In this essay I am going to analyse how Lorraine Hansberry presents the transformation of Walter in the play ‘A raisin in the sun’. The pages I’m going to concentrate on are pages 1787 and 1788.
A raisin in the sun portrays a few weeks in the life of the Youngers, an African-American family living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. When the play opens, the Youngers are about to receive an insurance check for $10,000. This money comes from the deceased Mr. Younger’s life insurance policy. Each of the adult members of the family has an idea as to what he or she would like to do with this money. The matriarch of the family, Mama, wants to buy a house to fulfil a dream she shared with her husband.
Mama’s son, Walter Lee, would rather use the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. He believes that the investment will solve the family’s financial problems forever. Walter’s wife, Ruth, agrees with Mama, however, and hopes that she and Walter can provide more space and opportunity for their son, Travis. Finally, Beneatha, Walter’s sister and Mama’s daughter, wants to use the money for her medical school tuition. She also wishes that her family members were not so interested in joining the white world. Beneatha instead tries to find her identity by looking back to the past and to Africa.
Later on in the play, the Youngers fight over their competing dreams. Ruth finds out that she is pregnant and starts to worry about the financial problems that may happen if she keeps it. Mama puts $3,500 down payment on a house and gives $6,500 to Walter from which he has to give Beneatha some for her medical school tuition. Walter on the other hand doesn’t give Beneatha her share of her money, instead gives it to Willy his friend who runs away with it. The house is in Clybourne Park, an entirely white neighbourhood. When the Youngers’ future neighbours find out that the Youngers are moving in, they send Mr Lindner, from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, to offer the Youngers money in return for staying away. The Youngers refuse the deal.
In the meantime, Beneatha rejects her suitor, George Murchison, whom she believes to be shallow and an assimulationist. Subsequently, she receives a marriage proposal from her Nigerian boyfriend, Joseph Assegai, who wants Beneatha to get a medical degree and move to Africa with him. The Youngers eventually move out of the apartment, fulfilling the family’s long-held dream. Their future seems uncertain and slightly dangerous, but they are optimistic and determined to live a better life. They believe that they can succeed if they stick together as a family and resolve to defer their dreams no longer.
Various stage directions are used to show Walter’s feelings for example, when Ruth informs Walter that Mr Lindner is here ‘a long minute passes and Walter slowly gets up’ from his room. This shows that Walter is not eager to meet Mr Lindner so he takes his time.
When Walter ‘slowly and awkwardly’ walks out of his room ‘passing the back of his sleeve across his mouth from time to time’ makes him seem as if he is a small chid who is sloppy and awkward. This is how he behaves throughout the play and shows the childish side of him.
When Walter ‘looks down at his boys eyes’ he realises that Travis is the 6th generation in his family to live in America and should look to set an example for future generations.
While Walter talks to Mr Lindner ‘he looks around and shifts from one foot to the other’ and makes short pauses in his speech showing that he is unsure and frightened about speaking out aloud in front of his family. He tries to get the point across that they are ‘very plain people’. Walter again looks away from Mr Lindner and ‘down at his shoes’ and then back up at him. This shows that he can’t maintain eye contact with Mr Lindner. This makes Walter feel shy because he is speaking to someone who is higher classed and who he feels is superior to him. He again tries to get the point across that they are plain people by telling Mr Lindner their current situation such as how he has been ‘a chauffer’ most of his life and how Ruth is a domestic worker in people’s kitchens.
All this confuses Mr Lindner as he doesn’t know what Walter is trying to get across instead he listens to him and see what he has got to say. Walter now starts to tell Mr Lindner how his father ‘almost beat a man to death once because this man called him a bad name or something’. Walter asks Mr Lindner if he knows what he is talking about, he replies ‘no, I’m afraid I don’t’ this makes Walter feel as if he is the only one that understands what it feels like so he gains confidence in himself and straightens up. Walter tries to get another point across by saying that he came from people who had a lot of pride and now they don’t have the same pride.
Walter tries to make out that they are still very proud and how his sister is going to be a doctor. Walter contradicts himself as in the beginning when he was arguing with Beneatha he mentioned that being a doctor is more of a males’ role and she wouldn’t be able to become one. Walter now starts to cry while facing Mr Lindner ‘eye to eye’ this makes Walter feel bad about what he has done with the money. Walter now decided to tell Mr Lindner that they are moving into the house because his father had ‘earned it’.
This shows that Walter has recognised his responsibility and best interest for his family at heart. Walter’s character has evolved from a young child into manhood making him a hero of the family. Walter now has all the confidence to look Mr Lindner ‘absolutely in the eyes’ and tell him ‘we don’t want your money’. Walter finishes with a very definite statement. Doing this makes Mr Lindner feel as he is an obstruction and so should leave. The family are all excited about the wise decision Walter has made.
The audience feel that in the beginning of the play Walter is selfish and money hungry because he doesn’t listen to any member of his family and only thinks about trying to get rich quickly. In the end Walter had realised what a fool he had been after losing the money his mother had trusted him with. Now he should listen to his families needs and do what he thinks is right. By making the wise decision of moving into the house he makes the audience feel as if he has become a true man and a hero to his family. Walter is virtually a new person now which people like more than what he was before.
The character of Mr. Lindner makes the theme of racial discrimination prominent in the plot as an issue that the Youngers cannot avoid. The governing body of the Youngers’ new neighbourhood, the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, sends Mr. Lindner to persuade them not to move into the all-white neighbourhood. Mr. Lindner and the people he represents can only see the colour of the Younger family’s skin, and his offer to bribe the Youngers to keep them from moving threatens to tear apart the Younger family and the values for which it stands. Ultimately, the Youngers respond to this discrimination with defiance and strength. The play powerfully demonstrates that the way to deal with discrimination is to stand up to it and reassert one’s dignity in the face of it rather than allow it to pass unchecked.
In my opinion I think Walter is like any other American- African in that time. He believes that money is the only thing he needs to solve all his problems but little does he know that he needs to listen to his family and not just himself. I also think that all the male roles such as Willy and his friends are bad influences on Walter as they persuaded him to give them his money which they ran off with. However the female roles such as mama and Ruth were a good influence as they all stuck together even when Walter was against them and helped Walter to see what he is throwing away.
Lorraine Hansberry is trying to say that Black people in the 1950s experienced a life of discrimination in one way or another. They got here today by having defiance and strength in themselves. Even though they were not treated as equals by some white people, however they made a stand which gave them dignity and the power to be treated as equals. Though black people try to fit into a white neighbourhood they should still remember their roots and how they got here.