In A Raisin in the Sun, what are the greatest strains on Walter and Ruth's marriage?
There are at least two major strains on Walter Jr.'s and Ruth's marriage. The first is financial. Walter Jr. and Ruth live on the border between working-class status and poverty, with both of them toiling long hours in the employ of wealthy families (Walter Jr. as a chauffeur and Ruth as a domestic worker). They fight about the usual stresses that money places on a relationship, like whether they can afford to give their son cab money when he is running late to school and whether Walter Jr. can afford to drink at the local bar with friends. More importantly, their financial strain makes Ruth decide to abort her pregnancy after she determines that they can't afford another child. Walter Jr. is less frugal, and he does not agree that an abortion is necessary. He also takes Ruth's decision as a personal attack on his manhood and capability to provide for his family, which causes them to fight.
Walter Jr. and Ruth also have very different outlooks on life, which causes tension. Walter Jr. is a dreamer—he is constantly hatching schemes to become a small business owner and dreams of providing his family with security, wealth, and social status. Ruth is more realistic, thinking of small ways to economize so that their family can make their money last from one day to the next. Walter Jr. takes offense at Ruth's inability or unwillingness to entertain his dreams of wealth. When Ruth casts doubt on the viability of his get-rich-quick schemes, he seems to take it as an insult to his manhood. Meanwhile, Ruth views Walter Jr.'s constant dreaming as irresponsible and is annoyed that he doesn't help her share the burdens of daily life.
Walter and Ruth Younger face a number of different pressures in their marriage, however the most important strain is that of the inexorable grind of poverty and how this does not match Walter's dream for himself and his family. Both Walter and Ruth have to work very hard every day just to merely make ends meet. Ruth is very pragmatic about this, and clearly this approach helps her to cope with the various setbacks and problems they face. Walter, however, always has a dream of being able to gain wealth and find some way of becoming more affluent. Note what he says to Travis:
You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction... a business transaction that’s going to change our lives... That’s how come one day when you ‘bout seventeen years old I’ll come home... I’ll pull the car up on the driveway... just a plain black Chrysler, I think, with white walls—no—black tires... the gardener will be clipping away at the hedges and he’ll say, “Good evening, Mr. Younger.” And I’ll say, “Hello, Jefferson, how are you this evening?”
Walter dreams of a world were he can enjoy the same kind of material prosperity that he sees whites enjoying all around him. This is of course something that creates significant tension, especially when Mama receives the life insurance money and Walter tries to get Ruth to help him persuade Mama to give him the money so he can set up a liquor business. It is Walter's dream based in the context of unrelenting poverty of the Younger family that therefore is the biggest tension.
There are several significant strains on Walter and Ruth's relationship throughout the play. One could argue that the biggest obstacle the couple faces is their financial difficulties. Walter and Ruth are tired of living in a cramped apartment, which is too small to accommodate their entire family. Walter's job as a chauffeur does not provide him with enough money to escape his current situation and improve his family's standard of living, which is why he continually dreams about entering the liquor business and becoming financially secure. Walter and Ruth's financial struggles also impact Ruth's decision to have an abortion. Ruth is reluctant to have another child, because she understands that another child will only make their financial situation worse. In addition to their financial problems, Walter Jr. feels that his wife does not support his dreams. Walter feels that Ruth refuses to listen to him and does not take him seriously, which creates more tension in their relationship. Walter also transfers his own personal feelings of inadequacy onto his wife. Overall, Walter and Ruth's marital problems stem from their financial struggles and Walter's self-esteem issues.