to be taught anything by Mrs. Moore. For instance, she states “we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos who cluttered up our parks and pissed on our hand ball walls” (Bambara 427). Mrs. Moore takes the children to FAO Schwartz, a very expensive, upper class toy store in downtown Manhattan. After stepping out of the cab and peering into the window, Sylvia knows that this is not just any toy store and they are not just there for any reason. The reason Mrs. Moore brought the children to FAO Schwartz is captured in Bambara’s use of symbolism. Outside of the toyshop the children glare at a number of very expensive toys. Some of them include a paperweight and a sailboat. Initially, none of the children, especially Sylvia, knew what the paperweight was. After Mrs. Moore explains what it is, the children still cannot comprehend its use or the price. Bambara uses the paperweight to symbolize importance. A paperweight is used to hold something that is of value, something that someone wishes not to lose. The children have never known or owned something that is precious. At the same time, the paperweight can symbolize that their living in the slums and never reaching out for something more can be holding them down. They are the important ones under that paperweight. A better life, one in which their basic needs are met, costs a price that they are not use to. To them, $400 is a life’s worth of work and unfathomable. The price of their future is going to have to be something that they will have to strive for and open their minds past their current surroundings. Similarly, the sailboat is also used to represent freedom and the journey that lies in front of them. The journey into Manhattan was only a cab ride away. However, it was only a temporary chance for the children to see this type of life. If Sylvia or the other children wished to permanently escape the world of poverty they came from, they would have to realize that it wasn’t going to be easy. Sylvia, astonished by the price, cannot understand why someone would pay that much when “my sailboat cost me about fifty cents” (Bambara 430). The question is would she always be happy settling for less? Bambara raises interesting thoughts with the use of symbolism. Another element of literature that Bambara graciously incorporates in The Lesson is the theme. The theme is that life is not always fair and that if you want something, you have to work for it. The theme can be recognized by her use of symbolism, but also by the way she establishes a difference between social and ethnic classes.
Dreams can be realized, but they can also be de-railed. “A Raisin in the Sun” shows us that dreams can be put on hold for the well being of a family. Perhaps the individual dreams that were wished by everyone will be reached now that the family has a new start in a new home. The family came together to fulfill Mama’s dream and they now realize how powerful a family united can be. “Dream Deferred” illustrates how a dream can be oppressed. The powerful description of every line in the poem portray both how a dream can die and also how a man’s will can remain strong while his race is being oppressed. “The Lesson” with its theme and symbolic references expresses different views on life by bringing underprivileged city kids into a high class toy store. Mrs. Moore’s lesson was to instill hope and dreams into the children. Showing them the reality that life is hard work and you have to be willing to put forth a lot of effort into it in order to fulfill your dreams, were Mrs. Moore’s intentions. All three works should be read by all to promote the importance of choosing to pursue any dreams you may have.
DiYanni, R. (2007). Literature, reading fiction, poetry, and drama (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.