Describe the relationship between Mama and Walter in A Raisin in the Sun.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mama is from the generation that has worked to make a better life for the next generation. Mr. Younger's life has been marked by arduous toil; his death and the $10,000 insurance money provides his promise of affording his children a better life. Nevertheless, Mama wants to be prudent in dispensing with this hard-earned money, and she does not easily agree with other members of the family on how it should be spent. Walter Lee, who works as a chauffeur, dreams of being an entrepreneur; he desires are in the direction of owning his own business, specifically a liquor store; moreover, he is selfish in his expectations that Mama should primarily consider his goals. 

In Act I, Walter Lee knows that his practical mother will not want to give him the insurance money for his business plans, so he suggests to his wife that she

...just sip your coffee, see, and say easy like you been thinking 'bout that deal Walter Lee so interested in, 'bout the store and all, and sip more coffee, like what you saying ain't really that important to you--and the next thing you know, she be listening good and asking you questions and when I come hone--I can tell her the details.... 

Mama's response to Walter's ideas are "We ain't no business people...We just plain working folks." Furthermore, she is against the idea of a liquor store. She wants to use the money to move the family out of the inner city into a nice house. And, she intends to save some for her daughter Beneatha's medical school. When her daughter-in-law Ruth suggests that she take a European trip, the practical Mama laughs. Instead, she expresses concern that Beneatha has rejected God and Walter is obsessed with money: "...something come down onto me and them." Believing that moving them out of the slums is the most important thing to do, she puts a down payment upon a house outside the city. When he learns of this plan, Walter is angered that his mother has crushed his dreams.

Later, Mama learns that Walter has been missing work, so she has a serious talk with her son and gives him an envelop with $6500 in it, telling him to reserve $3000 for Beneatha and put it all in the bank. "I've helped do it to you haven't I , son? Walter, I been wrong," she tells him in response to the knowledge that Walter has no more motivations. She realizes his "dreams deferred" have cost him his drive to better himself as he has staying in bars and drinking. So. she explains to her son that everything she has ever done is for her children, so she wants him to have the money. Truly, Walter is moved by her confidence and trust in him.

Unfortunately, he foolishly trusts his friend Willy with the money and the man absconds with it. Of course, Mama is enraged when she hears this and further learns that Willy has not opened any checking account as she instructed him. So, in order to recoup his loss, Will says that he will call back Mr. Lindner from the new neighborhood who offers to buy them out so that they will not move into the white subdivision. Now, the family is disgusted with Walter Lee for his surrender to Mr. Lindner. But, before the man comes, Mama tells him,

I come from five generations....of slaves and sharecroppers, but ain't nobody in my family never let nobody pay 'em no money tht was a way of telling us we wasn't fit to walk the earth. We ain't never been that--dead inside.

This message reaches Walter Lee and when Mr. Lindner arrives, Walter, as the man of the family, refuses the offer. telling the man that his family does not intend to cause trouble. With this, the others heave a sigh of relief and Mama is proud of her son. Moving day comes and Mama gathers her frail plant and departs for the final time. 

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A Raisin in the Sun

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