Can someone explain the differences and similarities between Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun?

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Walter Younger and his sister Beneatha are very similar in most ways. They are both African Americans living with their mother in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood of Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play in the late 1950s, but it may be set after World War Two and...

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Walter Younger and his sister Beneatha are very similar in most ways. They are both African Americans living with their mother in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood of Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play in the late 1950s, but it may be set after World War Two and before the advent of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The time period is important because of the limits then imposed on African Americans by the racism in American society. Both are looking ahead to ways to improve their lives for benefit of themselves and others. Walter wants to become a business owner so that he can earn a better living and provide a positive role model for his son. Beneatha plans to become a doctor, and considers moving to Africa, so that she can help people in need.

The differences between them involve their age, gender, and marital status. Walter is about 30, is married, and has a 10-year-old son; he also learns during the course of the play that he and his wife, Ruth, are expecting another child. Walter fits comfortably within the gendered expectations of the time, and he denigrates his sister’s aspirations as unsuited to a woman. He also shows very little interest in his African heritage. As a man who recently lost his father, Walter is highly conscious of his role as a wage earner and wants to be the new family patriarch. Although he wants to support his mother by sharing the apartment, the fact that he and Ruth cannot afford their own apartment—even with her earnings—is difficult for him.

Beneatha, who is about 20, is a college student. She is single and has two suitors. Even in planning to obtain her undergraduate degree, she will become the first college graduate in her family. Beyond that, she plans to attend medical school and become a physician. Both in this goal and her habit of wearing pants, Beneatha is shown as defying conventional gender expectations. While she is interested in dating both men, she has not decided on her marital plans. Through dating Joseph, wearing the African clothes he gave her, and listening to African music, Beneatha expresses strong interest in her African heritage; she even contemplates living in Africa.

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Both Walter and Beneatha have large personalities and are big dreamers. Walter is depicted as a passionate man who dreams of one day establishing a liquor business that will make him wealthy. Similarly, Beneatha has dreams of one day becoming a doctor. Despite the negative reactions to their dreams by Lena and other members of their community, both Walter and Beneatha are determined to attain their goals. Walter and his sister are also relatively selfish individuals who are more concerned about their personal dreams than the well-being of their family members. Both siblings are also moody and capricious throughout the play. Walter experiences extreme highs and lows in the play, while Beneatha's numerous hobbies and interests are a topic of conversation.

Despite their many similarities, Walter and Beneatha have different personality traits and talents. Walter is depicted as a rather ignorant man, while Beneatha is portrayed as an intelligent, educated woman. Walter also values western ideas of success and wishes to attain the American Dream, while Beneatha has an affinity for Pan-Africanism. Beneatha is more interested in connecting with her African roots, while her brother tries his best to assimilate into American culture. Beneatha also struggles as a single woman to find love in the play, while Walter has marital issues with Ruth.

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Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun depicts a Chicago family trying to pull themselves out of poverty amid racism and the predatory practices of dishonest people. Ruth Younger, the matriarch of the family, is mother to Beneatha and Walter Lee.

Walter Lee and his sister Beneatha share a burning desire to escape their current lives. They are similar in that they are frustrated with the life their mother leads—it isn’t enough for them. Their mother understands to an extent, but wonders how her children have become so different from her.

The plot revolves around the life insurance money from their recently deceased father, Lena’s husband.

Both Beneatha and Walter Lee want to use the money to escape from their current situation. Walter Lee wants to make his way out by investing in a liquor store. Beneatha wants to go to medical school to become a doctor.

They are different in how they look at life. Beneatha has an appreciation for her family’s African heritage, but doesn’t really understand it. The character of Joseph Asagia helps illustrate this. She is frustrated with the attitude of her rich boyfriend George Murchison, who is only concerned about money and appearances.

Walter Lee, on the other hand, is fascinated by the Murchisons and their success. He sees their independence and wants the same thing for himself and his family. He chafes in his role as a driver for a rich white family. To him, business success is everything. He’s even willing to engage in bribing public officials to get a liquor license.

For much of the play, Walter Lee and Beneatha see each other as rivals. They can’t both use their father’s life insurance money for what they want. One of them will have to do without. Ruth, as the mother, controls the money, and she is siding with Beneatha. This rankles Walter Lee further, and makes him angry. At one point he criticizes Beneatha for being ungrateful for what others do for her. Beneatha responds sarcastically:

BENEATHA (Dropping to her knees)
Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing him on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!

Later in this argument, Walter Lee gets closer to the real reason for his anger, the fact that Beneatha wants to use the money for medical school:

Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor?

If you so crazy 'bout messing 'round with sick people

then go be a nurse like other women or just get

married and be quiet . . .

Walter Lee and Beneatha both want out of the life they lead now. But their circumstances dictate that they approach things in a different way. Beneatha, as s single woman, can afford to be idealistic and aloof. Walter Lee, with a wife and child, has more immediate, practical needs.

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