Describe the idea of the American Dream in "A Raisin in the Sun". How does that dream differ from Beneatha to Walter to Mama? Why?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Good question. When the play opens, The American Dream differs for each member of the Younger family because each one has different dreams forged from their life experiences.However, by the end of the play, all three characters see the American Dream as keeping the family together and having the self-respect to stand up for one another.

For Mama, success means keeping the family together and having a safe place to live. Mama, of course, is older than her children, and has experienced more losses in his life--the death of a baby, the inability to move up the social ladder because of race, and finally, the death of "Big Walter". She has come to realize that the only real success in life can come from her family. She has also come to believe that her ways are the best ways. Because of this, she has kept control of the family. She expresses this control when Beneatha says "There is no God" and Mama forces her to recant. She also is unwilling to invest in a liquor store, even though she knows it will fulfill her son's dream. When threatened with the loss of her family, she gives control of the remaining money and the family's future to Walter. Although Walter stumbles at first, he finally becomes the type of man she wants him to be.

One the other hand, Walter's dreams have been forged largely because he sees himself as a failure. He is married and has a child, yet he still lives with his mother and sister. He sees his mother and his wife ignoring his pleas to try to become independent. However, after losing the money for the liquor store, he learns how to really be independent when he turns down Mr. Linder's offer. He discovers that the American dream also revolves around self-respect and family.

Beneatha's dreams at first seem rather lofty and admirable. She wants to be a doctor, something rare for an African American woman of her time. However, at the beginning of the play, she is so wrapped up in her own dreams that she fails to see the needs of others. When Ruth announces she is pregnant, Beneatha's only question is "Where will he[ the baby] sleep?" She is filled with self-pity after Walter loses the money for her education. It takes an outsider, Joseph Asagai, to remind her that the money was never hers to begin with. With that reminder, and with Asagai's proposal, Beneatha begins to realize that her success may not depend upon some kind of outward achievement but with her future with Asagai. Like Mama and Walter, she, too, begins to see the value of family and the importance of keeping her family together. 

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