"A Raisin in The Sun": Symbolism of Dreams and Struggles

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The "Raisin in the Sun"
  • The Cramped Apartment
  • Beneatha's Hair
  • Conclusion


"A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry is a seminal work of American literature that delves into the dreams, struggles, and aspirations of an African American family in the 1950s. Throughout the play, Hansberry skillfully employs symbolism to convey profound messages about the characters' hopes, challenges, and societal context. In this essay, we will explore the symbols within the play, such as the "raisin in the sun," the Younger family's cramped apartment, and Beneatha's hair, unraveling the layers of meaning they carry and how they illuminate the characters' journeys.

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The "Raisin in the Sun"

The titular phrase, "a raisin in the sun," is drawn from the poem "Harlem" by Langston Hughes, a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. In the poem, Hughes asks what happens to a dream deferred, and one of the possibilities he explores is whether it dries up "like a raisin in the sun." This metaphor encapsulates the central theme of deferred dreams and aspirations in the play.

The "raisin in the sun" symbolizes the dreams that the Younger family members hold dear. Each member has their vision of a better life, whether it's Walter Lee's desire to invest in a liquor store, Beneatha's dream of becoming a doctor, or Mama's aspiration to own a house. These dreams are fragile, like raisins drying in the sun, and their realization is continually delayed by economic hardship, racial discrimination, and the weight of societal expectations.

The Cramped Apartment

The Younger family's cramped apartment serves as a powerful symbol of their confined circumstances and limited opportunities. The apartment is small and overcrowded, with inadequate facilities. It reflects the economic struggles the family faces and their inability to escape the cycle of poverty.

Throughout the play, the apartment becomes a stage for the characters' conflicts and aspirations. It is in this confined space that the family's dreams clash, particularly when Walter Lee's investment idea threatens to consume their limited financial resources. The apartment also highlights the lack of privacy and personal space, intensifying tensions among family members.

However, the apartment is also a place of resilience and determination. Despite its limitations, it serves as the backdrop for the family's discussions and negotiations about their dreams. Mama's decision to use the insurance money to buy a house represents her determination to break free from the constraints of their current living conditions and provide a better future for her children.

Beneatha's Hair

Beneatha's ever-changing hairstyles symbolize her evolving identity and her struggle to reconcile her African heritage with her American identity. At various points in the play, she wears her hair naturally, straightened, and even experiments with wearing it in traditional African styles. Each hairstyle represents a facet of her identity and the cultural influences that shape her.

When Beneatha cuts her hair short, she asserts her independence and challenges traditional notions of beauty. Her decision to embrace her natural hair is a declaration of her authenticity and a rejection of societal pressures to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty.

Furthermore, Beneatha's hairstyles mirror her quest for self-discovery and purpose. As she explores her African heritage and considers becoming a doctor, her hairstyles become a visual representation of her evolving identity. Her natural hair reflects her connection to her roots, while her pursuit of medical school demonstrates her ambition and desire to make a difference in the world.


In "A Raisin in the Sun," Lorraine Hansberry masterfully employs symbolism to convey the themes of deferred dreams, economic struggle, and identity. The "raisin in the sun," the cramped apartment, and Beneatha's hair are powerful symbols that enrich the narrative and deepen our understanding of the characters and their journeys.

Through these symbols, Hansberry invites us to contemplate the enduring challenges faced by African American families in the 1950s and the universal human desire for a better life. As we reflect on the struggles and aspirations of the Younger family, we are reminded of the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of pursuing our dreams, even in the face of adversity.

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