Who makes all the major decisions in the  family?

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cneukam1379 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The role of decision-maker is all-important in A Raisin in the Sun. Typically, in a traditional family, the head of the household is the man. The reader knows at the beginning of the play that Mama's husband, Big Walter, has recently died.  Traditionally, he would have been the head of the household, which also includes brother and sister, Walter Lee and Beneatha, respectively.  Because Walter Lee is the next oldest male, he should have been the decision maker, but therein lies the conflict of the play.

Decisions in the household are actually made by Mama throughout most of the play.  The question of how to spend the $10,000 life insurance check is the key conflict because the major characters want to spend the money in different ways: Beneatha wants to pay for her medical school, Walter Lee wants to invest in a liquor store business with his friends, Mama wants a house, and Ruth just wants her family to be whole again.  

When the family discovers that Ruth is expecting another child, that plot twist pushes Mama to make the decision to put a down payment on a house, thinking that a house will solve all the issues in the family. However, by taking that decision out of Walter Lee's hands, who should have been the head of household, she has taken away his power. When Mama decides in Act II to give that power back to Walter Lee, giving him the rest of the money to do with it what he wishes, he shows that he is not capable of making decisions for the family--instead of giving some money for Beneatha's schooling and keeping some for his liquor store, he instead gives all the money to his friend Willy, who disappears with it instead of investing it.  

At this point in the play, Mama could have taken the role of decision-maker away from Walter Lee.  However, she gives him another chance. When Walter Lee wants to recant the down payment on the house in order to salvage some of the life insurance money, when he wants to give in to the white pressure of the Neighborhood Association, Mama forces him to confront his son, Travis, and look him in the eye.  It is this pivotal moment where Walter Lee earns the right to be the head of the household.  Instead of giving into the demands of the discrimination facing him and his family, Walter Lee stands tall and declares that the family will indeed move into their new house.  That house is a symbol of the family coming together again as a unit, and they get behind Walter Lee in his decision.

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A Raisin in the Sun

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