In A Raisin in the Sun, how do power and authority change hands over the course of the play?
Initially, Lena Younger has the authority, being that she is the head of the household and owner of the insurance check. While Lena dreams of moving out of their small, dingy apartment on the south side of Chicago, Walter Jr. and Beneatha have their own dreams about how to spend the money. Walter Jr. dreams of using the money from the insurance check to invest in a liquor business, which is something that Lena does not support. When Lena refuses to give Walter the money to invest in his dreams, he becomes depressed and begins to drink excessively.
Seeing her son's terrible condition and negative reaction, Lena shows sympathy for Walter by giving him sixty-five hundred dollars to invest in his business and fund Beneatha's dream of enrolling in college. At this moment in the play, Walter gains power and attains authority throughout the household. Unfortunately, Walter loses the money after one of his business partners runs off with it, leaving him broke and hopeless.
When Walter Jr. loses the money, he loses the power and authority throughout the household. Walter then decides to call Mr. Lindner to sell the family's new home in the white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. Before Walter Jr. goes to sign the home over to Mr. Lindner, Lena uses her authority to guilt Walter into making the morally upright decision. Lena tells her son in act 3,
"No. Travis, you stay right here. And you make him understand what you doing, Walter Lee. You teach him good. Like Willy Harris taught you. You show where our five generations done come to."
Walter is then left to make the difficult decision to either sell or keep the home. At this moment in the play, Walter Jr. has the power and authority to decide the family's destiny. Walter then display his integrity by making the honorable decision to keep the home in Clybourne Park.
This is an excellent question. As you go through the play, it is clear that by the end of the play the major shift of power that has occurred has been the transfer from the matriarchal Mama to her son, Walter. Note how at the beginning of the play Walter tries to do everything he can to persuade Mama to give him the money from his father's insurance cheque to invest in a liquor business. However, at the end of Act One, it is clear who is the real head of the family according to Walter:
What you want me to say you done right for? You the head of the family. You run our lives like you want to. It was your money and you did what you wanted with it. So what you need for me to say it was all right for?
However, perhaps because of this speech and the way that Walter feels Mama has "butchered his dreams," in Act Two Mama has a change of heart, placing him in charge of the rest of the money and giving him the headship of the family:
And from now on any penny that come out of it or that go in it is for you to look after. For you to decide... It ain't much, but it's all I got in the world and I'm putting it in your hands. I'm telling you to be the heard of this family from now on like you supposed to be.
Of course, as the rest of the play goes on to show, this was perhaps not the wisest of decisions, as Walter is quick to lose the money. However, ironically, this gives him the chance to assert his authority at the end when he refuses the cash-offer from Lindner to not move into their new house.