Lorraine Hansberry’s renowned play A Raisin in the Sun is a potent narrative of what it meant to be an African-American in the United States during the 1950s of the previous century. Every member of the Younger family has his own individual dream, whether it is Beneatha’s desire to become a doctor or Walter’s need to have money in order to provide for his family as the only man the Younger women can lean on, but they all go about attaining this dream in different ways. Like most other characters in the play, Walter feels trapped by his social as well as economic circumstances, and initially, he is incapable of overcoming these boundaries. However, as the narrative unravels, he turns more and more towards his family, starting to listen to them and what they have to say, instead of only assuming what would be the best course of action, and finally, reaches liberation from these social conventions as they all commence a new life of uncertainty as well as love and filial support in their new home.
Not infrequently, all characters in the play are forced to put off their dreams, and wonder, like Langston Hughes did in his poem, whether those dreams will shrivel up like a raisin in the sun. Walter, who is simultaneously the play’s protagonist as well as antagonist, evolves enormously throughout the play, as he deals with his role in his family, his financial issues and his final attaining of manhood in the ultimate scene. One of the most prominent ways in which he feels trapped by his own family is when his wife Ruth instructs him to eat his eggs, in order to make him quiet. This simplistic, yet potent statement is for Walter, an illustration of how women prevent men from doing what they really want, from attaining their most desired goals, because every time a man gets his hopes up about a certain endeavor, a woman is there to let him know that such enthusiasm is unacceptable and destroys this feeling. Thus, by being told to eat his eggs by his wife, Walter believes that his wife is partly responsible for his inability to achieve what he truly wants, and he admonishes her for not being supportive enough.
Like many people who lack it, Walter believes that money would be able to solve all their problems: “It was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it” (Hansberry I.ii.4). For him, money equals life and possibilities, because those who have money have no cares. For Mama, who belongs to a different generation, money does not equal a happy life; for her, it is the civil liberty and lack of fear that she will be lynched. Walter believes that money allows people to lead carefree lives, that it is the answer to all their personal problems. He also erroneously believes that a man is defined by his financial success and his ability or inability to provide for his family. Feeling confined by both his job and life in general, he believes true freedom is lack of financial woes, which is why until he acknowledges this perspective of life as untrue, he cannot be truly happy.
Even though Walter feels trapped by his own family, by the end of the play, he will eventually realize the error of his ways and that owning a safe harbor such as a house, is much more important than any schemes he might have about getting rich quickly. Throughout the play, his arguments with Ruth, Mama and Beneatha are numerous, as they all struggle both in a social context as well as financially. He cannot view the world from the same perspective as they all do, and this inability leads to their disagreements, and a feeling of being trapped by one’s own family. However, as Walter starts to mature, his perspective shifts towards a more reasonable one and he begins to comprehend the idea that in order to help his family, he must listen to them, instead of simply assuming that he knows what is best. This desire to provide only the best for his family is evident in his behavior towards his son: “You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transactionthat’s going to change our lives Just tell me, what it is you want to be – and you’ll be it Whatever you want to be – Yessir! You just name it, son and I hand you the world!” (Hansberry II.ii.130). Thus, all his work is for the betterment of his family, yet he himself is preventing this from happening, by not listening to them.
The moment of Walter’s transformation comes at the moment of his acceptance of his family and truly hearing what they want: “We have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brickWe don’t want your money” (Hansberry III.i.133). This speech he delivers to Mr. Lindner after he realizes that he has lost the money, and even though his family members have not been in agreement with him in many things, they stand by him even in this one, believing he will take the right course of action. As it turns out, this refusal comes as a surprise to everyone, because he chooses his family over money, and this is the first step towards his redemption as a human being. Even though he could have obtained a certain amount of some money, now that he was in dire need of it, he changes his priorities and decided to stand by his family. He is no longer trapped, finally liberated from the only shackles that were truly able to hold him back: his own self.
The ending of the play promises very little, if anything. The future is uncertain, perhaps even dangerous as the Younger family will move into an all-white neighborhood. However, they will do this as a family who loves and supports one another no matter what. They are no longer strangers connected by blood. Now, they are a true family.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. 1st Vintage Bks Ed Aug 1994/ 7th Print. New York: Vintage, 2004. Print.