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A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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What is the relationship between Walter and Beneatha in A Raisin in the Sun?

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In the Younger family, Walter Jr. and Beneatha (Bennie) are siblings; he is her older brother. Both are adults: he is 35 and she is 20. As the only two children in the family, they are very close in some ways, but the large age difference contributes to a growing gap between them.

Walter’s situation is very different from hers because he married young, and he and his wife, Ruth, quickly had a son, Travis, who is 10 years younger than his aunt. In many ways, Walter treats Beneatha like his daughter more than his sister. Only some of this paternalism relates to age, with more of it inhering in his deeply held gender biases.

The stressful living situation in which all five family members co-exist, combined with their disagreements about the proper use of the late Walter Sr.’s life insurance, support the conflictual atmosphere that dominates much of the play. The genuine affection between the siblings and the light-hearted side of their interactions is shown in Act II, Scene 1, when they dance together to African music and joke about Walter being an African warrior.

Age and situation contribute to the ways the siblings each other: Beneatha clearly sees what her brother has done so far and judges him as an under-achiever. She has limited sympathy for his short-sighted attitudes. Walter, accustomed to seeing his sister as a child, does not appreciate her potential.

The significance of the age gap also includes the different eras in which they grew up: Walter was a child during the Depression, which has contributed to his focus on financial success. Beneatha is a baby boomer, born after World War Two, when fewer restrictions were placed on African Americans. She has experimented with a number of career paths, finally settling on medicine. In Walter’s traditional, sexist view, she should aim only to become a nurse, not a doctor.

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Walter Jr. and Beneatha have a tense, complex relationship throughout Hansberry's classic play A Raisin in the Sun. Walter Jr. and Beneatha are both portrayed as independent dreamers who are outspoken, brash, and determined. They are also extremely stubborn, self-centered individuals with significantly different goals and areas of focus. Walter Jr. is a desperate husband who wishes to become a successful businessman by using his mother's insurance money to invest in a liquor store. In contrast, Beneatha is an educated young woman who wishes to become a doctor.

Neither sibling supports each other's goals, and their stubborn, selfish personalities cause them to bump heads and continually argue. Walter Jr. believes that Beneatha should simply become a nurse or get married while Beneatha believes that his dream of becoming a businessman is ridiculous. She also severely criticizes her brother for losing the bulk of their mother's insurance money. Walter Jr. also subscribes to the idea of the American Dream while Beneatha desires to connect with her African roots.

Overall, one could define Walter Jr. and Beneatha's relationship as tense and complex. While they genuinely care about each other and have similar personalities, they continually argue and cannot see eye-to-eye.

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Walter and Beneatha do not get along for several reasons. They disagree about how Mama will use the insurance money she is about to receive. Beneatha tells Walter, "That money belongs to Mama, Walter, and it's for her to decide how she wants to use it" (page 36). Walter believes Beneatha covets Mama's money for medical school, while Walter wants to buy a liquor store with the money. It's also clear that Walter resents Beneatha because he has to work while she's at school. 

Walter and Beneatha have very difficult values and goals. While Beneatha wants to be a doctor, Walter believes that women should stick to traditional gender roles. He says to her:

"Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy 'bout messing 'round with sick people--then go be a nurse like other women--or just get married and be quiet..." (page 38).

Beneatha thinks that Walter sells out to white people when he agrees to give up the idea of moving to a new, white neighborhood in exchange for money. She says, "Where is the real honest-to-God bottom so he can't go any farther!" (page 142). Walter, on the other hand, does not at first appear to believe in Beneatha's fight for African-American rights and says, "There ain't no causes--there ain't nothing but taking in this world" (page 143). Walter seems to believe only in money, but, in the end, he refuses to take the white man's money and decides to pursue moving to the white neighborhood. In the end, he and Beneatha both want to advance African-American rights and to stand up for themselves and their family. 

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Walter and Beneatha have a strained relationship. They quarrel constantly. Walter is upset that his mother wants to give Beneatha college money to become a doctor. He thinks Beneatha is dreaming and should have more realistic goals.

Beneatha feels that Walter is a loser. She does not respect him. She does not understand him. Even though she is his sister, they are totally opposites. Beneatha has extreme goals and high expectations. She is determined to be a doctor.

Walter belittles Beneatha's dream. He tells her to consider being a nurse, but not a doctor. He thinks he is being realistic, living in a white man's world.

At the same time, Walter has a dream of becoming a businessman. Beneatha does not support Walter in his dream. She also thinks he is not the business type.

Beneatha thinks Walter hangs around the wrong crowd. His friends are men such as Bobo and Willy Harris. Beneatha does feel she is superior to Walter in her dreams. She does not see how much Walter is hurting.

Mama points this out to Beneatha. She tells her she should love Walter more because he is hurting, feeling lost in a white man's world.

By the end of the story, Walter comes into his manhood and tells the white welcoming committee that they are indeed moving into the white neighborhood. Finally, Beneatha respects Walter for standing his ground and, for once, making the right decision.

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