Lorraine Hansberry’s play Raisin in the Sun is a modern day parable of the “Every Black Man” of the 20th century who has been made to be his own worst enemy; his own antagonist of sorts. Like the tragic hero in Everyman the notorious medieval play, Walter Lee Younger gets in the way of his own goals. It isn’t his entire fault, though, as society and Mama control what he can and cannot do. It isn’t until Walter himself behaves unselfishly that Mama steps out of the way and allows Walter to take the place as patriarch.
The exposition in the initial stage direction sets up the tone and mood that society has put upon this family. We are told that the furnishings once selected with pride and hope are now “tired” and have had to “accommodate the living of too many people for too many years” (Hansberry, 1836), suggesting that society has dashed the hopes of the family who were never able to move up after having moved in to this small apartment. We are introduced to the members of Walter’s family and the conflict surrounding them; what to do with his father’s insurance money.
Everyone, including Walter, has their own self-centered idea of what to do with it, but only Mama plans to use the money for the good of the whole family. She plans to move the family to a suburban single-family home, and out of the dingy two-bedroom apartment they now occupy. Because of the arrival of the insurance money, Walter is summoned in a way like Everyman, to make a reckoning with his God. Money is Walter’s god and his life centers around the image of having money. Even to his son Travis, Walter wants to appear to have money to easily give more than the fifty cents to his son to take to school.
He thwarts is wife’s and Mama’s efforts to instill some sense of priority in Travis. After giving him the fifty cents he gives him another fifty cents for frivolities. “Buy yourself some fruit today – or take a taxicab or school or something” (Hansberry, 1840) he tells Travis, as if they have all the money in the world, or at least they can look as if they have all the money in the world. Throughout the rising action of the play like Everyman, Walter asks people to accompany him on his reckoning. He has already spoken with Willie Harris, who represents Everyman’s Fellowship.
When he attempts to get Ruth, who represents Kindred to at least listen to his ideas he and Willie Harris have discussed she says, “Willy Harris is a good-for-nothing loudmouth” (Hansberry, 1841). It is all talk like Fellowship. “Now, in good faith, I will not that way. But and thou wilt murder, or any man kill, In that I will help thee with a good will! ” (“Everyman”). Fellowship will help him murder, but will not go with him on his reckoning. Walter attempts to get his Kindred and Cousin, represented by Ruth and Beneatha, to agree with his ideas for the use of the insurance money.
They also, will not accompany him on this reckoning. While they say that the money is Mama’s to do with as she pleases, they too have their own self-centered ideas about how to use the money. When Mama comes on the scene, it becomes clear that she is the matriarch of the family, Walter’s family. After all the talk of what to do with the money, Mama announces that she will use the money to benefit the entire family. She will buy a house for the family. The complication with this decision is that society gets in the way of Mama achieving her goal. Mr.
Lindner, from the home association in the suburban neighborhood where Mama has bought the house, comes to inform them that society still will prevent EveryBlackFamily from moving into a white neighborhood. Just as society dashed the hopes of Mama’s family years ago by keeping them from moving up and out of the apartment, society is dashing Walter’s family’s hopes. With the rising action in Act II we continue to see Walter talking big about his own ideas. He is still self-centered and only thinking of his image and his own relationship with his god, Money. He attempts to align himself with George Murchison, Beneatha’s wealthy suitor.
He says, “Me and you ought to sit down and talk sometimes, man. Man, I got me some ideas…” (Hansberry, 1865), but George see right through Walter’s self aggrandizing. Society here has created a divide between poor blacks and rich blacks which further fuels Walter’s desires to gain the image of a rich man. Act II Scene II is a turning point of sorts when Walter confesses to his family that he has not been going to work, that he has been going to a bar where he feels like a man worth something. Mama concedes she has been holding Walter down. She tells him “I been wrong, son.
That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. ” (Hansberry, 1876). She realizes she has been holding him back from learning how to make selfless decisions. It is here that she gives him the money and the opportunity to do the right thing. For a moment we have hope for Walter. Even the stage directions refer to him patriarchically (Hansberry, 1877) and he has a heart-to-heart chat with his son to give him fatherly advice. But immediately we see Walter has not yet learned. He tells Travis that his dream of being a bus driver “ain’t big enough” (Hansberry, 1877).
He is still thinking of himself and his image of working downtown in an office. Walter hasn’t made the change yet because Mama still held the reins. She gave him the money but with instructions on how to use it. She still controlled Walter’s actions. She tells him to be the head of the family, but she doesn’t let him. Like Everyman, though, Walter has to go to Confession and gain Knowledge in order to get closer to a successful reckoning. A further confession Walter is forced to make is that he did not follow his mother’s instruction for the use of the money.
He has given the money to a crooked investor and lost it all. The entire family is crushed and it is truly the first time we see Mama come tumbling down. Act III begins with stage directions indicating a “a sullen light in the living room, gray light not unlike that which began the first scene of Act I” hinting that the family is back to the beginning with dashed hopes and trapped in society’s poverty prison. Walter’s action in this climactic act is to succumb to society’s will and sell out to Mr. Lindner at the home association.
All of Walter’s Strength, Discretion, Wits, Beauty that accompanied him thus far are gone. Walter’s decision has taken him and his family to the bottom. Beneatha says, “We are dead now. ” (Hansberry, 1894). But like Everyman, Walter still has Good Deeds with him at the end. Once Mr. Lindner arrived at the apartment, Walter cannot sell out. “We don’t want your money. (He turns and walks away)” (Hansberry, 1896). It was as simple as that and in less than two pages, the play ends. Once Mama transfers the power to Walter, he is able to make decisions that lead him to selflessness and achieve his goals.
He not only does he make his reckoning with his god, Money, he moves his family up and out of the traps of society. Only then is he able to take his place as patriarch. Mama recognizes that Walter has “come into his manhood… kind of like a rainbow after the rain. ” (Hansberry, 1898). Works Cited List Anonymous, “Everyman”, Internet Medieval Sourcebook. Paul Halsall. August 1998. Fordham. edu. 21 March 2009. <http://www. fordham. edu/halsall/basis/everyman. html>. Hansberry, Lorraine. “A Raisin in the Sun. ” Plays for further Reading. ———- . 1836-1898.