The Dissonance Among Family, Pride, and Money
Money and acquisitiveness have always had the ability to turn people into someone they are not. Greed can tear apart families and friendships when a person neglects others for their own benefit. This is depicted perfectly in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun which follows the lives of the Youngers, an African-American family living in 1950’s South Side Chicago. The focus is on a man named Walter Younger, who has the difficult decision of choosing between his personal dream and the progression of his family, which would require him to give up his dream. Walter’s personal dream is to open up a liquor store with his buddies, but in order for his family to make real progress in the world and escape the hole that is poverty, they need to use the same money, Walter Sr’s insurance check money, to buy a new home. Walter’s choice between money and family pride leads him to learn that the dignity and legacy passed down through generations is more important than short-term and monetary rewards, and as a result, they all progress.
During the beginning of the play, the idea of Walter having pride in money is coming to life, to the effect of Walter seemingly wasting money from the family’s already small budget. One of the first glimpses of Walter’s inner character, more specifically his strong desire to feel pride as the man of the house who provides well for his family, is seen in the scene in which he makes the decision to give his son Travis not just the fifty cents he asks, but a whole dollar. When Ruth denies Travis the money he claimed he needed for school, Walter exclaims, “What you tell the boy things like that for? (Reaching down into his pants with the rather important gesture) Here son- (He hands the boy the coin, but his eyes are directed to his wife’s. TRAVIS takes the money happily) […] (Without even looking at his son, still staring hard at his wife) In fact, here’s another fifty cents… Buy yourself some fruit today — or take a taxicab to school or something!” (31). While Travis’s mother was being realistic in telling him they just can’t afford extra expenses with their current situation living paycheck-to-paycheck, it was evidently more important to Walter to be seen positively by his son. In this scene, there is a profound statement made about Walter’s behavior. He is certainly prideful, but maybe his pride isn’t in the right place. He seems to have more pride about money than anything else, including his own family. In the opening scenes of the play, Walter makes it clear that to him, money matters more than most things, if not all. This is quite odd, with the fact being that he has very little of it. He treats his wife poorly, argues with her, and deliberately defies what she is doing to prove that he’s got money. He doesn’t want Travis to feel like they have money problems, even though they very much do. Ultimately, up to this point, Walter has portrayed himself as a self-centered person who cares more about his own pride and how he’s perceived than his family’s well being. If he continues with this careless behavior, his family may never progress.
Much later, Walter has a dramatic shift in his character, with him now having a false sense of pride instead of a misplaced sense of pride. When he finally receives what he has always wanted, wealth, it changes the way he acts. However, it does not change him for the better or allow him to improve his family’s situation. When Mama gives him the large sum of money from Walter Sr’s insurance check, she sincerely tells him, “I ain’t never stop trusting you. Like I ain’t never stop loving you” (107). This genuine moment leaves Walter speechless with joy, staring at the money. After this, he has a wholehearted conversation with his son, presumably after a very long time, about how things are only getting better for them in the future. This again shows us how Walter had, and still has his family (especially Travis) at heart. The very first thing he does after getting this money is talk to his son about his dreams, and that leads the reader to believe that he truly is changing for the better. Unfortunately, after just a brief moment of this father-son conversation, Walter begins talking about how he’s going to make a “business transaction that’s going to change [their] lives”, and how he’ll drive a Chrysler and live a rich life (108-109). The fact that Walter was much more lost in his thoughts about money and his future wealth than his conversation about his son further strengthens the point that while it may seem like it, Walter doesn’t yet have a true sense of pride in his family. A little while later, Mr. Lindner, visits their house to try to stop them from moving into a white neighborhood by offering to buy back the house. Because of the previous events that occurred, and because Walter now has money he can call his own, it is safe to say that Walter did not decline this offer because of family pride. In reality, he only has a false sense of pride in his family at this point in the play.
Further along in the play, Walter makes the decision to shamelessly demean himself to the point where he will beg Mr. Lindner to buy back their house, without any pride in himself or his family. This is a crucial event in Walter’s journey as a character, because it might just be his absolute lowest point. He has nothing left. He has lost most of his family’s support, all the money he had been given, and most importantly, his pride. He tells Mama that he’s “gonna put on a show for the man”, just what Mr. Lindner would have wanted to see the first time he made the offer a while back. When Walter says he’s going to put on a show, he is talking about literally begging Mr. Lindner without a shred of dignity in himself. During this scene, Walter says something that truly defines his feelings on the ‘money vs family pride’ dissonance. In his conversation with Mama, Walter says, “Don’t cry, Mama. Understand. That white man is going to walk in that door able to write checks for more money than we ever had. […] I’m going to put on the show, Mama” (143). The gravity of what Walter said is that he explicitly stated what he was thinking at the moment. During that scene, Walter explains that money is the only reason he is willing to do this. What Walter is planning to do here is not only a disgrace to his family legacy of resisting racism, but is a discredit to the whole African-American community in the 1950’s.
At this point, Mama knows that she must do something to show Walter what he is doing. Her influence in these moments has a huge impact on Walter’s future decisions regarding whether or not he will accept defeat and sell their house. In her efforts to show Walter that he is making a mistake, she passionately talks about their race’s past in the United States, stating, “Son—I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers—but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ’em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth” (143). She correctly thought that this would help Walter widen his vision from looking at things with only himself in mind, to thinking about others in his family and even thinking about what the action of giving up the house would mean, in a societal scope relating to the African-American community.
At the end of the play, there is somewhat of a happy ending when Walter finally decides that family pride is more important than money. While what’s gone is still gone, and Walter will never get the money he lost back, the silver lining of the whole dilemma is that Walter has finally ‘completed’ his metaphorical journey as a character. The exact moment this happens, the moment when Walter changes is when he says to Mr. Lindner, “What I am telling you is that we called you over here to tell you that we are very proud and that this—(Signaling to TRAVIS) Travis, come here. (TRAVIS crosses and WALTER draws him before him facing the man) This is my son, and he makes the sixth generation our family in this country. And we have all thought about your offer— […] and we have decided to move into our house” (148). This quote essentially wraps up Walter’s problem, or rather, mental dissonance, about what he thought was more important. Progress for his family, or wealth and success for him. With Mama’s help and influence in the decision, Walter was able to make the right choice and decline the offer. Walter including his son in this statement, and making him the reason he’s chosen to keep the house further shows how his pride is no longer is being a rich man, but is in his family, where it should be. The aftermath of this decision comes in the form of a bittersweet ending. The money that Walter lost is still lost and will probably never be seen again. However, the family has finally progressed forward, and escaped poverty. A task which could have never been possible if it wasn’t for Walter change in character throughout the play.
If there’s one thing that’s constant throughout this play, it’s the idea of change. Walter’s way of thinking and personality, relating to his pride, has changed drastically over the course of the play. In the beginning of the play, the dissonance in Walter’s mind was between pride in family, and wealth & success. In the beginning of the play, Walter’s pride was misplaced in trying to show that he could support the family. Later, he developed a false sense of pride after getting a large sum of money from Mama. A little while later, he loses the money, and his sense of pride in himself is absolutely crushed, leaving him at a very low point. However, after losing the money but keeping the house at the end of the play, Walter finally realizes that he had been going after the wrong thing all along, and that he should really be looking at progressing his whole family forward in the world instead of dreaming about money and his near-impossible, rich, fantasy future.
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