'A Raisin in the Sun' by Lorraine Hansberry, Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee

Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee in A Raisin in the Sun/Photo © Columbia Pictures

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, Harlem

Walter and Ruth Younger, alongside their son Travis, Walter’s mother Lena (or “Mama”), and Walter’s sister Beneatha, live in a small, crowded apartment in the slums of Chicago’s South Side during the 1950s. Lorraine Hansberry's play opens with the death of Walter Younger’s father, leaving the family with ten thousand dollars to use at their own expense. Walter, who works as a limousine driver, tries to make ends meet and hopes to use the money towards an investment in a liquor store he plans to open with his friends. Lena and Ruth would rather use the money to move out of the South Side, so that they can provide a better quality of living for young Travis. Finally, Beneatha hopes to use the money to pay for medical school. Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is the classic play about a struggling African American family’s pursuit to follow their dreams as they face adversity and prejudice. The title of the play was inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem, which expresses that deferred dreams will one day dry up like a raisin in the sun.

In 1961, only two years after the production of the play, a movie adaptation, directed by Daniel Petrie, was made. The drama was ground-breaking at its premiere, making it an instant classic. The film, as well as the original play, have become the basis of many African American centered books, films, and television shows today. Petrie does not stray too far away from the original source material, but simply magnifies each character’s role, bringing them to life on the big screen. The film stars Sidney Poitier as Walter, Ruby Dee as Ruth, Claudia McNeil as Lena, and Diana Sands as Beneatha.

The play was later made into a made for T.V. film in 2008, starring Sean Combs as Walter, Audra McDonald as Ruth, Phylicia Rashad as Lena, and Sanaa Lathan as Beneatha.