Theme of money and dreams in Act II, scene i.

Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, has so far has shown a great number of themes already, even though we have only read up until the end of Act II, scene i. After having read the introduction (and having never read A Raisin in the Sun before) I expected to read about a family that will stop at nothing to be recognized and to be able to do whatever they wanted to do without being oppressed and have their internal fires extinguished, but so far the only character that has shown these qualities is Beneatha. Through her sarcastic, strong, independent character Beneatha is showing a woman who desperately wants to be something in a world that expects her to be nothing. Probably one of the most critical and cynical character’s towards Beneatha is her brother, Walter. Walter seems to have a sort of hostility towards his sister and her dreams of becoming a doctor. Could his hostility stem from jealousy? Jealousy that Beneatha is determined and on track to becoming successful, while he is stuck serving and chauffeuring men around or is he just looking out for her by trying to prepare her for failure?

Two reoccurring themes that immediately took my notice in Act II, scene i were having dreams/ambitions and the subject of money. The theme of dreams is present in almost every character, especially Beneatha. Beneatha has dreams of becoming a successful doctor and is pursuing such by going to college and preparing for medical school. This dream of which is constantly criticized by her brother, Walter. An important dream that Beneatha had in Act II, scene i is to not be an assimilationist. She shows how just anti-assimilationist she truly strives to be on page 80,

“(Beneatha looks at him and slowly, ceremoniously lifts her hands and pulls off the headdress. Her hair is close-cropped and unstraightened. GEORGE freezes mid-sentence and Ruth’s eyes all but fan out of her head)

GEORGE. What in the name of—

RUTH. (Touching Beneatha’s hair). Girl, you done lost your natural mind!? Look at your hair!

GEORGE. What have you done to your head—I mean your hair!

BENEATHA. Nothing—except cut it off.” (2.1.8-18).

Beneatha in an act of rebellion cuts her hair and leaves it natural, this act is directly against the idea that black women should try to assimilate and be like a white woman in every way possible including their hair. Even now in 2019, black women are still shamed for their natural hair, people call it “nappy” just as Ruth did. All black women just as Beneatha so boldly displayed, should be able to be themselves whether that means natural hair or not.

Another character that has dreams of being successful is Walter. Not only does the theme of dreams occur within his character, but also the second them I would like to discuss and that is, money. Walter is seemingly obsessed with the matter of money in Act II, scene i, he brings up Mama’s insurance check almost every chance he gets. He seems the most excited, but the money does not even belong to him (although he would like to think so). He dreams of opening up a liquor store with one of his friends to make more money and become successful for his family. Although Walter seems to have good intentions, he tends to take his frustrations out on his family, especially Ruth. Walter has been unhappy lately with his life and everyone has noticed, he is excited about the check coming in hopes that Mama would help him in his business, come to find out Mama has other plans. Another person not actually obsessed with money, has a large amount of responsibility with it is Mama. The theme of money is especially prevalent towards the end of the scene, when the check finally comes and Mama has to make some big decisions. Come to find out at the end, Mama decided to but her family a house with the check.

The big questions I had at the end of this scene that I think that you guys should think about are: Is Walter justified in his anger towards his mother for buying a house with the check? And: Are Ruth and Walter’s marital problems to be blamed on money or is there something deeper within Walter going on? If so, what do you think that is?

14 thoughts on “Theme of money and dreams in Act II, scene i.”

  1. No, I do not think Walter is justified in his anger towards his mother for buying the house with the check because it is not his money, and throughout the play mama relentlessly tries to support her family. What i noticed while reading was how much mama cares for, and nurtures her plants. As hard as mama works on her plants they remain weak because the amount of sunlight, just like how hard mama works to help her family grow and how difficult it is. The plants symbolize mama working towards achieving her dreams.

  2. I also, agree that Walter is not justified in his anger towards Mama for buying the house with the check. However, I can understand Walter’s aggression. Mama was only trying to do the right thing for her family. On the other hand, it is understandable why Walter might be angry and upset with Mama. For example, at the end of the scene Walter states, “So you butchered up a dream of mine— you — who always talking ‘bout your children’s dreams…” (Act II, Scene I, Page 95). Walter just feels like a dream of his was ruined. Another reason he was mad was because the house is located in an all white neighborhood, so this was intimidating to them especially since it was around the time of the Civil Rights Movement. I understand that the way Walter spoke to Mama was inexcusable, but it is understandable why he would get so frustrated and angry with her.

  3. No, Walter doesn’t have the right to be upset at his mother for spending the check on a new house. A caring and responsible parent makes decisions based on what’s not only best for themselves, but for their family as well. Mama bought the house with good intentions, so that everyone could be comfortable in their own space. Walter needs to see the bigger picture- his son will no longer have to sleep on the couch, and his family will no longer have to live in a roach infested house. When Walter says to Mama, “you butchered up a dream of mine” (95) it shows he’s selfish and only cares about himself. Besides, it wasn’t a guarantee that Walters investment was going to pay off and make him successful.

  4. Hey Katlyn,
    I too found these two themes of dreams and money to really stand out in this play! To continue the conversation about Walter’s hostility towards Beneatha, I don’t believe it has as much to do with jealousy as it does sibling rivalry. Even though both of them are essentially adults, their banter seems to come more from competition than spite. Jealousy, however, may still be playing a small role. Although both of their dreams require a substantial investment, Mama is already giving Beneatha what she needs financially while denying Walter.
    While the concepts of dreams and money certainly function as themes, I think they also kind of work as conflicts too. Just as these issues are becoming clear, they suddenly intensify with the news of Ruth’s pregnancy. From beyond the grave, via Mama, comes this from Walter Sr.: “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams–but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while” (46). With an active battle for dreams occurring and money being tight, even with the check, a new baby should surely make things interesting. I’m excited to see how this will *play* out!

  5. Nice job on the post. I totally agree with the themes you have pointed out in the text. Walter seems to be very stubborn as though he wants control of everything; kind of being that practical, “Man of the house” type of deal. Mama did the right thing by using that money to do what is best for their family. Walter kind of goes off the deep end, Why? You want to know why? “Cause we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies!” (87). He starts comparing their hard life to other races…dwindling him and his family even more. It seems as though he will not be able to dig himself out of this hole. Hope I’m wrong!

  6. Nice job on the post. I totally agree with the themes you have pointed out in the text. Walter seems to be very stubborn as though he wants control of everything; kind of being that practical, “Man of the house” type of deal. Mama did the right thing by using that money to do what is best for their family. Walter kind of goes off the deep end, “Why? You want to know why? Cause we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies!” (87). He starts comparing their hard life to other races…dwindling him and his family even more. It seems as though he will not be able to dig himself out of this hole. Hope I’m wrong!

  7. Hi Katlyn,
    There are many different interesting points throughout your blog post. For instance, you spoke about Walter’s and Beneatha’s different attitudes towards different situations and the differences between the two characters. You also spoke about the check Mama received which much of the conflict in the story is circles around. However, I do not think that Walter is jealous of the fact that Beneatha is choosing to be educated and aspirations of being a doctor. There are gender roles and gender differences throughout the story. Walter sees woman as someone to be keeping up with the household not one who ventures out. Also school is quite expensive and with Walter’s obsession of money, I believe he sees it as somewhat wasteful when put towards her schooling.

    Most of Walter’s thoughts, ideas, and conflicts between himself and others seem to mostly revolve around money and the idea of having / not having money. I do not think Walter should be angry that his mother decided to buy a house with the check. I feel like his dreams of owning a liquor store are somewhat selfish in a way. This book does a good job of revealing how money really affects oneself and their being as a whole and the people and/or things surrounding it. Money is somewhat of a factor in regards to the troubles Ruth and Walter seem to be having in their marriage. I feel like Walter is looking or wanting for Ruth to fulfill a void in his life. “No, I don’t want no coffee. I don’t want nothing hot to drink. Why you always trying to give me something to eat?,” Walter says. Ruth then replies with “”What else can I give you, Walter Lee Younger?” (Act II, Scene I). This conversation between Walter and Ruth stood out to me and Ruth is fully aware that she is incapable of giving Walter what he wants. However I do believe many of the issues dealing with Walter and others and even Walter vs. himself is because he is out of touch with reality. Out of touch with reality meaning he knows he is a black man living in times in which it is difficult for minorities to be able to be socially mobile. The lower jobs are given to people of the lower class. No one can do much of anything to fix the kind of situation Walter is in, it is almost like his fate and his fate may be similiar to his fathers.

  8. In line with your observation about George’s and Ruth’s reactions to Beneatha’s hair, I found it interesting how quickly both their views changed when Walter held the same opinion as them:

    George:…You know something? I like it. It’s sharp. I mean it really is…

    Ruth: Yes–I think so, too… (86).

    George and Ruth feel embarrassed since they have the same opinion of Beneatha’s hair as Walter, so rather than be steadfast in their opinion, they change their views in order to have some ‘moral high ground’ over Walter. George and Ruth hold themselves to a high standard, and they don’t want their standard to be associated with that of a drunkard.

    In response to one of your questions, I don’t believe that Walter is justified in his anger towards Mama. A lot of his bitterness stems from the fact that he wants to be the “man” of the house. He is so blinded by this desire and pride that he doesn’t see the irrationality of wanting Mama to pay the start up for a business so that he can provide for his family after the business takes off in 5-10 years (if it would take off). If this truly didn’t have to do with pride, Walter would’ve been more than happy with the new house, and the immediate results of Mama’s actions.

  9. Great Job Katlyn! I really enjoyed your realization of the common theme of dreams throughout the first part of the play, Act II scene i, because I also noticed this. I was unsure of the exact way to put it into words and you explained it perfectly. And to go back to your discussion question, asking if it is justifiable of Walter to be angry with his mother for spending the check. I don’t believe his anger is justifiable at all. That check belonged to her and only her and it was her decision what to spend it on. Whether she chose to spend it on herself or the whole family the decision was up to her. And the maturity and motherliness of her to spend the money on a home for not only her but her whole family shows just the type of giving and gracious person she is. Overall, I enjoyed your blog post very much and thought it helped me immensely see new and important points throughout the play.

  10. Walter’s approach on his dreams versus Beneatha’s approach speaks volumes about their characters. Just as you mentioned, Walter is fixated on the idea that he can spend Mama’s check. Back in Act I, when Beneatha and Walter have a discussion about the money and how it could possibly even help Beneatha get through school, she shuts down the idea. She was insistent with Walter that the money is for Mama, and only her. Perhaps it’s Beneatha’s approach on feminism which leads her to feel this way. When Walter returns home (after a nervous breakdown much like a child) he chimes in with Beneatha’s dance of welcome. There is a note in the stage directions concerning Walter worth mentioning: “He sees what we cannot, that he is a leader of his people” (pg. 78). Walter’s power struggle and desire for leadership is highlighted in this scene, especially when George comes over. He is seeking a connection with another man who “gets it” because he can’t wrap the idea around his head that his mother, wife and sister understand his ideas, however they don’t want to invest a large sum of money towards them. Walter is cold to his family – all except to his son – which demonstrates his selfishness and his possible struggle with the feminist movement. He loathes the fact that Mama is in charge and he is defiant to her despite living in her home. “You the head of this family” Walter says with hostility towards Mama at the end of Act II, scene i (pg. 95). He struggles with his role in the family, even though Mama suggested that “it makes a difference in a man when he can walk on floors that belong to him” (pg. 92). This sounds like something that Walter would say when speaking to Ruth, but because it’s not him doing the providing, that may be why he is angry.

  11. I could not tell if Walter was simply jealous of Bennie, or if he did not like how she was treated differently in regards to her dream being seen and Walters not being recognized. Money if definitely a huge issue and theme so far, everyone is always worried about it and curious about what mama would do with it. I believe that Walter is not justified in how he acts towards mama when buying the house. Everyone knew it was her money and that she could do as she pleases with it, however when she decides to not help Walter with his liquor store he takes it personally. He tends to take his anger out on people, especially Ruth. They tend to argue a lot, its like there is something else going on that we do not know about. It can not just be about money and what to do with it. Ruth points out that Walter is not always the kindest and most understanding with her, saying “there ain’t so much between us Walter…not when you come to me and try to talk to me-try to be with me… a little even”. She hints at the communication issues within the relationship and how that is creating some problems between them.

  12. I certainly believe that Walter is not justified in the anger and disappointment he clearly demonstrates when Mama announces she has bought a new house. Just as Kelley pointed out in the comment about the plants, what Mama is trying to do is to keep everybody in the family safe and to guarantee a future for them, that is why she decides to spend the money that way, so that everyone can actually live in better conditions.
    What Walter is doing, in my opinion, is behaving in a selfish way, just making it clear that his only goal is to finally open the liquor store, we can see this in page 95, when Walter states “so you butchered up a dream of mine –you- who always talking ‘bout your children’s dreams”. Not only is it important to mention the quotation, but also to pay attention to the stage directions we are given, Walter says what he says “to hurt her as deeply as he knows is possible” and, eventually, Mama “sits alone (and thinks) heavily.” I want to emphasize this because we clearly notice that Walter talks with consciousness, he knows the repercussion his words will have, and, despite that, he still believes he has the right to talk that way, as I said before, in a selfish way, putting his own wish before his family’s wellness (I am not saying that he is acting that way for personal moneymaking, he believes that the only way to help his family is by opening the liquor store and eventually getting money, but I consider he is not being realistic and focusing on solving present problems, as Mama is.)

  13. Hi Katlyn,
    I strongly agree with your point that one of the major themes in this play is dreams and ambition. I find it interesting that you chose to discuss two themes that correlate to each other: money and dreams. All the characters in the play have a goal or dream they wish to achieve. However, all their dreams are restricted to be achieved due to a lack of money. Even Walter claims that money “is life” because without money he cannot buy the liquor store he desires (Act 1, scene 2, P. 74). Also, dreams are strongly present in Benetha and Walter but they are presented in a more subtle way in Ruth and Lena (Mama). Both Ruth and Lena have dreams that are centered around their family and wishing to own a bigger place for all them to be happy/comfortable in. Their dreams are more focused on the whole of the family while Walter and Beneatha have individual dreams they wish to achieve. Beneatha is a determined and strong-willed girl that does all she can to push back the limitations given to her. On the other hand, Walter has dealt with these limitations for so long and it has gotten to a point where he can no longer let his life continue in such a depressing way. Walter is extremely tired of being restricted by the world and seeing Beneatha pursuing her “dreams” such as “guitar lessons,”the horseback-riding club,” buying “camera equipment,” and going to school to become a doctor (Act 1, Scene 1, P. 47-48) does not make Walter feel any better. For Walter, his life has consisted nothing more than driving people around for a living. I think this goes back to your question about Ruth and Walter’s martial issues. Of course, they both have different dreams that are complicating their relationship; however, I think that Walter is struggling more with his own identity due to is sort of “meaningless life”. He is not happy and personally, I do not think Ruth or anyone but himself can fix that.

  14. Great post! Im happy you brought up the themes of dreams and its relation to money. I don’t believe Walter had any reason to be angry with Mama for the decision she made because he was never entitled to that money. Walter has a masculinity problem that stems from his inability to prove for his family. This idea he has that money will lead to him being a better man is probably why he lashes out on Bennie. As you stated in your post, she is working hard toward her dream and is very stubborn in what she believes in while Walter is staying stagnant and cycling through emotions of passion, desperation, and sadness.

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