Don’t worry, Shmoopster, we are not taking you to Algebra class. We are not even going to make you play a rousing game of Boggle. We are instead going to turn you into detectives. Follow us, as we take you into A Raisin in the Sun ’s attic, where every single word from the play is stored, carefully wrapped, and inventoried. That’s right, folks, we have tallied every word that appears in A Raisin in the Sun , and what you see above is a list of some of the biggest stars, the most noteworthy words.
Why would we do this? Well, we know this is a play about dreams (see “What’s Up with the Title”), dreams that are put on hold or made impossible by society. We know it is a play about fighting to make dreams come true. And that seems like a pretty good reason to care about this play. After all, we humans are expert dreamers. But we want to know what exactly this play is trying to tell us about the art of dreaming. So let’s take a gander.
The first thing we notice in our tally is how infrequently the words “dream” or “dreams” actually appear. Only fourteen times. This perplexes our detective minds, because we thought dreams were the star of the show. It looks like there are other things (and words) that get in the way.
We notice how often the word “I” shows up – 536 times. This makes sense to us – dreams can’t happen without an “I” involved. But “I” doesn’t hold a candle to the word “you,” which surfaces a whopping 794 times, earning a gold medal in word count. “We” and “they” appear a good deal too, but not nearly as much as “I” and “you.” From this, we can deduce that individual choices must matter a lot when it comes to dreaming.
So what does all of this tallying tell us? That individual choices can make or break dreams. In A Raisin in the Sun , Walter destroys the family dream by losing their money, but then restores the dream again by standing up to Karl and deciding the family should remain in their new neighborhood. So dreaming is a complicated and frustrating art, but it can lead to incredible victories. If we need a lesson on dreaming and on being brave enough to dream, a great first stop on the literary highway is A Raisin in the Sun .
Even though their goals are very different in nature, the insurance money from Walter Sr. is the catalyst for each of their dreams. The $10,000 offers the Youngers the ability to achieve salvation: Mama will get her dream home, Beneatha her medical education, and Walter his liquor store. However, the money comes at a price: Walter Sr. must die for the Youngers to have any chance of getting out of their futile situation. In many ways, the insurance money acts as a deus ex machina . The term is used in reference to a trope in ancient Greek plays when a character doomed to die is miraculously saved from destruction. At first glance the fortunate and unfortunate ways in which the money comes in and goes out of the Younger household add absurdity to a play where circumstance and fate seems to overpower human autonomy. However, Hansberry complicates this assumption by making Walter's decision to choose dignity rather than submission the true means to salvation.