What are the generational differences between Mama, Beneatha, and Walter?
Lena Younger is in her sixties and is the head of the household. She is a conservative Christian who fails to understand and connect with her children on certain levels. Lena is disturbed at her daughter's atheist views and motivation to become a doctor. She refuses to allow Beneatha to use the Lord's name in vain and blaspheme God under her roof. Lena also doesn't understand Beneatha's affinity for African heritage. Lena fails to see Walter Jr.'s dream and cannot understand his fascination with becoming wealthy. Lena associates masculinity with hard work and integrity, which is opposite of how her son views manhood.
Walter, who is in his thirties, has an entrepreneurial spirit and dreams of one day running a successful business. He is not concerned about how others perceive him and is willing to take extreme measures to meet his goals. Wealth and financial security are Walter's priorities. In regards to integrity and character, Walter fails to demonstrate these positive traits for the majority of the play and is portrayed as insensitive and selfish. This generational disconnect between his ideas and personality and his mother's interests leads to conflict throughout the play. Walter also disapproves of Beneatha's dream of becoming a doctor and believes a woman's role is to support her husband.
Beneatha, who is in her twenties, is the youngest of the three characters. She is an educated, independent woman who challenges social norms by going to school to be a doctor. She is more concerned with discovering her own identity than appeasing the men in her life. She is relatively flighty but has strong views on gender roles, heritage, and religion. Beneatha's generational disconnect between Lena and Walter also leads to conflict throughout the play. Beneatha's mother and brother do not support her dream of becoming a doctor, and her mother disagrees with her atheist beliefs.
In Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, family members Mama, Beneatha, and Walter voice generational differences over religion and gender identity. These differences lead to disagreement and conflict among the three.
Mama, in her sixties, is conservative, family-oriented, and devoutly religious. She values religious piety and holds strong to a traditional Protestant belief system. Her son, thirty-two year-old Walter, is utterly unconcerned with religious affairs. His primary motivation in life is to acquire wealth and become the breadwinner of the family. While Walter does not feel antagonized by his mother's religious fervor, neither does he share it. Walter's younger sister Beneatha on the other hand, stands sharply against her mother by expressing atheist views and showing open resentment toward religion. Young Beneatha, in her twenties, fashions herself a budding Afro-centric intellectual. Her politics involve a flat repudiation of religious dogma. Mama, Walter, and Beneatha experience a great deal of conflict over their differing religious orientations.
The three also understand gender and gender roles differently. For Mama, masculinity means hard work and sacrifice. She doesn't associate wealth with masculinity. For Mama, it's character traits -- perseverance, diligence, and patience, for example -- that define a "true man." For Walter however, manhood is intimately connected to wealth. Walter views poverty as essentially emasculating. His impatience; his willingness to take big risks; and his desire for a life of luxury, are sources of confusion and sadness for Mama. Beneatha, for her part, subverts gender expectations with ambitions of becoming a doctor; a profession both Mama and Walter feel is ureachable and unrealistic for a woman of color.