What happens to a dream deferred?

I had the pleasure of seeing Raisin in the Sun on Broadway this past weekend. Set aside for a moment the fact that Denzel Washington stars as Walter Lee Younger, our flawed dreamer. The message of the Langston Hughes poem and the play that expands on the question is one that we each must answer.

For me, it was perfect timing, as I celebrate this week the 1-year mark of publishing Life in Spades, my debut novel. This idea of being a published author, was for a long time, a dream put off, set aside, unrealized.  It’s a dream that I’m still in, that is becoming more true everyday.

In brief, Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 play, Raisin in the Sun, is about a working class family, who upon the death of the father, is the recipient of a $10,000 insurance benefit payment. This sudden influx of cash allows everyone to dream, for a moment. The mother embraces the idea of a garden. Walter Lee, the adult son, married with a son of his own, wants more than out of life than driving rich White men around and, instead hopes to own his own business. Beneatha, the adult daughter, wants to be a doctor. And Ruth, Walter’s faithful wife?  We interestingly never hear directly what her hopes are, other than moving out of the apartment that they all share.

The play explores this idea – what happens when we feel constricted and restrained in our dreams? What does it do to a person to see everybody else being able to fulfill their potential, and they are stuck doing the same thing they did yesterday and the same thing they will do tomorrow? How does a man define himself, see himself, when he can’t provide for his family in the way that he wants to? And what does it mean for a woman to support her husband in his desires, and at what cost to her? In the play, we see how when 1 person’s dreams seem just beyond their grasp, how their frustration, turmoil, and emotional pain can affect every life around him.

Think about this in terms of our own lives. What dreams are we holding onto, not sure how, if ever, we will ever attain them? In not pursuing our dreams, whether because of fear or lack of resources and opportunity, there is a change in who we are. Perhaps the frustration makes us blind to other options. Perhaps the pain causes us to lash out at the people we love. We can’t celebrate the success of others because we are filled with jealousy of their achievements.   Does the idea of a dream deferred answer the question of what’s going on in our inner cities? Are those who commit crimes and use drugs trying to achieve something they don’t seem to be able to do in a legitimate manner?  What happens to our heart and soul when we feel that we are not all that we could be?

When dreams do not seem to ever come true, do we at some point stop dreaming at all? Or, as Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry suggest, do we explode?