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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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In A Raisin in the Sun, explain George's reference to Prometheus. How does this fit Walter's character?

In A Raisin in the Sun, George calls Walter “Prometheus” after Walter bitterly claims to be a giant and complains that no one is with him. George recalls that Prometheus was a Titan in Greek mythology who, after stealing fire from the other gods, was bound to a stake and subject to an eagle forever eating his liver. George can tell that something is “eating” Walter and that Walter is becoming isolated and resentful.

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In ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan god of fire who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. As punishment for his crime, Prometheus was chained to a rock where his liver was pecked out by an eagle every day before growing back overnight.

In A Raisin in the Sun, Walter Younger likes to think of himself as a giant. He has big dreams of making it as a businessman, and yet no one else supports him in his ambitions, least of all his wife, Ruth, who shows zero enthusiasm for his plans.

It's no wonder, then, that Walter, a man who thinks very highly of himself, should compare himself to a giant. Giants are tall and powerful, but it can get awfully lonely up there, with the clouds swirling around your head. That's just how Walter feels, frustrated as he is that no one's prepared to share his ambitions.

George is on hand to deflate Walter's ambitions and take him down a peg or two. He compares him to Prometheus, by which he means that Walter's ambitions, like those of the Titan, are liable to have dangerous consequences. Walter may not end up having his liver eaten by an eagle, but there's a very real danger that he will come to grief through his planned business endeavors.

George's reference to Prometheus also refers to the fact that Walter's being eaten up by his frustrations of being a giant surrounded by ants, just like Prometheus's liver was eaten by Zeus's eagle each and every day.

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In act 2, scene 1 of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, George Murchison has arrived at the Younger home to take Beneatha to a play. While he is waiting for Beneatha to get ready, George is accosted by Walter, who insults him about his shoes, his father's investments, and his college courses. Walter is actually coming on pretty strong, and George calls him out for his bitterness.

Walter's response is obscene and definitely bitter, for he highly resents George's success. “Bitter?” Walter says, “Man, I'm a volcano. Bitter? Here I am a giant—surrounded by ants! Ants who can't even understand what it is the giant is talking about.” He is on the verge of violence, and he maintains that no one is with him; no one supports him, not even his own mother.

George bites his tongue and says nothing until he is ready to leave with Beneatha. Then he sarcastically addresses Walter with “Good night, Prometheus.” Walter has no idea what he means, but George is deliberate in his insult. He is referring to Greek Titan Prometheus who stole fire from the other gods to give to human beings. As his punishment, Prometheus was bound to a stake, and an eagle forever feeds upon his liver.

Apparently, Walter's claim to be a “giant” triggers the idea of Prometheus in George's mind, but also, something is clearly “eating at” Walter, and George can tell that. Walter is ranting bitterly and making little sense. He is jealous of George and deep down wants what the other man has (like Prometheus wanted the fire) even though he would never admit it. Further, Walter feels cut off from everyone, alone in the world even among his family members who cannot understand his dream. In George's mind, he is much like the lone giant Prometheus, forever consumed by his bitterness.

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As was mentioned in the previous post, Walter criticizes George for his attire and education before George takes Beneatha on a date. As George is leaving, he says, "Good night, Prometheus!" (Hansberry, 88). Prometheus was the god who created man and stole fire from Mt. Olympus to give to mankind. Prometheus was later punished by Zeus for giving mankind fire and was chained to Mt. Caucasus, where an eagle would eat his liver daily for eternity. However, Hercules ends up killing the eagle and freeing Prometheus from his eternal punishment.

Walter shares several similarities with Prometheus. Both characters are considered creative individuals that follow through with their unpopular plans. Both Walter and Prometheus suffer throughout their lives and are punished for the decisions they've made. Walter is a conflicted individual who becomes extremely depressed and dejected after one of his business associates steals the money that was set aside to open Walter's liquor store. Also, Walter continually drinks alcohol throughout the play, which is ruining his liver. Similarly, Prometheus's punishment is to have his liver eaten each day by Zeus's eagle. Walter and Prometheus are also both relieved of their long suffering. Hercules eventually frees Prometheus, and Walter maintains his integrity by refusing to sell the home to Mr. Lindner.

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George Murchinson and Walter have just had a discussion about Walter's dream. Walter makes snide remarks to George about his white shoes and college prep style. Walter is a bitter black man who feels he has never had a break in life. Of course, Walter has just come home drinking and George is sitting on the couch waiting for his date with Beneatha.

Walter begins taking out his frustrations on George. George maintains a calm and collected attitude. After Walter has fussed and cussed and said what he wanted to say to George, he retires for the evening. After Walter is out of earshot, George says "Good night, Prometheus." Prometheus is a character who suffered much but was being punished for foing wrong:

Prometheus, the god who was punished for having brought fire to mortals, was chained to Mt. Caucasus, where his liver was torn out every day by an eagle but grew back each night. Prometheus' suffering lasted for thousands of years — until Hercules killed the eagle and freed Prometheus.

George is more or less being sarcastic and showing off his knowledge. However, Walter's character of having a fiery personality, wrong behavior and much suffering in his life is parallel the character of Prometheus.

George is pedantic, showing off his knowledge, when he says to Walter (after he is safely half-out the door), "Good night, Prometheus."

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