What are the physical traits of Lena, Walter, Beneatha, Ruth, George, and Joseph?

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Ruth is described as a very attractive woman of about 30 whose disappointment in the outcome of her life has begun to affect her good looks. By the time she is 35, she will have the look of a "settled woman," according to the author. Walter is described as trim and "intense" and in his mid-thirties. His movements are fast and anxious, and his speech is marked by his incessant blame of others and his anger. Beneatha is in her twenties and, while not as pretty as Ruth, has a kind of lean, intelligent beauty. Her speech is more educated than that of the rest of the family's speech, and it is more marked by the midwest than the south (unlike the rest of the family). Mama, or Lena, is described a very strong, able-bodied woman in her sixties. She has white hair and a dark brown face that is marked by wit and spunk. She carries herself with grace, intelligence, and nobility. Joseph Asagai is described as young, sophisticated, and "dramatic-looking." Joseph is from Nigeria. George is described as good-looking and well-dressed in a likely conventional way, as he supports assimilationist ideas.

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e-martin | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The characters of A Raisin in the Sun are treated with differing degrees of specificity in terms of their physical traits. 

Ruth is given a highly significant description early in the first scene. She is "about thirty" and once was "a pretty girl, even exceptionally so" but with the passing of time and the onset of disappointment she "has already begun to hang her face." 

This description, you will notice, is more thorough than the one provided for Walter who is described as "a lean, intense young man in his middle thirties." More description is given of Walter, but not of his physical traits. 

Beneatha is described in brief terms. She is "about twenty" and "as slim and intense as her brother." Beneatha is "not as pretty as her sister-in-law, but her lean, almost intellectual face has a handsomeness of its own."

Beneatha's speech patterns and tendencies are given far more consideration in the introduction/description of her character. Walter's speech habits are also included in his introduction. 

This fact is significant. Culture is a prominent and important element of the character's lives (and in their futures). Part of the conflict of the play deals with this idea exactly. The differences between Asagai and George Murchison are not differences of race or color, but differences of culture. The two men stand in an opposition in the play that is pointed and intentional. 

Modes of speech are important in the context of cultural backgrounds - perhaps as important physical traits. Perhaps cultural backgrounds are more important than physical traits.

"A Raisin in the Sun is rife with conflicts: generational conflicts, gender conflicts, ideological conflicts, and perhaps most important, conflicts of dreams, which are at the center of the play" (eNotes).

Importantly, each of these conflicts can be fruitfully interpreted within the context of cultural background and cultural expectations. When Beneatha and Mama express their differences of opinion and fight, they are speaking to a gap in culture.

In turning away from her mother's values, Beneatha is adopting a different set of values. Where is she finding those values? She is finding them by looking to a Pan-Africanism that her mother finds unnecessary. Beneatha searches for pride in Africa and African-ism, so to speak, whereas Mama locates her pride and dignity in her own home.  

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Lena is an older woman, widowed, mother of Walter and Beneathea.

Walter is the man of house, tall, determined to make good decisions, but a little slump-shouldered when things don't work out.

Beneathea is the youngest, pretty, ambitious.  She hopes to attend medical school and is dating Joseph, an African.  She is confused between being of African descent and being American--all she has ever been used to and comfortable with.

Joseph is tall, regal, handsome.  White teeth, dark skin.  Laughs easily and does not take things as seriously as the Youngers.


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