Why does Walter ask Ruth what is wrong with her in A Raisin in the Sun?

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Walter Younger, Jr. dreams of being a business owner rather than an employee. Lacking any capital with which to start a business, he hopes that his mother, Lena, will invest the life insurance payment she will soon receive from her husband, Walter Sr., having passed away.

The play opens,...

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Walter Younger, Jr. dreams of being a business owner rather than an employee. Lacking any capital with which to start a business, he hopes that his mother, Lena, will invest the life insurance payment she will soon receive from her husband, Walter Sr., having passed away.

The play opens, and as soon as Walter gets up, he asks his wife, Ruth, if the check will arrive that day. Ruth states that she does not want him to talk to her about money first thing in the morning. This is when he asks if something is the matter with her. Ruth says she is just sleepy. She starts to scramble eggs, after Walter says that he doesn't want scrambled. When he mentions some newspaper items he is reading, and she replies indifferently, he asks more directly: “What’s the matter with you?” Ruth says nothing is the matter and that he should stop asking her.

The question is also foreshadowing of a related question that Lena poses at the end of the scene when, after all the other family members have left, Ruth collapses onto the floor into “a state of semiconsciousness." Lena exclaims, “Ruth honey—what’s the matter with you!” Several other hints are dropped until it is finally verified later in the play that Ruth is pregnant and has been considering abortion.

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Walter asks Ruth what is wrong with her during their conversation about dreams.  Walter asks Ruth if she is tired of the way that they live, the house in which they live, their jobs, their son, him.  Walter feels a sense of defeat because he cannot make his dreams come true.  Further, he feels little support from his family.  Walter wants Ruth to admit that she is just as fed up with their way of life as he is, hoping that her despair might encourage her to put more faith in him and his investment dreams.  So in this scene Walter is concerned with gaining the faith of his wife.

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Simply put, Walter does not know about Ruth's condition.  The audience doesn't know until later, but Ruth is carrying the emotional and physical weight of a pregnancy.  This is part of the reason why Walter asks what is wrong with her. The other part of this is that there is the obvious tension in the opening of the play regarding the arrival of the insurance check.  This causes a noticeable tension in the air around the Younger home.  The fact that Walter is asking Ruth what is wrong with her might also be reflective of Walter's own anxious state where he is more worried than anyone else about that check because he has more riding on it than anyone else in terms of his own hopes and dreams.

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