What effects does the $10,000 life insurance check have on the Younger family?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The life insurance check and the financial gain it represents has much in way of effect on the members of the Younger family.  It might deliberate on the part of Hansberry to show how much money influences so many people in so many ways right at the start of the drama.  The opening scene featured predominant discussion of "the check," as if it is a living being.  Hansberry's point here is that in homes where there is economic challenge, the presence of money becomes dominating, almost suffocating to the point where an object like money occupies more importance than people.  The different characters in the first scene all feature different effects that money has on them.  For Walter, the check is an immediate opportunity to pursue his dream or "get rich quick."  It is a way out, a dream worthy of pursuit that is not understood by anyone, including his wife.  For Ruth, the money is a potential path to respectability and something long term, the diametric opposite of what her husband has in mind.  In this, the effect of money is to inspire bickering and mistrust between both.  One gets the effect that their exchange in the first scene regarding the money is not trivial or light, but rather substantive and reflective in a growing and underlying fault in their relationship.  For Beneatha, the money is a reflection of her own dreams and the fact that her aspirations outstrips anyone else's in the family, justifying the need for the check to move towards her domain.  In this, a collision between the temporal nature of dreams and money's effect on this is reflected in both brother and sister.  I think that Mama's reaction to the check is a reflection of past, present, and future.  She understands that the money is embodiment of her husband, the last item she has of him.  She also understands that her family is at a critical point and that money and its desire for it is helping to drive her family into a precarious position.  In order to evade her family from going into a moral and spiritual ditch, she begins to grasp the importance of the money.  In this scene, the impact and effects of money ends up underscoring the characterization of each major character in that each character seeks to not become like the rat that Travis traps, sensing that the insurance check is their way out of such a predicament.

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