english literature

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Family Held By A Child

Who would let a man that has the thoughts of a child run their family? For some strange reason, Lena Younger, a character in the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, made this decision. She put her unreliable son, Walter Lee Younger, as the man of the house towards the end of the play. Although Walter Younger did supposedly gain his manhood at the conclusion of A Raisin in the Sun, he isn’t fit to run Lena’s household. A family could never persevere if they had a man like Walter Younger in charge. Walter doesn’t have any qualities that a person must possess to run a household successfully. All of the qualities that he does have are negative, which has a tremendous impact on the strength of the family. His selfishness, failure to put family first, trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy, and irresponsibility are what make him a horrible leader and role model for anyone. Anyone who trusts this man with fulfilling this title should be labeled as careless and irrational.

“Walter is on an emotional roller coaster and the roller coaster is created by his thoughts. Why does he say the things he says? Because that’s what he has to say in order to get what he wants. And it is always about getting what you want. Particularly for Walter, his whole journey is about getting what he wants.” (James, p.57). This quote points out Walter’s worst quality, his selfishness. Throughout the play, this trait has led him on to make the most terrible decisions. His selfishness constantly affects his family. One decision that demonstrates this was when Walter wanted to open up liquor store with his friends Willy and Bobo. He wanted to open up the store with money that his deceased father had left the family, $10,000. Walter wanted to use the entire check for his own dream and no one else’s. He knew that nobody supported his liquor store idea, but he paid no attention to the family’s thoughts. What is ironic is that he was not listening to the family but he made it seem like they were the ones that did not want to ever listen to him. In the play, Walter states, “I been out talking with people who understand me. People who care about the things I got on my mind.” (Hansberry, pgs. 86, 87) Walter does not care what the family thinks at all, so who is he to say that he wants to talk to people that actually care about what he has on his mind? When Walter says ‘people’, he is actually referring to Willy. The only reason Willy cares is because he is trying to pursue the same dream with him. But if someone does not want the same dream as Walter, then to him they either do not care or they are against him. While his idea continued to grow, it caused the family to fight more often, affecting the family as a whole.

Walter always refused to talk about anything other than the liquor store. This was shown when Lena, also known as Mama, tried to tell Walter about Ruth being pregnant and thinking about getting an abortion. She kept trying to tell him because she was worried about Ruth, but he just would not listen because he wanted to talk about the insurance check. When she finally told him that Ruth was expecting and planning on getting rid of the baby, Walter was stunned but did not argue with Ruth about not getting an abortion. Mama got so furious that she actually told him that he was a disgrace to his father’s memory. Could his decision of not objecting to the abortion have been financially linked? I think that he decided not to object because it could have conflicted with his dream. So he basically chose his dream over the life of his unborn child.

Towards the middle of the play, Walter exhibits his selfishness when he tells Mama that she “butchered” his dream. “…So you butchered up a dream of mine-you-who always talking ‘bout your children’s dreams…” (Hansberry, p. 95) He said this because he thought that Mama spent all of the money on a house in Clybourne Park. Buying a house was Mama’s dream, which was also later shared by Walter’s wife Ruth and Walter’s son Travis. This exhibits his selfishness because he actually said this to his mother while only thinking about himself at the moment. He does not have a right to say that she killed his dream when he was continuously ruining other’s dreams and shoving them aside. This also shows how Walter’s behavior has had a negative effect on the family. “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…” (Hansberry, p. 94) The only reason Mama had gone and bought the house was because she had seen her family being ripped apart from Walter’s actions. And Walter was selfish enough to actually say such a thing to his mother after all of the things that she and the family have had to put up with.

Later on in the play, Mama gave Walter $6,500 of the insurance check because she ended up only putting a down payment on the house. $3,500 was for his liquor store and $3,000 was for his sister Beneatha and her dream of going to medical school. He was supposed to put Beneatha’s money in the bank to save. But of course being the selfish man he is, Walter did the exact opposite. He secretly took the entire $6,500 and put it towards getting a step closer to his dream. Walter put his dream over his sister’s the same way he has put it over his mother’s. He also accused Beneatha of being selfish because she wanted to be a doctor and planned on using some of their father’s money to support her dream. That is ironic because Walter desires the same, to support his dream, but he is really thinking selfishly. Deep down he is really thinking that she is being selfish for wanting any of the money at all; he just wants the money to himself. Walter is basically pointing the finger at others for wanting their dreams to come true. If a person lives for themselves, they cannot live to care for others.

Another negative quality that Walter has is his failing to put family first. How can someone successfully lead a family, yet not have them be your main priority? If someone were to lead a family, then everything they do has to be for the benefit of their family. Even though the liquor store went against Mama’s morals, he continued to try to pursue this dream. If Walter really just wanted to make the money for his family, then he would have tried to find a way to make the money without going against morals and without having to go completely out of the way to complete it. So evidently this dream of his was not for his family, because it completely went against it.

At one point in the play, Walter indicated that he did not care about Ruth anymore. Ruth: “Oh, Walter…Honey, why can’t you stop fighting me?” Walter: “Who’s fighting you? Who even cares about you?” (Hansberry, p. 87) Ruth, along with the family, put up with everything that Walter had done. He continued not to think about his family’s needs and putting his first. How can someone be a good candidate for being head of the house if they do not understand that family is always first? He did not even care about his own wife anymore because of his greed; just imagine how he felt about his family all together. Walter got so consumed by the thoughts of being rich that he started to ignore Ruth. He indicated that he did not care for her anymore after he knew that she wanted to get an abortion. This is much worse because before Walter said that he did not care about her, he said that he was tied up in a race of people that did not know how to do anything but moan, pray, and have babies. That is a very cold thing to say to your wife that was thinking about giving up her child for her family. But that does not just go towards Ruth; it goes towards their whole race, which includes Mama and Beneatha. It shows how he is beginning to not care about his family as a whole anymore. If he stops caring about his family, how does it show that it will not happen again in the future?

Walter also continuously fought with Mama and Beneatha throughout the course of the play. “Seem like you getting to a place where you always tied up in some kind of knot about something. But if someone ask you ‘bout it you just yell at ‘em and bust out the house and go out and drink somewheres.” (Hansberry, p. 72) Mama even notices Walter’s hostility towards the family. However, Mama does say that Walter had been going through what he is going through now, for the past few years even though the check has only come recently. That may indicate that the problem may not be from his hunger for the money, but a problem within himself. And if it is a problem from within, then it may never change. That may cause many problems for the future, especially if the family is in Walter’s hands. The change has been happening gradually, and as the years pass, he may get more and more hostile towards everyone. Walter does not seem to understand that he has to listen to his family in order to help them and vice versa. It is evident that his family is really trying to work with him because they are putting up with a lot of his rubbish and childish behavior. He does not know how to work with his family at all, which does not fit for the role he has to fulfill.

Walter’s trouble of distinguishing reality from fantasy is another quality that does not and will not ever help him in life. He would be classified as a dreamer. The fact that he thinks that a liquor store would get him rich is very unrealistic. Even Mama and Beneatha’s dreams are more attainable than his dream is. On pages 108-109 Walter talks to Travis about how in seven years he would come home tired from his office downtown because of conferences and secretaries getting things wrong all the time. He also says that he would pull up in his plain black elegant Chrysler and Ruth would have a Cadillac convertible to do shopping in. Walter believed that he would have a gardener that would greet him as he arrives home and send Travis to the best schools in the world. These thoughts are all very fanciful and extremely unreachable, especially because of his economic situation. Someone in his position may never look forward to having that type of lifestyle in seven years. It is pretty much impossible for that to ever happen. But he has gotten so obsessed with pursuing this that he would do anything now to get it, even if it means forgetting his family. It is fine to dream but do not risk everything for something so out of the way. Risk the bad things, not the good. That does not show great leadership at all, because he could run his family into the ground by chasing after childish things. Mama has run the house successfully up to this point because she is a realist. She does not let all those foolish dreams get the best of her or her family. Walter simply cannot handle doing that or thinking in that fashion.

Someone that runs a household should seldom be irresponsible. That is another one of Walter’s many disadvantages. Walter was incredibly irresponsible when he did not go to work for several days. How could one expect to have their dreams come true if they cannot manage their current life? Ruth received a call from his boss’ wife Mrs. Arnold, and she informed Ruth that he was at risk of losing his job because Mr. Arnold had to take a cab for the three days that Walter did not show up at work. He just drove out into the country, sat, and stared at things for hours and after that he would go to listen to jazz and drink. That definitely does not show that he is fit to run a house if he thinks that behaving in this manner is acceptable. Walter would go out all the time, spend money, and hang around with the wrong people. Decision making is definitely something necessary to be excellent at to lead a family down the right path.

Shortly after Walter had given Willy the $6,500 from the insurance check for the liquor store, Willy was supposed to meet Bobo at the train station to go and get started on their dream. Bobo showed up at Walter’s house and informed him that he had waited for 6 hours at the train station and Willy never showed. Willy had stolen Walter and Bobo’s money. It was incredibly irresponsible to give Willy all that money, especially since part of it belonged to Beneatha. Walter does not have that intuition that the women in the household have. Like Ruth, she was telling him that he should not hang around the people he is always with. She knew that they were bad news but he did not listen. That is why Walter had gotten the money stolen, because he didn’t want to listen to anyone. If he cannot distinguish the people that are good influences from the people that are bad influences, then how can he protect his family? He puts his family at risk by associating with negative people. Walter makes his family more prone to dangers coming from outside the house, which could be detrimental to the Younger’s. Walter’s family could be hurt in the future with his irresponsible decisions. And who knows, perhaps in the future his decision making may worsen.

Although Walter had become a man at the end of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, the behavior that Walter exhibits indicates that he unfit to lead the Younger family. His selfishness is one of his worst qualities and this trait could have adverse effects towards his family’s well-being. Everything negative that he does towards his family is led by the fact that he is selfish. Walter’s failure to put family first does not show that he would be a good leader at all because family should always be first. Walter’s trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy causes him to clash with his family, which causes chaos in the Younger house. And his irresponsibility is the last factor in showing that he is unfit to play the part. A leader’s best quality is being responsible. The Younger family will never survive under the hands of Walter Lee Younger.


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