Edge, McAllister, Nelson, Wright
February 10, 2009
A Link in the Chain: Dreams and Aspirations in A Raisin in the Sun
For each member of the Younger relation, family means a stronger link that is deeper than just blood. Pride, a strong will, and the dream of a brighter future all serve as links in the chain that bounds the Younger family. The main conflict in A Raisin in the Sun results because each individual family member fails to realize how much each of their dreams is intertwined and dependent on every member of the family. Although the members of the Younger family all have various aspirations, they each share the burden of how their personal goals weigh on each other. Throughout the story, the characters’ personal pursuits often cause pain for their loved ones. Though sometimes disguised under selfish tendencies, Walter, Mama, Beneatha, and Ruth are simply searching for better circumstances and conditions for the family as a whole, and thus forming stronger links in the Younger chain.
The father of the two grown children Berneatha and Walter fueled the desire for the children to fulfill their dreams. “Walter Younger—hard-headed, mean, kind of wild with women- plenty wrong with him. But he sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something- be something” (Hansberry Act I: Scene 1). Throughout the story, Mama quotes her husband with such reverence that it becomes clear that she is mourning the loss of her husband. Her love for him was unfailing, despite all of his imperfections. In the same way, Mama’s love for Walter and Beneatha is continuous even though they cause her worry and frustration through their selfish pursuits to gain a more luxurious lifestyle. “Big Walter used to say, he’d get right wet in the eyes sometimes, lean his head back with the water standing in his eyes and say, “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams- but he did give us children to make the dream worthwhile” (Act I: Scene 1). Mama seems to share the feeling her husband did about his children. Perhaps this is why, through her wisdom, she desperately attempts to understand why each of her children’s dreams is so significant to them. Mama serves as the one link in the chain that always remains strong. She is unfaltering and constant, and this continuous support is what fuels her family’s desire to pursue happiness.
Mama is the most significant character in the play. She is the backbone of the family and represents what is right by making a stand for her beliefs that were instilled in her by past generations. Mama’s dream is to buy a house and create a better life for her family. Speaking to her son, Walter, who is upset that she spent money on a house, she gleams with wisdom:
“Son-you-you understand what I done, don’t you? I- I just seen my family falling apart today… just falling to pieces in front of my eyes… We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards-- talking about killing babies and wishing each other was dead… When it gets like that in life- you just got to do something different, push on and do something bigger. I wish you say something son… I wish you’d say how deep inside you you think I done the right thing” (Act II: Scene 1). This statement proves she only wants the best for her children and family. She guides each character along in their decisions and actions and tries to enable them to see right from wrong. For example, Mama stands against Beneatha’s comments denying God, and she also shares wisdom with Walter when she finds him hiding out in the bar after missing three days of work. Mama’s dream has the strongest connection with everyone. Her dream is to not only have a house, but to have her children and her grandchildren fulfill all their dreams. She proves this by giving Walter money to become a business person, tuition money for Berneatha’s schooling and a house for Ruth and her grandchildren. Walter Lee Younger is a father, a son, a husband, a brother, and a chauffeur. Although he is many things, for him, it is not enough. He wants more. He desperately seeks the route that will allow him to be a respectable man with wealth, someone he thinks Travis could look up to. Walter believes he can find contentment by turning his dreams into reality. The color of his skin and his lack of wealth hold him back from what he aspires to be and he walks around with a chip on his shoulder. You wouldn’t understand yet, son but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction…a business transaction that’s going to change our lives… that’s how come one day when you ‘bout seventeen years old I’ll come home and I’ll be pretty tired, you know what I mean, after a day of conferences and secretaries getting things wrong the way they do…’cause an executive’s life is hell, man—and I’ll pull the car up on the driveway…just plain black Chrysler, I think, with the white walls—no—black tires….Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go, Just tell me what it is you want to be—and you’ll be it…whatever you want—yessir! You just name it, son… and I hand you the world! (Act II: Scene 2) Walter focuses intently on his dream to be a successful man and entrepreneur. He believes money will create happiness for his family and will erase all of their problems. Although his dream is a personal pursuit, he is linked to all the members of his family by harboring the desire to support and provide for everyone.
Walter’s sister, Beneatha knows her dreams are not out of reach. She is aspiring to be a doctor. This determination floods from her inner core, driving her to prove that she can and will be more than what society expects of a black woman. She refuses to work in someone’s kitchen for the rest of her life or marry a man because he is rich. Every family member sacrifices for Berneatha’s dream to attend medical school, and yet she still holds an attitude of entitlement. “Ain’t many girls who decided to be a doctor. Have we figured out just yet just exactly how much medical school is going to cost?” (Act I: Scene 1). It is difficult for Walter to see his younger sister reaching such heights. Her pursuit of finding her identity, expressing herself, and attaining a career as a doctor fuel Walter’s own dreams even more, perhaps because in this way, Beneatha is like her brother. To accomplish her dreams, Berneatha’s conflict becomes linked to her family members sacrificing for her so that she can break the stereotypes of a black minority. Berneatha’s dreams are strongly linked to the rest of the family in regards to breaking out of the mold society has created for poor black families.
Walter’s wife, Ruth, is a woman with desires and dreams to uphold and tend to a cohesive family unit. She wants her husband to provide for the family so that she can give more to her son and newly expected baby. Ruth desires for her husband to aspire to his dream through hard work rather than drinking his time and their money away at a bar. He often returns inebriated and creates conflict within the home. In an attempt to support her husband, she states, “There are colored men who do things” (Act I: Scene 1). He remains upset and closed minded, still insisting on his investment with the insurance money. Ruth begins to feel like Walter is unhappy solely because of her. When speaking to Mama about the problems, she notes, “Something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is—but he needs something—something I can’t give him any more” (Act 1: Scene 1)). Ruth feels like Walter is giving up on their relationship because he cannot make himself happy by making Ruth and his son, Travis, happy.
Ruth begins to struggle internally with thoughts of abortion, a symbolism of hers and Walter’s love for each other. She wants her son to have a good life and wants the best for her family without the struggle and pain she has already felt. The conflict remains because there is no room in the house for a new baby. When she hears about Mama’s dream of buying a house, Ruth is ecstatic and agrees with her. A house would create a foundation for her family and room to grow. A house would mean she would be able to have her child and her marriage would be sustained once again. Ruth struggles to keep her dream of achieving a successful family unit afloat, but is reminded by her pessimistic husband that it will probably never happen. Ruth’s dreams significantly link each member of the family. In her heart, she wants the best for every member of the family and she believes that is a safe and comfortable household.
Ultimately, there is a driving force among characters within this play, a desire to fulfill their dreams. In this way, all members of the Younger family are linked deeper than their relation by blood. Within this pursuit of happiness, each character exposes vulnerabilities that keep them from truly being happy and a selfishness that keeps them from seeing the true intent behind their dreams. Every individual’s dream in the play is linked to the dreams of the entire family. Each dream represents a yearning for satisfaction, not within themselves, but within their family. They are each a link in the chain, stemming from love.