Lena Younger, called Mama, a retired domestic and the matriarch of the Younger family. In her early sixties, she is a religious, optimistic, and proud black woman. Recently widowed, she speaks of her departed husband with love and presents him as a role model for other family members to emulate. She is a self-sacrificing woman, and the well-being of her family occupies her thoughts. She does not hesitate to rebuke family members for actions that oppose the values that she and her husband promoted. Her husband’s ten thousand dollar life insurance policy gives Mama the means to purchase a house in the suburbs as a means of escaping the debilitating effects of their current slum living conditions.
Walter Lee Younger
Walter Lee Younger, a chauffeur and Lena’s son, still living at home in Mama’s crowded apartment. He is a slim, intense, thirty-five-year-old black man. Walter believes wealth to be the answer to his feelings of desperation and hopelessness as a slum resident and employee in a dead-end job. He has contempt for the women in his family, who, he thinks, do not support his aspiration to break from his working-class life to become a prosperous businessman. In such a prestigious position, Walter believes, he can finally assume his mother’s role as the head of the family and have the means to leave an admirable legacy to his son. To realize his dream, he wants to use the insurance money to invest in a liquor store with two of his friends.
Ruth Younger, a domestic and Walter’s wife. Thirty years old and in the first few months of pregnancy, she is a practical woman who, like Lena, cares deeply for the welfare of her family. The circumstances of her life have taken their toll: Her beauty has faded, and her spirit is almost completely broken. She realizes that her husband’s feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth have contributed to the deterioration of their relationship. She is willing to do anything to alleviate their desperate situation, even if it means the abortion of their unborn child. Initially, she attempts to persuade her mother-in-law to permit Walter to invest the insurance money in a liquor store. When she learns of Lena’s desire to move the family to the suburbs, however, Ruth becomes Mama’s most ardent supporter of the change.
Beneatha (Bennie) Younger
Beneatha (Bennie) Younger, a college student and Lena’s daughter. At the age of twenty, she is an attractive, slim woman who, because of her education, speaks better English than do the other family members. She is an atheist, opinionated, and, at times, self-centered. She often speaks her mind before realizing how the expression of her beliefs will affect other people. She quarrels frequently with her brother, who does not support her aspiration to become a medical doctor. Proud of her African heritage, she is inspired by the attentions of a Nigerian suitor to wear an Afro instead of a processed, straightened hairstyle. She adopts various interests, such as the guitar and horseback riding. Her mother accuses her of flitting from one interest to the next, but Beneatha insists that she is simply experimenting with different forms of expression.
Travis Willard Younger
Travis Willard Younger, Walter and Ruth’s son. A handsome ten-year-old boy, he seems content with his life and enjoys the attentions of the other family members. Unlike his father, he aspires to be a bus driver and gives little thought to rising above working-class status.
Joseph Asagai (ah-sah-GI), a Nigerian student and one of Beneatha’s two suitors. He is handsome, articulate, compassionate, and sophisticated. He keenly perceives the problems causing strife within the Younger household.
George Murchison, a college student, an unlikely suitor for Beneatha because of his conservative beliefs, middle-class sensibilities, and disrespect for his African heritage.
Karl Lindner, a middle-aged white man representing a homeowner’s association in the suburbs where Lena has purchased a home. To prevent the Youngers from integrating the all-white neighborhood, he offers to buy the house at a profit to the family.
Bobo, a friend of Walter Lee who is to become one of the three partners in the liquor store. He and Walter Lee are taken in by a character not seen onstage, Willy Harris. Harris absconds with Walter Lee’s and Bobo’s money, bringing about the major crisis of the play.