Within the time period covered in A Raisin in the Sun, Beneatha is presented as a first-generation college student who has recently committed to a pre-medical coursework so that she can go on to medical school and become a doctor. This decision has come fairly recently, and before the play’s action began, she had apparently considered several different educational and career plans. Along with her undergraduate studies and her career-related goals, Beneatha has numerous personal interests, such as music. She is also becoming more interested in the African side of her heritage, which apparently has rarely been explored within her family. This interest has expanded through her friendship with a Nigerian fellow student.
Throughout the play, the other family members’ varied perspectives on her interests and plans are shown. Her mother, Lena, is supportive of her educational and career goals, and is helping her financially with her college expenses. In contrast, her older brother, Walter, is dismissive of her commitment and sometimes hostile to her plan. The reasons that Walter denigrates her include his overall patriarchal attitudes and his continued perception of her as his little sister, rather than a woman in her twenties. Not having attended college himself and hoping to invest his mother’s insurance money in a business, he constantly challenges his sister 's interest in education and the related expense.
There are several likely reasons that Beneatha changed her plans several times and took a while to commit to medicine. The first is her family’s socioeconomic status, as they are lower-middle-class. The lack of role models within her family is another likely reason, as there are no college graduates, much less physicians. Looking at the broader context outside the play, in the 1950s racist policies kept higher education highly segregated, relatively few African American women attended college, and the percentage of Black female physicians was very low.