Walter vs. Mama

Blog post by Adriana Murphy

A reoccurring pattern we see within Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun” is her use of symbolism. While there are multiple occasions symbolism is present, such as with Mama’s plant, the insurance check, specifically, is used to represent the Younger family’s’ dreams and aspirations for the future. To a family that’s never had money like this before, the check gives them a sense of hope and every member has a different idea of what the money should be spent on. As a result of all these varying opinions a certain amount of tension is formed within the family, specifically between Walter and Mama. Up until this point Mama has been made out to be someone who believes in the importance of dreams, shown by her supportiveness in Beneatha’s goal of becoming a doctor. However, all throughout Act 1 she refuses to give Walter the time of day or entertain his idea of using the money to open a liquor store. This has an extremely negative impact on Walter and Mama’s relationship, as we see in both the literature and the film. This makes for a very unexpected but also heartwarming scene when Mama decides to give Walter the money to pursue his dream.

In the first half of the play, Walter and Mama have a very complicated relationship due to the difference in perspectives. The play makes Walter seem somewhat selfish and like he isn’t thinking of what’s really best for his family. However, the film gives more of an insight into Walter’s life when he isn’t in the family’s apartment. You see him at his job that he can’t stand, and you see him at the bar trying to come up with a way to convince his family that this liquor store would be a great investment for them in the long run. Walter truly believes that this is the way to get his family out of their current situation, and he’ll do anything to convince them of that. When Mama initially turns down the idea when the check comes, Walter is outraged. “Well, you tell that to my boy tonight when you put him to sleep on the living room couch…Yeah- and tell it to my wife, Mama, tomorrow when she has to go out of here to look after somebody else’s kids…” (71). This passage shows that Walter’s intentions are good, and he has his family in mind when thinking about using the money to open the liquor store. As a reader, you start to feel a sense of sympathy for Walter because he’s trying to save his family the best way he knows how, but can’t get anyone to listen to him.

One of, if not the best scene between Mama and Walter is when she decides to give him the money to open his store. The scene is played out a little differently in the film than it is in the play, but it has the same affect, nonetheless. In both versions, Mama and Walter have a heart-to-heart and Mama explains what was going through her mind when deciding what to do with the check. She makes Walter realize that she did what she thought was best for her family, but she now wanted to do whatever she could to support her son’s dream. “The rest you put in a checking account- with your name on it…It ain’t much, but it’s all I got in the world and I’m putting it in your hands. I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be” (107). This passage gives the implication that maybe Mama was planning on helping her son out all along, and just wanted to see how much money she had left after the house was purchased. Mama and Walter are both very strong characters, so even though sometimes they may not always see eye-to-eye, they always support each other.

Walter and Mama have an immensely complicated relationship throughout the story, but from the later scenes in the play you can see that both of them really just want what’s best for their family.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think Mama had planned to help Walter out with the store all along and just wanted to make sure her plans for a house were taken care of first? If not, what do you think brought about the change of heart?
  2. Did watching the film change your views on Walter?

Hi, I’m Adriana

My name is Adriana Murphy and I am a sophomore majoring in Psychology. I’m from Saratoga Springs, New York, which is about 45 minutes north of Albany. Outside of school, I spent most of my time participating in my school’s Drama Club, the swim and the softball teams, and working after school at my job. I also really enjoy reading in my free time so I’m looking forward to taking this class and getting to know all of you more!