Why Does George Call Walter Prometheus
Why do you think George sarcastically says to Walter, "Good Night, Prometheus" in A Raisin in the Sun?
As George waits for Beneatha to change into "proper attire" for the show, Walter talks to him about money and investments. Walter is aware of the financial success of the Murchison family, and he tells George that he must have keen ideas about making money. George wants little to do with this conversation, yet Walter continues and tells him that they must get together to talk about business plans. George refuses the gesture, and Walter then rails him about his "useless" education and ideas. Walter claims that George knows nothing about being a man, implying that he himself does. On the way out, George calls Walter "Prometheus" as a sarcastic stab at his identity and as an element of foreshadowing.
In Greek myth, Prometheus challenged the power of the gods and thought that he was being clever by stealing fire for humankind. Similarly, Walter believes that his ideas trump those of his other family members including Mama, and he simply sees the outside world as an oppressive force rather than a path which he must learn to navigate. For his actions, Prometheus is punished by the gods and must live in the recurring hell of having his liver eaten by birds; Walter later is punished by fate when he loses the family's money in an ill-planned scheme with Willie Harris and Bobo. Walter can never get this money back and is destined to live with this guilt.
Walter, like Prometheus, is punished for believing that he is clever enough to trump higher powers with his simple plans.
At the end of act 2, scene 1, George Murchison visits the Younger apartment to pick Beneatha up for a date. While George waits for Beneatha to get ready, Walter begins criticizing him for his outfit and college education. Walter, who is intoxicated, continues to ridicule George by mocking his formal demeanor. Fortunately, George is able to keep his composure and tells Walter that he is full of bitterness. As George and Beneatha are leaving the apartment, George tells Walter, "Good night, Prometheus!" (Hansberry, 88)
George recognizes the similarities between Walter and Prometheus and is aware that Walter will not understand the reference. Prometheus was the Greek god, who stole fire from Mt. Olympus and gave it to mankind. Zeus ended up punishing Prometheus by chaining him to Mt. Caucasus, where an eagle tore out his liver each day after it regenerated.
Similar to Prometheus, Walter suffers every day at his unfulfilling job and ruins his liver by continually drinking alcohol. George Murchinson's comment is also another opportunity for him to display his intelligence as he sarcastically references the tortured Greek god.