Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

Start Free Trial

Describe the relationship between Mama and Walter in A Raisin in the Sun.

Quick answer:

In A Raisin in the Sun, Mama and Walter engage in a power struggle which revolves around the insurance money. Walter feels that Mama does not support his dream and resents her for purchasing a new home. Mama sympathizes with his situation and gives him the remainder of the money. After Walter loses the money, Mama encourages her son, and he supports her dream by refusing to sell the home. Fortunately, their love for each other supersedes their financial situation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mama is from the generation that has worked to make a better life for the next generation. Mr. Younger's life has been marked by arduous toil; his death and the $10,000 insurance money provides his promise of affording his children a better life. Nevertheless, Mama wants to be prudent in dispensing with this hard-earned money, and she does not easily agree with other members of the family on how it should be spent. Walter Lee, who works as a chauffeur, dreams of being an entrepreneur; he desires are in the direction of owning his own business, specifically a liquor store; moreover, he is selfish in his expectations that Mama should primarily consider his goals. 

In Act I, Walter Lee knows that his practical mother will not want to give him the insurance money for his business plans, so he suggests to his wife that she

...just sip your coffee, see, and say easy like you been thinking 'bout that deal Walter Lee so interested in, 'bout the store and all, and sip more coffee, like what you saying ain't really that important to you--and the next thing you know, she be listening good and asking you questions and when I come hone--I can tell her the details.... 

Mama's response to Walter's ideas are "We ain't no business people...We just plain working folks." Furthermore, she is against the idea of a liquor store. She wants to use the money to move the family out of the inner city into a nice house. And, she intends to save some for her daughter Beneatha's medical school. When her daughter-in-law Ruth suggests that she take a European trip, the practical Mama laughs. Instead, she expresses concern that Beneatha has rejected God and Walter is obsessed with money: "...something come down onto me and them." Believing that moving them out of the slums is the most important thing to do, she puts a down payment upon a house outside the city. When he learns of this plan, Walter is angered that his mother has crushed his dreams.

Later, Mama learns that Walter has been missing work, so she has a serious talk with her son and gives him an envelop with $6500 in it, telling him to reserve $3000 for Beneatha and put it all in the bank. "I've helped do it to you haven't I , son? Walter, I been wrong," she tells him in response to the knowledge that Walter has no more motivations. She realizes his "dreams deferred" have cost him his drive to better himself as he has staying in bars and drinking. So. she explains to her son that everything she has ever done is for her children, so she wants him to have the money. Truly, Walter is moved by her confidence and trust in him.

Unfortunately, he foolishly trusts his friend Willy with the money and the man absconds with it. Of course, Mama is enraged when she hears this and further learns that Willy has not opened any checking account as she instructed him. So, in order to recoup his loss, Will says that he will call back Mr. Lindner from the new neighborhood who offers to buy them out so that they will not move into the white subdivision. Now, the family is disgusted with Walter Lee for his surrender to Mr. Lindner. But, before the man comes, Mama tells him,

I come from five generations....of slaves and sharecroppers, but ain't nobody in my family never let nobody pay 'em no money tht was a way of telling us we wasn't fit to walk the earth. We ain't never been that--dead inside.

This message reaches Walter Lee and when Mr. Lindner arrives, Walter, as the man of the family, refuses the offer. telling the man that his family does not intend to cause trouble. With this, the others heave a sigh of relief and Mama is proud of her son. Moving day comes and Mama gathers her frail plant and departs for the final time. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mama and Walter are at odds and struggle to see eye-to-eye on how to spend the insurance check of ten thousand dollars. In the play, Mama is depicted as a religious, traditional woman who simply wants to move out of her small, outdated apartment in the South Side. Although Mama loves her children and values their opinions, she does not feel comfortable investing in Walter's liquor business. Walter's business venture does not align with her Christian beliefs, and she understands that her son has no business experience. Mama's initial refusal to invest in her son's business upsets Walter, who becomes extremely depressed and begins drinking heavily when he discovers that she put a down payment on a home.

Walter feels like no one in his family supports his dreams and fears that he will continue to experience an unfulfilled, difficult life. Walter resents Mama for spending the insurance money and fears that she made the wrong decision by purchasing a home in a White neighborhood. Once Mama acknowledges her son's depression and realizes that she has neglected his dreams, she decides to give Walter the remainder of the money. Walter is ecstatic to receive the money but is quickly taken advantage of by Willy Harris.

Mama castigates Walter for his careless actions but also sympathizes with his desperate situation. When Walter entertains the idea of selling Mama's home back to the White community, she makes Travis watch his father and reminds her son of their courageous ancestors. Mama's actions motivate Walter to exercise his integrity and refrain from selling the home. Despite their differing opinions, both Mama and Walter share a mutual respect for one another and recognize the importance of supporting each other's dreams. Mama helps Walter become a man, and he rewards her by not selling the home.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Lena Younger and her son, Walter Jr., have a unique, complex relationship throughout the play. Initially, Lena dismisses Walter Jr.'s wish to use the insurance money to invest in a liquor business. Lena's initial decision to not support Walter Jr.'s dream creates conflict in their relationship, and Walter feels that his mother is overlooking him like the rest of society. Walter becomes deeply depressed, refuses to go to work, and drinks all day long. After Lena witnesses her son's reaction to her spending most of the insurance money to buy a home in Clybourne Park, she sympathizes with her son and decides to give him the remainder of the money to invest in his liquor business and pay for Beneatha's education. Mama displays her affection for her son by telling Walter Jr.,

Listen to me, now. I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you.

Walter Jr.'s attitude instantly improves after receiving the insurance money, and the audience gets a glimpse of what life would be like for the Youngers if they were financially stable. Before Walter Jr. loses the money to a shady business partner, he treats his mother kindly and even buys her a gift. In the absence of financial difficulties, Lena and Walter Jr.'s relationship instantly improves.

Even after Walter Jr. loses the money, Lena displays her love and affection for her son by showing him sympathy and challenging Beneatha to have empathy for Walter. Lena clearly cares about her son and influences him to not sell the home to Mr. Lindner at the end of the play. Walter Jr. reveals his change of heart and love for his mother by refusing to sell her home back to the white community. Overall, Lena and Walter Jr. have a turbulent relationship, but their love for one another perseveres, and they decide to move into the new home in Clybourne Park together.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is a power struggle going on between Mama and Walter that infuses the entire play with tension between the two. Walter is in his 30's and still lives with his mother along with his wife and son. He truly believes that no one really listens to him and he wants to be thought of as the man of the house. However, to Mama and, even to Ruth, Walter's actions seem immature and untrustworthy. Walter wants to invest the money from his father's insurance in a liquor store, something Mama is stubbornly opposed to. Mama says point blank, "I'm too old to have that [ the liquor story] on my ledger ( or list of sins). Mama controls the house and even her other child Beneatha. When Beneatha implies there is no God, Mama slaps her and makes her say, "In my Mama's house there is God." Mama has to learn to let her go enough so they can make decisions on their own. Walter desperately needs some practice making decisions. When Mama finally gives Walter some of the inheritance money, Walter foolishly loses it. However, realizing that Walter needs her support, she says to Beneatha, "When do you think the time to love someone is." She also wisely makes Travis stay when Lindner returns with his offer. Thus, Mama finally sees that the way to help Walter is to make him see the consequences of his actions through his son. Finally, Walter does "come into his manhood" when he rejects Lindner's offer and Mama finally feels she can trust her son.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial