In this paper I faced a challenging task of exploring the thematic connection between Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and ‘Harlem’ poems by Langston Hughes. It is a well-known fact that Lorraine Hansberry took the name for her celebrated play from Hughes’s poem, which was written in 1951. Hansberry herself pointed out the connection with this particular work of the poet, therefore this connection deserves as in-depth exploration.
All the prominent figures of African-American literature derives inspiration from each other’s creative activity; no wonder that Lorraine Hansberry reflects themes present in Langston Hughes’ poetry, but she does it from her own, unique and peculiar, narrative perspective.
First of all, it is necessary to mention that Hansberry’s and Hughes’ works were revolutionary at their time. They address such important issues as poverty, discrimination, racist and dehumanizing attitude toward blacks. When Hughes wrote ‘Harlem,’ almost twenty years passed since the times when Harlem Renaissance had come to its decline.
As for the prosperous and conservative 50’s, it was an era of the so-called white flight, in which white citizens were moving to large cities, leaving black people deteriorating and empty towns. In ‘Harlem,’ Hughes poses an inevitable question: ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ He wonders:
‘Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?..
Or does it explode?’
This poem stresses the strength of the black community and suggests that the social change is inevitable. He thinks that it will cone like an ‘explosion,’ while Hansberry takes a less radical standpoint by showing how the change is possible by gradual questioning the borders of social acceptance.
‘Harlem’ implicitly states that people having their dreams, their culture and their identity can never be defeated. Hansberry also devotes much attention to the issue of constructing African-American racial identity and escaping assimilation. In the play, this idea is expressed through the character of Joseph Asagai, who celebrates African heritage and calls for a native revolt in African countries.
Hansberry’s play explores not only the misunderstanding between white and black citizens but also the tension within the black community itself. This tension was aroused by the disagreement over the ways to react to the oppressive whites.
The Younger family also cherishes a ‘dream deferred.’ They want to live a life that white people do, they are tired of suffering from oppression and discrimination, they know they are entitled to the same right to live prosperously and happily as white people are. In the play, when the Youngers family obtains a check for 10,000 dollars from, they think about moving to a big house in a white suburb, but they face enormous difficulties and hostility.
Hansberry tells a true story of being black in the segregated American society, a story, which is almost autobiographical. Her play has its roots in her own childhood memories of living in a segregated Chicago, that’s why every single word in her play is true to life.
The writer describes the everyday life of a black family in a natural and realistic manner; she emphasises the idea that people from racial or ethnic minorities are completely the same, with usual joys and sorrows. As a consequence, the play, which was first performed in1959 on the Broadway, enjoyed tremendous success among white and black audience members alike.
As for Hughes, the language of poetry is the universal language of humankind. He shows the beauty of black people’s dreams and emotions as contrasted to the poor lives they were doomed to. In ‘Harlem,’ he wants to make the general public aware that the oppressed can once explode. Thus, it is possible to conclude that Hansberry and Hughes use their own devices to highlight the status of ‘others’ in the society and to reach out to the members of general audience.
Hansberry, L. A Raisin in the Sun. New York: Modern Library, 1995.
Hughes, L., Rampersad, A. (ed.) The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Vintage, 1995.
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Thematic connection between Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ and ‘Harlem’ poems by Langston Hughes Essay. (2016, Jun 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/thematic-connection-between-lorraine-hansberrys-a-raisin-in-the-sun-and-harlem-poems-by-langston-hughes/