The Art of Social Criticism:

Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun




Historical Context










English 217 Homepage



An epigraph is an effective literary tool that some writers utilize to focus the reader toward the theme, purpose, or concerns behind the work [12]. It is included at the beginning of the piece of literature to offer insight into the motivation behind the artist's vision. Generally a brief quotation taken from another piece of literature, the epigraph is oftentimes not a direct commentary upon the work but used to establish a mindset or offer insight into the factors that contributed to the manifestation of the work.

The epigraph to A Raisin in the Sun is Langston Hughes' poem "Montage of a Dream Deferred" which was written as a critique of Harlem life. The eleven lines are a hypothesis about the ramifications of white society's actions to withhold equal opportunity from black citizens [13]. Hughes main point is that there could be serious consequences when peoples' frustrations accumulate to a point where they must either surrender to their dreams or allow circumstances to snuff out their aspirations.

With Hughes' intentions as a background, the thematic implications of the poem to Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun are staggeringly significant. Not only is the play's title taken directly from a line in Langston Hughes' poem about deferred dreams but also the epigraph poses a question that the play attempts to answer [14]. Hansberry's effort to reflect upon the power and implication of dreams leads to a number of possible answers to "What happens to a dream deferred?". Below, particular lines in the poem have been strategically linked to character analysis pages as a way to show how Hansberry created a colorful and complex study of human nature. In many ways, Hansberry offers the belief that the dreams that can urge on our ambitions can also destroy our psyche if not properly nurtured to fruition. The human psyche needs dreams because they represent one's active search toward self-improvement which is necessary to constantly reevaluate the status and value of one's existence. The play's plot is unequivocally driven by the realization and submission of each character's dream.

Click on the poem links below to explore the character analyses. Remember, these connections are meant to be a guideline and not an absolute, because each character can represent more than one of the consequences of dream deferment.


"Montage of a Dream Deferred"

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?

- Langston Hughes


1961 Film Hughes