The Art of Social Criticism:

Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun




Historical Context










English 217 Homepage


Character Analysis: Walter Lee Younger

"Or does it explode?"

As the man of the house, Walter fights against the demons of poverty and racial/social injustice that plagued his father and now seem to have a tight grip upon him. As the play climaxes, it is Walter's dream that explodes out of control and delivers a devastating blow to the Younger family. In general terms, Walter wants to rise above his class status to gain dignity, pride, and respect. In specific terms, he believes his dream can be achieved by opening a liquor store with some friends as joint investors. It is his belief that a man who works for someone else can never have a true sense of self and never receive his due credit.

Walter describes himself as a volcano as he internalizes his regrets and pipe dreams [21]. Frustrated by his dead end job, he actively seeks alternatives for change because he realizes he has to make things happen to better his family's life. At the current rate, he feels all he has to give Travis are stories about white life and how things are better for other people. He wants to be able to give Travis the world and all its opportunities. Walter was staring at a future of nothing and knew it did not have to be that way.

Unfortunately, he allows his obsession with materialism and the realization of his dream clouds his judgment. As he saw it "all starting to slip away", he exploded at Mama for taking away his chance at a future filled with possibility and money. His words tore deep into Mama's soul as he cried out "you butchered up a dream of mine - you - who always talking 'bout your children's dreams" [22]. As a result, Mama gave in by offering $3000 to put in a bank account, but his dream seemed too close to postpone so he turned the money over to an untrustworthy friend. Crushed by the overwhelming knowledge that he had wagered his life on this deal and been burned, he realizes that the "explosion" of his dream also killed Bennie's dream. Walter's physical reaction to the information in the film is demonstrated by Poitier curling into a defensive fetal position and grabing his stomach in pain and confusion [23]. In an effort to right his unfair use of her money, he almost destroys the other dream of having a house. Instead, he acknowledges the history of struggle behind the obtainment of a house and refuses to sell. In this climax of pride, it is clear that, in many ways, Walter dreams of being a man and is simply consumed by the incorrect belief that materialism is the only means toward this goal. Achieving the familial status of head of the family and proving his worth as a man opens Walter's eyes to the variety of ways that he can better Travis' future. For now, he can find contentment in serving as a positive and worthy role model and leader to Travis and the rest of the family.


1961 Film