Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

Start Free Trial

What is the relationship between Walter and Ruth in Act 1, Scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun?

Quick answer:

The relationship between Walter and Ruth in act 1, scene 1 of A Raisin in the Sun is shown as somewhat distant. Whereas Walter's full of big plans and ambitions, Ruth just wants to get on with taking care of her family as best she can.

Expert Answers

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

By the time A Raisin in the Sun opens, Walter and Ruth have been married eleven years, and their relationship seems rather strained. Walter is a dreamer; he always has some scheme up his sleeve, and he makes sure that his wife and the rest of the family know all about it. This time, he wants to open a liquor store with a couple "friends." It will take money, lots of money, and he has his eye on the insurance check that Mama is about to receive. Walter wants Ruth to talk to Mama about it on his behalf. He flatters. He wheedles. But he isn't very good at either. Nor are his protests that his wife doesn't "back him up" like wives are supposed to effective.

Ruth is just plain weary. She has listened to her husband over and over and over again for the past eleven years. When he claims that she isn't listening, she exclaims that she has listened to him every single day. He just never says anything new. She already knows what is going to come out of his mouth. Her focus is on raising their son and helping the family as best she can. She has little time for her husband's wild ideas or the fact, as she says, that he would much rather be Mr. Arnold than Mr. Arnold's chauffeur. She also has little time for Walter's "friends," whom she calls good-for-nothing loud mouths. She knows that they are leading him down the wrong path, and she is rather bitter about it. It seems that her life with Walter has always been something of a struggle, and she tells him quite a few times to leave her alone.

The couple's interactions with their son also show the tension between them. When Travis asks Ruth for fifty cents, she refuses. He doesn't really need it, and the family doesn't have it to spare. But then Walter comes along and gives him the money and another fifty cents along with, completely undermining his wife's authority, which must be frustrating for her. Walter seems to have little sense of responsibility when it comes to money, and Ruth is probably concerned about the example he is setting for their son.

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

In the opening scene of A Raisin in the Sun, we can instantly observe that Walter and his wife, Ruth, are on a different wavelength. Whereas Walter is fiercely ambitious, his mind full of schemes that will make him a rich man, Ruth just quietly goes about her business, doing chores and taking care of her family.

Walter is presented as having a wider outlook than his wife. When he reads aloud a story in the newspaper about another bomb being set off, Ruth is completely indifferent. Her world consists entirely of home and family; anything else is completely superfluous.

Walter's worldliness can be seen in his avowed aim to invest his late father's insurance money in a liquor store venture with some of his friends. But Ruth's none too impressed by this, especially the fact that Walter will have to pay someone a bribe to get his liquor license approved. She brings Walter back down to earth by telling him to eat his eggs as they're getting cold.

This casual, dismissive remark generates more tension between the couple. Walter is most indignant that he has a dream, a dream that he believes will make him and his family a lot of money, and all that his wife can say to that is “eat your eggs.”

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

In A Raisin in the Sun, Ruth and Walter Younger are a married couple in their thirties. They live in a small apartment with Walter's mother and his sister Beneatha, and Ruth and Walter's son Travis. The opening scene of the play introduces us to these characters and their relationship. Ruth is first seen trying to wake up her son Travis to go to school and she also does the same for her husband Walter. This shows that Ruth is the most responsible member of the family and also that her husband is almost treated like another child. She must wake up the boy and the man and then make their breakfast. While Walter waits for his breakfast, he mentions headlines from the newspaper to his wife, who is described as indifferent in the stage directions. She is obviously busy with her daily tasks and doesn't have the free time to wake up slowly and relax like her husband does. 

Later in the scene, Walter talks to Ruth about a plan he has with his friends to buy and operate a liquor store. He wants Ruth's help talking to his mother so she will approve of him spending his father's life insurance money on this business venture. Ruth seems to think the store is a bad idea, and Walter is insulted, telling his wife "A man needs for a woman to back him up..." (I.1). This will be an ongoing conflict in the play. Walter believes that other family members, including Ruth, do not support or believe in his dreams. The family is poor and struggles to make ends meet; the insurance money would be helpful to them in many ways, and different characters have opposing ideas for how to spend that sum. Walter believes that he would be helping the family in the long run, by running a profitable business, but Ruth thinks it's too risky. Walter lashes out at her, saying she has no respect for or interest in his dreams or his relationship with his friends.

At the same time, we can tell that Ruth and Walter have been married for some time and know each other fairly well. The circumstances of their lives, however, have caused conflict to be the centerpiece of their relationship when we meet them at the start of the play. 

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