Lorraine Hansberry play A Raisin in the Sun is not only about the state of race relations in the United States during the1950s. In fact, the efforts of the predominantly white community to which the Younger family hopes to relocate, efforts that Karl Lindner, the representative of that community who is dispatched to the Younger apartment to bribe the African American family to reconsider and stay away, constitutes an underlying theme of Hansberry’s play. The real drama in A Raisin in the Sun occurs within the Younger household, with the conflicting philosophies of Walter and Ruth Younger and the diametrically-opposed perspectives of Travis’s sister Beneatha’s two suitors, George Murchison and Joseph Asagai. Walter is determined to pursue the material trappings that represent “the American Dream,” towards which end he plans to use the proceeds from his deceased father’s life insurance to invest in a liquor store with two friends. As the play progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that those plans, dependent upon Willy and Bobo, Walter’s friends, is a little less than practical given the questionable nature of Willy’s character. Walter, however, is ready to move forward on this business proposal, while his long-suffering wife, Ruth, remains skeptical of get-rich-quick schemes, as she spends her days, when not tending to their small apartment, cleaning the homes of wealthy white families. Ruth believes that only through hard work and careful consideration can her family advance in the world, although she shares Walter’s dream of a bigger house in a better neighborhood. It is Ruth’s more cautious nature and physically- and emotionally-exhausted demeanor that causes her to question her husband’s ethics, evident in the following passage from Act I, Scene I:
WALTER: Yeah. You see, this little liquor store we got in mind cost seventy-five thousand and we figured the initial investment on the place be 'bout thirty thousand, see. That be ten thousand each. Course, there's a couple of hundred you got to pay so's you don't spend you life just waiting for them clowns to let your license get approved —
RUTH: You mean graft?
WALTER (frowning impatiently): Don't call it that. See there, that just goes to show you what women understand about the world. Baby, don't nothing happen for you in this world 'les you pay somebody off!
Walter and Ruth love each other, but Ruth’s later consideration of an abortion to terminate her pregnancy is an overwhelming indictment of her feelings regarding her husband’s character. Of the two, Ruth is the one with work ethic necessary to advance properly in the world. Walter, as is noted in Act II, Scene II, lacks his wife’s ethical approach to adult responsibility, failing to show up for work as a cab driver for three days in a row
RUTH: She said Mr. Arnold has had to take a cab for three days . . . Walter, you ain't been to work for three days! (This is a revelation to her.) Where you been, Walter Lee Younger? (WALTER looks at her and starts to laugh.) You're going to lose your job.
WALTER: That's right. . . (He turns on the radio.)
Walter believes the $10,000 insurance payment is his, and his family’s, ticket to success, but Ruth knows otherwise. Ruth, as noted, is a realist; she knows that, as an African American family in the inner-city, the Youngers are getting a raw deal in life, but she knows that no short-cut exists to a better life. She is tired, emotionally and physically, and is at the end of her rope. Walter, though, is also something of a realist. Hansberry’s play takes place in the south-side of Chicago, a city renown for its history of corruption. Ruth’s comment about Walter’s willingness to bribe city officials reflects both her superior moral outlook and Walter’s more hard-edged realism. Both are pragmatists, but in markedly different ways. Their marriage suffers under the strains of their socioeconomic condition, but it is resilient enough to endure.