In the play A Raisin in the Sun, what values does Mama instill in her children? Do they live up to them? why or why not?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Mama has always tried to instill in her children the importance of family and one's dignity as a human being. In the first act of A Raisin in the Sun, however, there is much conflict within Walter's family and between him and his sister Beneatha, as well as with his mother. As the matriarch of the family, however, Mama perseveres in holding her family together in love, prevailing upon them in different ways so that they finally realize the truth of her message. In the end, then, the second generation of the Younger family does come together in loyalty to their mother and siblings and their human dignity.

Set in the 1950's; the play begins shortly before the life insurance money arrives after the death of Mr. Younger, and Mama holds a check for the considerable sum of $10,000. With this money she wishes to purchase a larger and newer home for herself and her family as the tenement they are in is far too small and certainly time-worn. But, Walter entertains hopes of purchasing a liquor store which could bring profits on this investment so that they might, then, have a new home and more; as a result, he would grow in importance as the man of the family. "Money is life," he tells his mother. Mama immediately criticizes his remark, telling him, "You something new, boy." 

“Once upon a time freedom used to be life. . . . In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too.”

His younger sister, Beneatha is even more selfish, desiring the money for medical school. Mama continues to stress what they should value,

"Beneatha talking 'bout things we ain't never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy. You ain't satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don't have to ride to work on the back of nobody's streetcar. You my children but how different we done become. (1.2.)

Mama also encourages Walter to be a man and honor his father's memory as a man who loved all children by begging his wife not to abort their baby. But, Walter's obsession with material wealth as a means to manhood deters him.

Later, Mama gives in to Walter because he drinks all the time and is despondent over the deferral of his dream; she hands him part of the money so that he can invest in his liquor store. With great faith, she gives Walter an opportunity to prove himself. However, he loses out because the man to whom he and his friend have entrusted their money has absconded with it. Walter has failed his family; he has squandered the money his father "nearly worked himself to death over" and lost the $3,000. that was for Beneatha's education.

While Beneatha is bitter about Walter's having lost the money for her education, her Nigerian boyfriend, Asagi, asks her whose money it really was; he emphasizes that they can have a future together and she can pursue goals in another place. Telling her that progress often has starts and stops, he encourages Beneatha to hold on to her dream. Mama, too, encourages Beneatha to not belittle her brother Walter, but to show him love while he is

“at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so!”

In order to redeem himself, Walter then decides to let the community buy back the house on which his mother has made a down payment. But as he talks about his father and family, Walter regains his dignity, telling Mr. Lindner, they have changed their minds about taking back their money on the house. Thus, Walter reasserts himself as “head of this family from now on like you supposed to be” as Mama has told him.

Then, in their move to the new house, the members all unite in familial love. With more room and a better environment, Ruth decides to keep the baby, Travis has a better environment in which to play and grow, and Walter becomes more engaged with his family. Mama is given garden tools and her plant, which sat in a lonely tenement window, will now have plenty of sunshine. They all truly know the value of family.

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