What are the generational differences between Mama, Beneatha, and Walter?

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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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. 

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