Give an Inch and They’ll Take Sixty-Five Hundred Dollars.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry reveals to its readers the issues of class, gender and race. This black family living in the south side of Chicago is relying on an insurance check of $10,000 to help them somewhat escape from the common themes of racial and class inequalities occurring in this book.  In Act 2 Scene 3, it is moving day and the Younger family is preparing for moving into their new home in Clybourne Park. Mama received new gardening tools from her family and she has never received presents besides on Christmas so she is very grateful for this gift. Things between the Younger family seem to be getting better and they seem to be currently happy at this moment in the play. However, money is the motive for many and especially for Walter Lee Younger and Willy Harris. With Walter being the so-called “man of the house” Mama gives him $6,500 and she tells him to put $3,000 towards Beneatha’s schooling and whatever is left Walter is supposed to look after it and to decide what to do with it. However, things didn’t go as planned and Walter decided to take all of the $6,500 and invest all of it into the alcohol business. His business partner Willy decided to take all of the money and he ran off with it.

Having an education or having money, what is more important? Walter Lee Younger has become obsessed with money and it is the root of most his problems. He can’t even deal with the fact that he lost $6,500 but he is okay that Ruth was thinking about aborting their future child. This shows that Walter’s main focus is money. He is extremely selfish and feels entitled, he seems to think that he is the only person with money issues in the story or the only one struggling.

On Page 128, Bobo tells Walter that he did not go to Springfield yesterday and that he had no reason to.

Bobo: I’m talking about the fact that I got to the train station yesterday morning-eight o’clock like we planned … Man – Willy didn’t ever show up.

Walter: Why … where was he … where is he?

Bobo: That’s what I’m trying to tell you . . . I don’t know . . . I walked six hours . . . I called his house . . . and I walked six hours . . . I waited in that train station six hours . . . (Bobo begins to break down into tears) That was all the extra money I had in the world . . . Man, Willy is gone.

Walter goes off on a tangent and later towards the end of it he says “THAT MONEY IS MADE OUT OF MY FATHER’S FLESH” and Bobo responds to this by saying “I’m sorry Walter . . . I had my life staked on this deal, too . . .” (Page 129).

Walter makes the disappearance of both him and Bobo’s money all about him. There has been an ongoing theme of selfishness and the desperation for money since the very beginning of this play. Walter has strong ideas of how a household should function. He doesn’t seem to support Beneatha’s education he somewhat sees it more as a financial burden. The alcohol business has been lingering in Walter’s mind for so long. Mama puts her trust in Walter to make him feel like the “man of the house.” She gave him the power to fulfill his sense of  masculinity of making decisions for the whole entire family rather than him being subject to her decisions. Unlike Walter, whenever Mama makes a decision it’s for the whole entire family without only having her own personal interests in mind.

Not only is money ruining Walter’s life it also is ruining his relationships to the people around him. He is letting money get in the way of him and Ruth’s marriage, he is constantly fighting about the insurance check they received with Mama, and he lost all the money that was supposed to go towards Beneatha’s schooling.

Mama begins to beat Walter on page 130 and as she is hitting him she says, “I seen him . . . night after night . . . come in and look at that rug . . . and then look at me . . . the red showing in his eyes . . . the veins moving in his head . . . I seen him grow thin and old before he was forty . . . working and working like somebody’s old horse . . . killing himself . . . and you – you give it all away in a day.”

Mama is almost blaming Walter in a way for the death of her husband. All of these emotions she has pent up about her husband are released and she is triggered by the loss of his money. Hansberry focuses more on the issue of the misfortune of the Younger family rather than the $6,500 Willy Harris took. Misfortune happens to be another theme in the story for example the $10,000 insurance check. Mama went and bought her family a new home in Clybourne Park and as soon as things seem to be getting better there is always some kind of setback.  

What other factors rather than selfishness do you think led Walter into giving away the $6,500 and putting it entirely into the alcohol business? What do you think will happen between the Younger family and do you think there will be any relationships permanently ruined? If so, between who and why?

6 thoughts on “Give an Inch and They’ll Take Sixty-Five Hundred Dollars.”

  1. Besides selfishness, it seems like Walter is just straight up rude. He does not care about the feelings of others. This led him to give away the $6,500 with no thought. He only thinks about himself and if anyone else has anything to say about it, he is openlyu rude to them. Ruth and Walter have issues within the relationship as that has become clear, however he also has relationship problems with his sister and mama. When mama took the insurane money, Walter started freaking out and yelling, saying “Mama, you didn’t go do something with that insurance money, something crazy?” (page 90). This is ealier in the book, however he keeps the rude and selfish tone throughout the book. He is not a thoughtful person. He only cares about himself and the money, and his relationships with everyone are being ruined. He is going to ruin everything for himself and drag his family into it.

  2. Another recurring theme I noticed about Walter, other than selfishness, is his lack of compassion for the money he willingly threw at his alcohol business dream and for his family’s feelings. The $6,500 wasn’t money that he earned or was even entitled to, that was his mother’s inherited money and he didn’t realize that at all. Walter never thought of his mother, he only thought of himself when he invested the money in his unpredictable business. And this shows immensely when he first found out about the lost money on page 129 when Mama and him are engaged in a heated argument, instead of Walter immediately apologizing for his carelessness, he responds by saying, “Mama . . . I never . . . went to the bank at all . . ..” Walter’s lack of awareness for anyone’s feelings or emotions greatly shows because after this remark he continues to defend himself rather than take the blame. Therefore, a correlated theme of selfishness that I noticed in regards to Walter is his lack of compassion and empathy.

  3. I don’t know if Mama is blaming Walter for her husband’s death so much as she just cannot fathom her son disrespecting his family and her husband’s sacrifice like that.
    This is the second time Mama has come undone on her children, the first being when Beneatha said there was no God. To me that shows that Mama really only blows up when her most cherished/beloved memory or belief is challenged. And think about it, they are living in Mama’s apartment, they know she is a God-fearing family oriented woman. She doesn’t ask for much, she doesn’t complain, and when her children are disrespectful like that? I don’t blame her for going on a little rampage on Walter.
    Putting personal bias aside (because honestly Walter is the WORST!!! So selfish!!), his other motivator for throwing all the money away is probably to be the ‘provider/man of the house’ he likes to pretend to be (stage directions on page 114 literally state “Freely, Man of the House”).
    On page 119, Walter also tells Mr. Lindner “… Get out of my house, man”. MY house. Just like he cried to Bobo that the money was “…MADE OUT OF MY FATHER’S FLESH” (pg 129), and it was “… a dream of mine” (pg 95). Walter is a me-me-me type of person with no regard to anyone else in his family. I could probably go on about Walter forever, so I’ll cap it there.

    Walter has probably ruined all the relationships he has had with his whole family since it directly impacts everyone, although Travis may not understand the gravity of the situation. Mama may come around, because she is still a family oriented woman. But he is walking on thin ice with Ruth and Beneatha.

  4. So I agree with most of your points about Walter in your post except one. I do think that in this scene Walter actually begins to see Beneatha’s future as a doctor, on page 113 Walter says, “I can just see that chick someday looking down at some poor cat on an operating table and before she starts to slice him, she says…” He says this as he mimes her operating over somebody. This is the first time we hear of Walter talking about her career as a possibility. The irony of this is he knows that he already spent her money, although he did not know it was gone yet. Another point is that when Mama is beating Walter, I personally didn’t read it as her blaming him for her husbands death. I read it as she was so angry at how ungrateful he was with the money from her husbands death that she trusted him with. However; throughout this scene we are truly shown Walter’s selfishness, as you said. I think that he truly regretted it after the looks on Mama, Ruth, and Beneatha’s faces and after the beating he received.

  5. It’s difficult to find any redeemable qualities in Walter’s character. While selfishness seems to be the main motive behind his investment in the liquor store, perhaps looking out for his son’s best interest is one of them. He wants to support his family to the best of his ability and he truly believes that investing in the liquor store will help. This is part of why Walter is so hostile towards his family. Walter spitefully told Mama that she “butchered up a dream of mine-you-who always talking ’bout your children’s dreams…” (pg. 95). Walter guilt-tripped Mama in to giving him the money. He ignored the fact that his own son, Travis “always wanted to live in a house” (pg. 91) and Mama supplied that for him. It’s almost as if Walter is choosing Travis’ dreams for him, and this is demonstrated in his monologue at the end of Act II scene ii. The closing scene concludes with Walter’s hopeful yet lost daydream about the future and what it could hold for his family. He is slightly delusional due to how lost he is. His intentions appear sincere because he wants to provide a beautiful home and nice cars for Ruth and Travis. However he’s fixated on the concept of being a business man with an office, having a gardener (which, with closer reading, seemed strange. Mama was excited to have a creative outlet – the garden – in the new home, and even after Mama gives him the money, she’s not in his daydream of the future) and promising Travis things that aren’t certain. He tells him, “You just name it son… and I hand you the world” (pg. 109)!

  6. Certainly it was a very bold, selfish move for Walter to give away the entire $6,500. Throughout the text I do truly feel bad for Walter, and I do feel that he is a good guy struggling deeply within himself. I would like to think that Walter’s intentions with the $6,500 weren’t completely selfish. I think his goal was to get a larger return on his investment, and have even more to give back to his family. We know that he always belittled Bennie’s dreams of becoming a doctor, but on page 113 we see Walter finally supporting her dreams. He says “I can just see that chick someday looking down at some poor cat on an operating table and before she starts to slice him, she says…” proving that with his money being invested, he is 100% confident that her dreams are now realistic and attainable.

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