Extended Character Analysis
Lena Younger, also known as Mama, is the matriarch of the Younger family and plays a significant role in the events of the play. A retired domestic worker, she works tirelessly to ensure the well-being of her family, keeping her religious faith and remaining optimistic in spite of financial and social challenges. As shown through her actions and her faith, Lena is a proud Black woman and serves as the family’s source of strength and stability and its spiritual center.
After the death of her beloved husband, Walter Younger Sr., Lena must take over for the family. She decides to put part of her husband’s $10,000 life insurance policy towards a house in the white neighborhood of Clybourne Park in Chicago in order to escape the impoverished conditions and lack of opportunities available due to their current living conditions. She delegates the rest to her son, Walter, to invest in his liquor store and her daughter, Beneatha, for medical school. Lena is a kind and loving mother who simply wants the best for her family and uses the memory of her husband as a role model for others in the family to look up to. She hopes that by putting a down payment on this house, her family will have the chance to leave their cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago to live in a more spacious and comfortable home with a garden in back.
Throughout the play, Lena demonstrates her selflessness; she always places others before herself. Seeing Walter’s depressed state, Lena provides him with the majority of the investment money he needs for his liquor business and asks him to place some of the money in a fund for Beneatha’s schooling. She supports Beneatha’s decision to go to medical school despite the prevailing opinions at the time that women should not pursue such occupations.
As supportive as she is, Lena is also not afraid to stand up for her values and rebukes family members for anything that stands in opposition to the values she believes in. When Beneatha questions the authority of God, Lena stands up for her religious convictions and argues back. When Walter loses the bulk of the life-insurance money, Lena strikes him in the face. She retaliates against her son because she recognizes that, along with the money, all of her husband’s lifelong toil has vanished. However, Lena also demonstrates her pride in her children. In the final scene, Walter turns down Karl Lindner’s offer to buy the house in Clybourne Park. Walter describes how his father worked “brick for brick” for the family to realize this dream. Lindner appeals to Lena but Lena stands by Walter, telling Lindner, “My son said we was going to move, and there ain’t nothing left to say.”
Lorraine Hansberry has said that Lena is “the matriarch incarnate; the bulwark of the Negro family since slavery. It is she who rubs the floors of the nation in order to create Black diplomats and university professors. . . . And one day she simply refuses to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery.” Throughout the play, Lena demonstrates enduring strength despite the “dream deferred,” a theme of Black oppression that rings throughout the play. Despite the caustic segregation that permeates the play’s setting, she acts out of a sense of hope by defying Karl Lindner and moving to Clybourne Park.