Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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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?

In A Raisin in the Sun, the idea of the American Dream differs for Beneatha, Walter, and Mama because of their individual personalities as well as their gender, age, marital status, and family position.

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A Raisin in the Sun presents three generations of the Younger family, whose visions of success vary according to personal differences among individuals as well as characteristics associated with social categories. Lena Younger, usually referred to as Mama, is a widow and the family matriarch. Beneatha and Walter are siblings, but Beneatha is fifteen years younger than her brother, so she can be considered part of a different generation. The siblings are similarly headstrong and highly motivated, but their goals differ. Their mother is primarily invested in her ability to help the other family members succeed.

The twenty-year-old Beneatha is an extroverted, highly curious person who has benefited from being the younger child in a loving, supportive family. In pursuing education and self-development, she has resisted long-term commitment such as marriage and parenthood. Coming of age in the post–World War II era and the early years of nationwide Civil Rights activism has helped her gain confidence that she can succeed in medicine, a career path that was formerly out of reach for African American people, especially women.

Walter married fairly young, and by age twenty-five, he was already a father. His idea of the American Dream is ambitious but conventional: he wants to switch from working for someone else to being his own boss as a business owner. Walter’s impulsive personality combined with frustration in achieving his goal unfortunately makes him reckless. He both rationalizes his own unethical behavior and is victimized by a friend before he finally takes a courageous stand.

Lena’s dream of helping her children, grandson, and future, unborn grandchild is consistent with her generous, caring personality. Her family orientation also matches with the goals encouraged among women of her generation. The tangible marker of her dream is the house that she and Walter Sr. had hoped to buy. Her strength to carry on alone after her husband’s death is also evident, as she ultimately succeeds in purchasing a home for the family.

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Each character in the Younger family has different ideas of what the American Dream is and plans on spending the insurance money to accomplish their individual dreams. Lena Younger's idea of the American Dream involves having her family together in a safe, comfortable environment. She does not necessarily have any dreams of her own and mentions that she would even donate the check to her church. Lena's foremost concern is the well-being of her children. However, Lena decides to put a down payment on a house in Clybourne Park, which is a white neighborhood. She is motivated to put her family in a better position with improved living conditions.

Beneatha's idea of the American Dream involves her going to college to become a doctor. The self-confident, independent woman, selfishly wishes to use the family's insurance money to pay for her schooling.

Walter Lee's idea of the American Dream involves him becoming a wealthy business owner. Walter wishes to use the insurance money to open a liquor store and dreams of...

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providing his family with numerous material possessions. He also wishes to be admired by his peers and seeks the gratification associated with a higher social status. Unfortunately, Walter's business partner steals some of the insurance money. However, Walter redeems himself by courageously refusing to sell the family's home in Clybourne Park.

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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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