Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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In A Raisin in the Sun, who in the play is a static or dynamic character and why?

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In A Raisin in the Sun, Lena is a dynamic character. Lena’s actions constantly change and surprise the audience because she continues to reveal her strength and compassion. For example, Lena initially swears she won’t give Walter money for his store, but she eventually does upon seeing how much he wants a chance. She also is typically calm and patient but slaps Beneatha when Beneatha questions God. Ultimately Lena reveals many complex sides to her personality.

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There are many dynamic characters in A Raisin in the Sun, but one of the most notable is Lena Younger, the Younger family’s matriarch. Lena expresses care and compassion for all members of her family, yet all of her family members are radically different people. This means that Lena has a lot on her plate and is constantly doing different things for different people in her life. What makes Lena dynamic is unique because while the audience sees her behavior change, it is suggested that she is instead gradually revealing traits she’s always possessed rather than developing new traits.

One of Lena’s most initially surprising actions is when she gives her son Walter Lee money to invest in his dream of a liquor store. This is a surprising action at first because Lena states early on that she will not be investing in the liquor store, a belief reinforced by other characters like Beneatha. Yet eventually Lena sees her son struggling with drinking and depression because of how badly he wants his dream. This motivates her to decide to give him a chance. As the audience learns more about Lena and her devotion to her children, this action seems a bit less surprising. Lena always puts her family’s needs first.

While Lena is consistently selfless and compassionate, there are several striking moments throughout the play that remind the audience of her strength, individuality, and dedication to her beliefs. For example, consider how Lena reacts when her daughter Beneatha says that she does not believe in God. Lena slaps Beneatha and walks away from the confrontation with what the stage directions describe as a “triumphant posture” (51). The audience may be taken aback by Lena’s use of force here, as her behavior contrasts the way she is typically patient and calmly listens to her family. But here Hansberry reminds the audience that while Lena loves her family, she loves herself as well. Lena is strong-willed and will stick to what she believes in no matter what. This is also reflected in her continued determination to move to Clybourne Park even in the face of adversity.

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The main characters in A Raisin in the Sun all undergo some changes, but the minor characters are largely static.

Walter, Ruth, Mama (Lena), and Beneatha all change in certain ways. They are dynamic characters in that regard, although this is not always obvious at various points in the action.

Walter, although an adult man, married, and a father, seems immature through most of the play. He is so fixated on achieving his personal goals that he forgets his role in the family, and allows his frustration to come out in anger and disrespect to his wife and mother. At the end, after he realizes he has set himself up to be robbed, and then supports the move to the house, it seems like he will turn a corner and become a mature adult.

Ruth also changes in her attitude toward family and their situation. Early in the play, she is so despondent over their poverty and lack of opportunities that she contemplates having an abortion. The good news of their move to a lovely home helps her focus on a positive future.

Mama, almost a stereotype for most of the play, turns out to be very dynamic. She is the one who takes the bold plunge to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood, where they will be pioneers in integrating. This step seems out of character, but viewers are left suspecting she had previously hidden many of her personal inner resources.

Beneatha also changes in that she is first involved with George, a conventional but dull young man, but pushes him away when she realizes how he is patronizing her because she is female. We are left not knowing where her new interest in African cultures, symbolized by Asagai and by her cutting her hair into a natural, will take her.

George and Asagai function largely as generic boyfriends, two opposite types with whom Beneatha can interact. Travis is a typical young boy and is not seen changing. Walter's friend Bobo, who figures in the action largely as a messenger, is also flat.

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There are certainly a number of different characters you could choose to examine in this great play, however, for me, one of the characters that most clearly represents a dynamic character, is Walter. When we first meet Walter, we are presented with a man who is consumed by dreams of having a better life. He desires to invest the money from his father's insurance in a liquor store and to make money by his own efforts. He constantly refers to his idea and how money can be made through starting a business:

Charlie Atkins was just a "good for nothing loudmouth" too, wasn't he! When he wanted me to go in the dry-cleaning business with him. And now- he's grossing a hundred thousand a year. A hundred thousand dollars a year! You still call him a loudmouth!

He is therefore a man obsessed by the tantalising prospect of the "easy win," a way of making money on his own terms that will bring him and his family prosperity. However, when his mother gives him a chance to do exactly what he wants to do, it ends in tragedy, as his partner runs away with the money. However, although he appears defeated, deflated and hopeless, it is precisely at this point that he has a chance to assert himself as an adult and leader of the family, for he is able to resist the temptation to give in to Karl Linder and rejects the cash offer for his family not to move into the neighbourhood where their new house is:

And we have decided to move into our house because my father - my father - he earned it for us brick by brick. We don't want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbours. And that's all we got to say about that.

By making this choice on behalf of his family, Walter shows his maturity from an adult who always hankers after impossible dreams to a man who is willing to take responsibility for his actions and decisions in life, proving him to be a dynamic character.

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