Compare and contrast Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun.

Siblings Walter and Beneatha Younger are similar in that they are both African American, are both living with their mother, and show ambition and concern for others. They differ in terms of their age, gender, and marital status, as well as employment and education. Another important contrast is their attitude toward their mother’s use of her late husband’s insurance money.

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The primary similarities between Walter Younger and Beneatha Younger are that these African Americans are siblings who live with their widowed mother in a small apartment in Chicago. Both are ambitious and hardworking and plan to pursue their goals, but both also want to help others.

Among the significant differences...

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The primary similarities between Walter Younger and Beneatha Younger are that these African Americans are siblings who live with their widowed mother in a small apartment in Chicago. Both are ambitious and hardworking and plan to pursue their goals, but both also want to help others.

Among the significant differences are age, gender, marital status, employment status, and education. Walter, who is in his thirties and male, is married and has a ten-year-old son, Travis. He also learns during the course of the play that Ruth, his wife, is pregnant. Walter works full time as a chauffeur. The extent of Walter’s formal education is not stated, but he probably completed high school.

Beneatha, the younger sister, is a twenty-year-old unmarried female. She has been dating an African American man, George. During the course of the play, however, she shows dissatisfaction towards him and is disillusioned with him and her friendship with a Nigerian man, Joseph, is moving toward romantic involvement. She is not employed. Beneatha has clearly finished high school, as she is currently a college student in a premedical track.

The types of dreams they have and the ways they want to help other people are also significantly different. Frustrated with being an employee, Walter considers himself an entrepreneur: he hopes to open his own business in partnership with some friends. He also seems to feel entitled to having a say in how his mother will allocate Walter Senior’s life insurance payment. In terms of helping others, he is focused on his immediate family and shows little larger social conscience.

Beneatha’s ambition to become a doctor is consistent with her interest in the African side of her heritage and in helping society. As the play ends, it seems likely that these interests will influence her answer to Joseph’s suggestion that she move to Nigeria with him. Although the life insurance payment might be applied to her tuition, she does not ask her mother to use it that way and strongly maintains that the decision is her mother’s alone.

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Walter and Beneatha both want so much more out of life than they're currently getting. But they choose to remedy that situation by radically different means. Walter is a good deal more impatient than Beneatha; he's always looking for the opportunity to make a fast buck. He sees this as a way—the only way—to transform his family's fortunes. Walter's drinking can also be seen as a method of escape from a world which doesn't give him what he wants.

Beneatha, on the other hand, is much more sensible and level-headed. She initially sees education as a way out of her current predicament and to that end, is prepared to work hard and study over a considerable period of time. Unlike her improvident brother, her focus in life is very much on the long term, whether that means going to medical school or moving to Africa with Asagai.

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Walter and Beneatha Younger are both portrayed as relatively selfish, ambitious individuals, who dream about a better life and have different ideas about how to use the insurance money. Despite their contrasting personalities and dreams, Walter and Beneatha both have lofty goals of climbing the social ladder and bettering themselves. Both siblings do not want to remain in the small apartment and continue living mundane lives. They both demonstrate their selfish personalities by dismissing each other's goals and focusing on their own dreams. Walter and Beneatha are both portrayed as complex individuals, who lack direction in their lives. Beneatha is continually changing her mind about school, hobbies, and men, while Walter jumps to conclusions and attempts to realizes his grandiose plans without working out the exact details. Walter and Beneatha both refuse to conform to society's expectations and challenge their destinies by having big dreams.

Despite their many similarities, Walter and Beneatha have drastically different character traits. Beneatha is an educated, cultured woman, while Walter is depicted as an ignorant, bitter man. Beneatha dreams of becoming a doctor, which is a respectable, altruistic occupation, while her brother dreams of owning a liquor store. Beneatha also challenges the social conventions of the day by going to college to be a doctor, while Walter believes that she should have a more traditional female occupation.

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These two characters work nicely for both comparison and contrast. They share many commonalities yet are also very different people in the play. 

Beginning with similarities that connect Walter and Beneatha, we can look at the individual thrust that each maintains through the majority of the play. 

Pressed by difficult circumstances into a rather desperate relationship with dignity, both Walter and Beneatha feel that they must do something to distinguish themselves and to attain a dignity and self-respect.

For Beneatha, this leads to dreams of becoming a doctor (at significant financial expense) and to thoughts of marrying Asagai (to adopt a Pan-African pride of identity). 

For Walter, the need for dignity makes him want to quit his job as a chauffeur and open a liquor store; to take control of his financial destiny. 

...he expresses his longing for a more independent life and a career beyond that of chauffeur for a white man...

Beneatha and Walter discover that pursuing dignity in these ways, while potentially successful, implies an individuation that separates them from their family identity. It is this family identity that finally unites brother and sister and the whole family (when they decide to move into the new house). 

Looking at the differences between the two characters, we can see that they approach the idea of culture quite differently. Walter strives to succeed within his cultural paradigm, joining with friends to open yet another neighborhood liquor store. Beneatha takes the opposite approach, seeking ways out of and beyond the culture in which she was raised. 

She rejects Murchison, the figure who courts her that best represents her own cultural background. 

He claims to have no interest in African culture and is exactly the opposite of the idealist Joseph Asagai.

In her rejection of her culture, Beneatha comes into direct conflict with Mama, something that Walter avoids.

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