Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

Start Free Trial

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

Quick answer:

Siblings Walter and Beneatha Younger are similar in that they are both African American, are both living with their mother, and show ambition and concern for others. They differ in terms of their age, gender, and marital status, as well as employment and education. Another important contrast is their attitude toward their mother’s use of her late husband’s insurance money.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun.

The primary similarities between Walter Younger and Beneatha Younger are that these African Americans are siblings who live with their widowed mother in a small apartment in Chicago. Both are ambitious and hardworking and plan to pursue their goals, but both also want to help others.

Among the significant differences are age, gender, marital status, employment status, and education. Walter, who is in his thirties and male, is married and has a ten-year-old son, Travis. He also learns during the course of the play that Ruth, his wife, is pregnant. Walter works full time as a chauffeur. The extent of Walter’s formal education is not stated, but he probably completed high school.

Beneatha, the younger sister, is a twenty-year-old unmarried female. She has been dating an African American man, George. During the course of the play, however, she shows dissatisfaction towards him and is disillusioned with him and her friendship with a Nigerian man, Joseph, is moving toward romantic involvement. She is not employed. Beneatha has clearly finished high school, as she is currently a college student in a premedical track.

The types of dreams they have and the ways they want to help other people are also significantly different. Frustrated with being an employee, Walter considers himself an entrepreneur: he hopes to open his own business in partnership with some friends. He also seems to feel entitled to having a say in how his mother will allocate Walter Senior’s life insurance payment. In terms of helping others, he is focused on his immediate family and shows little larger social conscience.

Beneatha’s ambition to become a doctor is consistent with her interest in the African side of her heritage and in helping society. As the play ends, it seems likely that these interests will influence her answer to Joseph’s suggestion that she move to Nigeria with him. Although the life insurance payment might be applied to her tuition, she does not ask her mother to use it that way and strongly maintains that the decision is her mother’s alone.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun.

Walter and Beneatha both want so much more out of life than they're currently getting. But they choose to remedy that situation by radically different means. Walter is a good deal more impatient than Beneatha; he's always looking for the opportunity to make a fast buck. He sees this as a way—the only way—to transform his family's fortunes. Walter's drinking can also be seen as a method of escape from a world which doesn't give him what he wants.

Beneatha, on the other hand, is much more sensible and level-headed. She initially sees education as a way out of her current predicament and to that end, is prepared to work hard and study over a considerable period of time. Unlike her improvident brother, her focus in life is very much on the long term, whether that means going to medical school or moving to Africa with Asagai.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun.

Walter and Beneatha Younger are both portrayed as relatively selfish, ambitious individuals, who dream about a better life and have different ideas about how to use the insurance money. Despite their contrasting personalities and dreams, Walter and Beneatha both have lofty goals of climbing the social ladder and bettering themselves. Both siblings do not want to remain in the small apartment and continue living mundane lives. They both demonstrate their selfish personalities by dismissing each other's goals and focusing on their own dreams. Walter and Beneatha are both portrayed as complex individuals, who lack direction in their lives. Beneatha is continually changing her mind about school, hobbies, and men, while Walter jumps to conclusions and attempts to realizes his grandiose plans without working out the exact details. Walter and Beneatha both refuse to conform to society's expectations and challenge their destinies by having big dreams.

Despite their many similarities, Walter and Beneatha have drastically different character traits. Beneatha is an educated, cultured woman, while Walter is depicted as an ignorant, bitter man. Beneatha dreams of becoming a doctor, which is a respectable, altruistic occupation, while her brother dreams of owning a liquor store. Beneatha also challenges the social conventions of the day by going to college to be a doctor, while Walter believes that she should have a more traditional female occupation.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun.

These two characters work nicely for both comparison and contrast. They share many commonalities yet are also very different people in the play. 

Beginning with similarities that connect Walter and Beneatha, we can look at the individual thrust that each maintains through the majority of the play. 

Pressed by difficult circumstances into a rather desperate relationship with dignity, both Walter and Beneatha feel that they must do something to distinguish themselves and to attain a dignity and self-respect.

For Beneatha, this leads to dreams of becoming a doctor (at significant financial expense) and to thoughts of marrying Asagai (to adopt a Pan-African pride of identity). 

For Walter, the need for dignity makes him want to quit his job as a chauffeur and open a liquor store; to take control of his financial destiny. 

...he expresses his longing for a more independent life and a career beyond that of chauffeur for a white man...

Beneatha and Walter discover that pursuing dignity in these ways, while potentially successful, implies an individuation that separates them from their family identity. It is this family identity that finally unites brother and sister and the whole family (when they decide to move into the new house). 

Looking at the differences between the two characters, we can see that they approach the idea of culture quite differently. Walter strives to succeed within his cultural paradigm, joining with friends to open yet another neighborhood liquor store. Beneatha takes the opposite approach, seeking ways out of and beyond the culture in which she was raised. 

She rejects Murchison, the figure who courts her that best represents her own cultural background. 

He claims to have no interest in African culture and is exactly the opposite of the idealist Joseph Asagai.

In her rejection of her culture, Beneatha comes into direct conflict with Mama, something that Walter avoids.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast the characters of Walter and Beneatha in A Raisin in the Sun.

Walter and Beneatha Younger are both ambitious dreamers throughout the play and have different ideas of how to spend their mother's insurance money. Both siblings are unique, charismatic, and capricious. Walter experiences highs and lows throughout the play, while Beneatha continually switches her hobbies and cannot determine which boy she wants to date. Both siblings have high aspirations and wish to become successful individuals. Walter believes that he can solve the family's financial problems by investing Lena's money into a liquor business, while Beneatha challenges society's expectations in hopes of becoming a doctor. Walter and Beneatha are both relatively selfish individuals, who dismiss Lena's goals of moving the family out of their tiny apartment in favor of their personal dreams.

Despite their many similarities, Walter and Beneatha have different personalities and abilities. Walter is a controlling, ignorant man, who values traditional roles for women. In contrast, Beneatha is an educated woman, who values independence and challenges the traditional roles of women. Walter is also unhappy with his life and feels like his best days are behind him, while Beneatha looks forward to her future and is relatively upbeat throughout the play. Beneatha is also attracted to traditional African culture, while Walter illustrates his affinity for American ways of life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast the characters of Walter and Beneatha in A Raisin in the Sun.

In Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, the characters of Beneatha and Walter Younger share the traits of being determined and ambitious. Walter, as we discover in Act I, Scene I of the play, wants to improve his family's financial situation by investing in a liquor store. Unsatisfied with his job and his quality of life, Walter dreams of success and the comforts it might bring, and he does so with a desperation that frequently makes him combative. For instance, his interactions with his wife, Ruth, in Act I of Hansberry's play reveal an ongoing conflict: Walter and Ruth have been arguing over money for quite some time (Hansberry, Act I, Scene I).

Similarly, Beneatha Younger is driven and goal-oriented, though her path is not one of business; rather, she pursues education. Beneatha is attending medical school to become a doctor, and by doing so she challenges the restrictions of both race and gender within the context of the play (Hansberry, Act I, Scene I).

In terms of differences, Beneatha spends a good deal of time attempting to understand herself and develop her own interests, which other characters often (gently) poke fun at throughout the play. For instance, we find that she has recently started guitar lessons after abandoning the pursuits of play-acting and horseback-riding (Hansberry, Act I, Scene I). Later, after we meet the character of Asagai, we see that Beneatha takes a keen interest in Nigerian culture, and by doing this, steps closer to elements of her own African-American identity (Hansberry Act I, Scene II). In this regard, Beneatha is a character who recognizes both the importance of pursuing one's interests and the importance of identity.

While Beneatha moves closer to her own identity within the play, Walter initially appears eager to step away from his. Both racial and wealth inequality act as forces of oppression for the main characters in A Raisin in the Sun, and Walter struggles profoundly with feelings of inadequacy and failure. For Walter, hobbies and interests do not dominate his vision, but success and independence. It is important to note, however, the Walter experiences a shift in his thinking during the course of the play, and by the conclusion, we see him embrace his identity by asserting his family's right to move into a white neighborhood (Hansberry Act III).

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Can someone explain the differences and similarities between Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun?

Walter Younger and his sister Beneatha are very similar in most ways. They are both African Americans living with their mother in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood of Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry wrote the play in the late 1950s, but it may be set after World War Two and before the advent of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The time period is important because of the limits then imposed on African Americans by the racism in American society. Both are looking ahead to ways to improve their lives for benefit of themselves and others. Walter wants to become a business owner so that he can earn a better living and provide a positive role model for his son. Beneatha plans to become a doctor, and considers moving to Africa, so that she can help people in need.

The differences between them involve their age, gender, and marital status. Walter is about 30, is married, and has a 10-year-old son; he also learns during the course of the play that he and his wife, Ruth, are expecting another child. Walter fits comfortably within the gendered expectations of the time, and he denigrates his sister’s aspirations as unsuited to a woman. He also shows very little interest in his African heritage. As a man who recently lost his father, Walter is highly conscious of his role as a wage earner and wants to be the new family patriarch. Although he wants to support his mother by sharing the apartment, the fact that he and Ruth cannot afford their own apartment—even with her earnings—is difficult for him.

Beneatha, who is about 20, is a college student. She is single and has two suitors. Even in planning to obtain her undergraduate degree, she will become the first college graduate in her family. Beyond that, she plans to attend medical school and become a physician. Both in this goal and her habit of wearing pants, Beneatha is shown as defying conventional gender expectations. While she is interested in dating both men, she has not decided on her marital plans. Through dating Joseph, wearing the African clothes he gave her, and listening to African music, Beneatha expresses strong interest in her African heritage; she even contemplates living in Africa.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Can someone explain the differences and similarities between Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun?

Both Walter and Beneatha have large personalities and are big dreamers. Walter is depicted as a passionate man who dreams of one day establishing a liquor business that will make him wealthy. Similarly, Beneatha has dreams of one day becoming a doctor. Despite the negative reactions to their dreams by Lena and other members of their community, both Walter and Beneatha are determined to attain their goals. Walter and his sister are also relatively selfish individuals who are more concerned about their personal dreams than the well-being of their family members. Both siblings are also moody and capricious throughout the play. Walter experiences extreme highs and lows in the play, while Beneatha's numerous hobbies and interests are a topic of conversation.

Despite their many similarities, Walter and Beneatha have different personality traits and talents. Walter is depicted as a rather ignorant man, while Beneatha is portrayed as an intelligent, educated woman. Walter also values western ideas of success and wishes to attain the American Dream, while Beneatha has an affinity for Pan-Africanism. Beneatha is more interested in connecting with her African roots, while her brother tries his best to assimilate into American culture. Beneatha also struggles as a single woman to find love in the play, while Walter has marital issues with Ruth.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Can someone explain the differences and similarities between Walter and Beneatha from A Raisin in the Sun?

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun depicts a Chicago family trying to pull themselves out of poverty amid racism and the predatory practices of dishonest people. Ruth Younger, the matriarch of the family, is mother to Beneatha and Walter Lee.

Walter Lee and his sister Beneatha share a burning desire to escape their current lives. They are similar in that they are frustrated with the life their mother leads—it isn’t enough for them. Their mother understands to an extent, but wonders how her children have become so different from her.

The plot revolves around the life insurance money from their recently deceased father, Lena’s husband.

Both Beneatha and Walter Lee want to use the money to escape from their current situation. Walter Lee wants to make his way out by investing in a liquor store. Beneatha wants to go to medical school to become a doctor.

They are different in how they look at life. Beneatha has an appreciation for her family’s African heritage, but doesn’t really understand it. The character of Joseph Asagia helps illustrate this. She is frustrated with the attitude of her rich boyfriend George Murchison, who is only concerned about money and appearances.

Walter Lee, on the other hand, is fascinated by the Murchisons and their success. He sees their independence and wants the same thing for himself and his family. He chafes in his role as a driver for a rich white family. To him, business success is everything. He’s even willing to engage in bribing public officials to get a liquor license.

For much of the play, Walter Lee and Beneatha see each other as rivals. They can’t both use their father’s life insurance money for what they want. One of them will have to do without. Ruth, as the mother, controls the money, and she is siding with Beneatha. This rankles Walter Lee further, and makes him angry. At one point he criticizes Beneatha for being ungrateful for what others do for her. Beneatha responds sarcastically:

BENEATHA (Dropping to her knees)
Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing him on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME!

Later in this argument, Walter Lee gets closer to the real reason for his anger, the fact that Beneatha wants to use the money for medical school:

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 . . .

Walter Lee and Beneatha both want out of the life they lead now. But their circumstances dictate that they approach things in a different way. Beneatha, as s single woman, can afford to be idealistic and aloof. Walter Lee, with a wife and child, has more immediate, practical needs.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on