Walter Lee Younger’s Characteristics
In the 1920’s, many African-American families had left the southern states and migrated north to Chicago’s South Side in search of the “American Dream”, dreaming of freedom, equality, and the opportunity that was supposed to be available to every American. This “American Dream” was sought by many African Americans in the U. S. Written by Lorraine Hansberry and produced in 1959, The play: A Raisin in the Sun, gave readers a strong meaning about the values of dreams and the struggles in fulfilling them.
Unlike other plays that contain one main character, A Raisin in the Sun consisted of having two main characters: Walter and Mama. The audience may find that one of the main characters from the play, Walter, showed a hard time in understanding the values of dreams. The audience may also find Walter’s character to be portrayed as both: a sympathetic and an unsympathetic representation of African-American men in Chicago’s Southside during the 1950-1960’s. The play takes place between 1945 and 1959 in Chicago’s South Side during , and begins with the Younger family waiting to receive an insurance check for the death of Mama’s husband Walter Sr.
Each of the family members has their own dream and plan on how the check should be used. The character of the Younger family include: Lena Younger “Mama” who is in her 60’s and is the matriarch of the family, her son Walter Lee Younger a 35-year old chauffeur, his wife Ruth, their son Travis and Beneatha Younger, Walter’s 20-year old sister that is attending college and studying to become a doctor. The Younger’s each disagree with each other, resulting in the entire family arguing and fighting over how to spend the $10,000 check. Mama wants to use the money to buy a house and fulfill the dreams her and her husband shared.
Ruth agrees with Mama and also wants a house and better opportunities for Travis. Beneatha needs the money to pay her tuition for medical school. Throughout the entire play, the Younger family struggles individually trying to achieve each of their dreams, and Walter’s dream to invest in a liquor store, results in his family losing all of the money. By the end of the play, the Youngers come to realize that their dream of owning a house is the most important dream because a house is what unites families. Readers are likely to identify Walter’s character in the play with many reactions.
Some readers may dislike his character finding Walter to be unsympathetic. For instance: readers may feel that Walter’s character is presented as being an insensitive and uncaring husband, brother and son by the way he treats and belittles the women in his family, they may also find him as being inconsiderate, unsupportive and selfish. One example of Walter acting unsupportive is located in the beginning of Act I, scene I. Rather than supporting his wife Ruth, when she told Travis that they were unable to give him the fifty cents, Walter takes it upon himself giving his son money that they really are not able to afford to give him.
It is early Friday morning and Ruth is in the kitchen fixing breakfast. Travis tells his mother that he needs fifty cents for school. Ruth responds by telling him she doesn’t have the money. As Walter enters the room, overhearing their conversation, he gives Travis the money and said, “In fact, here is another fifty cents . . . Buy yourself some fruit today or take a taxicab to school or something. ,” (1. 1, 1132). Walter’s character provides a perspective of the average African-American male. He also presented as being a typical man of the house, who is in charge of all the decision making.
In addition, that same morning after Travis leaves for school, Walter is sitting at the kitchen table talking with Ruth as he waits for his breakfast. He tells her of his plans that he and his friends Willy and Bobo made to invest in a liquor store, along with his plans to use some of the money, his Mama is receiving, as a down payment and the rest to bribe someone to approve the liquor license. With no remorse, he tells her, “Yeah. You see, this little liquor store we got in mind costs $75,000 and we figured the initial investment on the place be ‘bout $30,000, see.
That be $10,000 each. Course, there’s a couple of hundred you got to pay so’s you don’t spend your life just waiting for them clowns to get your license approved. ,” (1. 1, 1133). Walter believes that investing in the liquor store, will earn his family a fortune. However, the reader is likely to feel that he is being inconsiderate by failing to acknowledge that the money does not belong to him, it belongs to Mama and should be up to her how to spend it. Furthermore, Walter acts selfishly and is inconsiderate of what his mother wants.
An example of Walter acting selfishly is located towards the end of Act I, scene II. It is Saturday, and Walter has just returned home from work. He is only concerned of the checks arrival; he fails to greet his family. He tries showing Mama the paperwork that his friend Willy put together for the liquor store, and becomes upset that Mama wanted nothing to do with his plans and had refused to even look at the papers he showed her. Sarcastically he tells Mama, “Oh-so you don’t aim to have to speak on that again? So you have decided . Well you tell that to my boy tonight when you put him to sleep on the living room couch . . .
Yeah-and tell it to my wife, Mama, tomorrow when she has to go out of here and look after somebody else’s kids. And tell it to me, Mama, every time we need a new pair of curtains and I have to watch you go out and work in somebody’s kitchen. Yeah, you tell me then! ,” (1. 2, 1148-49). Readers are likely to find that Walter seems to act childish for trying to make her feel guilty and selfish for being angry with Mama and the decision she made.
On the other hand, some readers may find Walter’s character likeable and feel that he is in fact sympathetic. For instance, readers may find Walter to be caring and concerned about his family’s well-being. One example of Walter showing sympathy is in Act II, scene I. Later that Saturday, Walter returns home intoxicated acting rude and disrespectful. While in the kitchen, Walter realizes how miserable Ruth seems he tells her, “It’s been rough, ain’t it, baby? I guess between two people there ain’t never as much understood as folks generally think there is.
I mean like between me and you. How we gets to the place where we scared to talk softness to each other. Why you think it got to be like that? ,” (2. 1, 1156). Although Walter seems to act as if he does not care much about Ruth, readers are able to see that she is his wife and he does love her. Furthermore, readers are likely to identify Walter as a man that is caring and that wants a better life for his family. An example of Walter being caring and showing concern is in Act II, scene II. It is Friday night a few weeks later and the family began packing to move.
Mama had entrusted Walter with the responsibility of managing the rest of the money that remained from buying the house. That night as Travis was going to bed; Walter sat down beside Travis and began to talk about his plans for their future. He said to Travis, “You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction . . . a business transaction that’s going to change our lives . . . That’s how come one day when you ‘bout seventeen years old I’ll come home and I’ll be pretty tired, you know what I mean, after a day of conferences and secretaries getting things wrong the way they do . . ” (2. 2, 1162).
The readers may find it apparent that Walter considers a want in providing a better future for his family. He believes his idea to invest in the liquor will earn his family a fortune. His good intentions can be seen by the reader as being sympathetic, despite the poor decision that caused them to lose all of their money. Subsequently, readers are able to see Walter display his biggest act of sympathy. For example, in Act III, moving day, Walter seems to make up for losing all of their money by saving their house.
The Chairman of the neighborhood committee, Mr. Linder attempted to buy the house from them, in an attempt to keep the neighborhood an all-white neighborhood. Walter feels discriminated and tells Mr. Linder, “What I am telling you is that we called you over here to tell you that we are very proud and that this is – this is my son, who makes the sixth generation of our family in this country, and that we have all thought about your offer and we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it. ,” (3, 1179).
The readers may find it obvious that by Walter becoming the man of the house, it made him more sympathetic and even considerate of his family. Nevertheless, readers can identify when Walter shows acts of sympathy and concern. They may see Walter as being sympathetic for realizing that his marriage had problems and was interested on how to fix it. He also showed much concern for a better life for his family without them having to work so hard. His biggest act of being sympathetic is at the end of the play when Walter refuses to sell the house and decides to keep it, for his father earned it.
However, on the other hand, readers are likely to see Walter’s character to be unsympathetic and uncaring. He is a typical African-American man who feels he needs to be in control of his family and the one that is in charge of making all the decisions. He often argues and fights with Ruth, Mama, and Beneatha. Most of his actions and mistakes affect the family greatly. He is the typical man of the house that struggles to support his family, and in the process tries to come up with newer and better schemes for making more money.
Readers can identify Walter as a man, whom at first was far from being a good listener, and made bad decisions to a man who eventually listened to his wife and mother and at the end of the play became a man when he stood up to Mr. Linder keeping their house. In conclusion, writer/author Lorraine Hansberry created “A Raisin in the Sun” to be about dreams, and the struggles that the Younger family endured in dealing with the circumstances they faced living in Southside Chicago.
Although his intentions to better his family’s life were good intentions, he always seemed to go about them in the wrong way. His greedy, selfish ways resulted in losing all of the money entrusted to him by Mama. At first he proved that he was incapable of being responsible, and in the end proved to be the man that Mama knew he was capable of being. It is likely that readers will find Walter’s character to be both; a sympathetic and an unsympathetic representation of African-American men in Chicago’s Southside during the 1950’s-1960.