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?

12 Replies to “Walter vs. Mama”

  1. Hey Adriana! I loved reading your blog post and I found it very interesting that you came up with a question about Mama and her plans with the money. To respond to your question, I do think Mama had planned all along for the money to go to Walter because she had always loved to help her children. She knew she wanted the bigger house but something in the story also told the reader that it was not the only thing she wanted to do with the money. At the end of act two scene three, Walter must break the news to Mama that he never went to the bank and that he invested all the money he was supposed to put in the bank, in the liquor store. She was very upset, seemingly so, because she wanted the money to benefit every person in her family in at least one way. “…’working and working and working like somebody’s old horse…killing himself… and you –you give it all away in a day'” (Hansberry 129). She knew the money was because of her late husband’s hard work and she just did not understand how her son could let it all go in one instant. It seemed like she had the money situation planned out because she put a good number down for her and she was allowing her two children to split the money, and she knew if she gave the money to only one of her children, it create a lot of chaos in their lives. She may not have supported his dream of the liquor store, but she did what she knew her husband would do and gave the money to both of her children.

    1. Hi, Adriana! I thought your blog post was very insightful and really got me thinking about how Walter and Mama have had a very intense relationship throughout the book. I think that is because they are both very opinionated characters, so they won’t back down in their opinions and beliefs to avoid conflict. Because of this, they frequently butt heads with one another. To answer your second discussion question, yes and no. The whole time I read the book, I really did not like Walter as a character at all. I thought he was rude and careless and money hungry. Though I can see how others would disagree and argue that he has his family’s best interest in mind, I thought that he frequently went about things the wrong way and came off as very disrespectful, especially to Mama, who is his elder. The play did change my mind about him a little bit in the scene where he and Mama are talking about his dreams and goals for the money. In the book, he came off as rude and angry, but in the play, he came off as sad and hopeless. I read his tone very differently in the book than it came off in the play. This scene, for me, changed how I saw Walter in that instance and made me think his goals were pure and family-oriented. However, my opinion about him in the book stayed the same when I watched the play during the scene where Mama tells Walter about Ruth’s pregnancy. In the book, Mama says “Well — son, I’m waiting to hear you say something … I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was … Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them—I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one … I’m waiting. If you a son of mine, tell her! You … you are a disgrace to your father’s memory.” (Hansberry, 75) when she is trying to beg Walter to stay and talk to his wife about not getting an abortion. Instead of responding, he walks out without a word. This scene made me feel dislike toward Walter just the same as the book, because I thought it was so disrespectful that he couldn’t swallow his pride and make his wife a priority in that moment. Being upset over money has nothing to do with Ruth’s pregnancy/possible abortion and the fact that he couldn’t be there for her in that moment spoke volumes to me. He says family is his priority, but in that moment, he chose to make a statement by walking out instead.

  2. Hi Adriana, I would like to respond to your question about the way Walter is depicted in the book versus the way he is depicted in the movie. The movie did change my views on Walter a little bit because in the book he is depicted to be such a harsh individual. In Act 1 when he walks out on Mama and Ruth,
    Walter- “Ruth”- (he can say nothing)
    Mama- “If you a son of mine, tell her! (Walter picks up his keys and coat and walks out. She continues, bitterly) You.. you are a disgrace to your father’s memory. Somebody get me my hat!” (75)
    This scene lead me to believe that he didn’t care much for his unborn son.
    In the story he tells his family that he lost all of the insurance money to Willie to invest it into the liquor store, but instead he ran off with it. In the movie Walter tells his family what actually happened. I think this shows that Walter is just trying to protect his family, it just shows a harsher version of him in the book compared to the movie.

  3. Hi Adriana! I enjoyed reading your comment and I thought you made some great points. It was interesting to point out how Walter’s character can be viewed differently in the book and the movie due to his interactions in each. I agree and I feel more sympathetic towards Walter in the film because he just wants the best for his life and his family. One scene that stood out to me in the film was when Walter got on his knees and complained to Mama that his work isn’t rewarding, hinting to the fact that he wants to make a career change. “Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, “Yes, sir; no, sir… that ain’t no kind of job…” (page 73). This desperate plea from Walter allows me to realize that he is trying to live out his dream, just like everyone else in the play, and should have an opportunity to do so.
    -Sara Weber

  4. Hi Adriana! I really enjoyed your post, I would like to answer your first question about whether or not Mama had planned to give the rest of the money to Walter or not. I think that Mama was always going to give Walter the leftover money that she didn’t use for the house. It seemed to me that she clearly thought about what she wanted to do with the money. Mama first wanted to give her family a good home but also knew that Walter wanted to stop being a chauffeur and take an investment opportunity with the liquor store. On pages 106 and 107, Mama goes on about her plan for the money, she states “What you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. There ain’t nothing as precious to me… There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else- if it means- if it means it’s going to destroy my boy.” This quote stuck out to me because it shows that she saw the house as a good opportunity for the Younger family but also was planning to give some of it to her children. She goes on to tell her plan with the rest of her money and gives it to Walter for him to make the decision of what to do with it.
    -Deirdre Lynch

  5. Hi Adriana! I loved your blog post, I wanted to answer your second question since during the film I was thinking about how different Walter seemed to me. When I read the ealry scene about Walter talking to Ruth about his dream in the morning, I thought of him being selfish and rude. I didn’t realize that he was actually hurting about how his family and especially his own wife does not listen to the words that come out of his mouth. When he said, “Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs.” (Scene 1, 34), in the film I had sympathy for him. I felt as though he even wanted his wife to listen to him more than to actually get the dream that he wanted. I thought that Ruth was being the rude one in the film since she didn’t even give him the light of day even when you could see the pain in his face. He wants what is best for his family, yet his family won’t let him try to give that to them. I think you did a great job with your post and I think when you present, going into detail about the idea that mama was going to satisfy Walters dream no matter what, would be very intriging to listen to!
    -Jill Venditti

  6. Hey Adriana! I really liked your post as well as your questions at the end of your post. After watching the film of the play, I can honestly say that I now view Walter in a completely different light. While reading this play I thought of Walter as a selfish character with a dream for a business but did not care about the consequences. Like Walter says in the book,”Invest big, gamble big, hell, lose big if you have to,” when he spoke to George about his ideas (Hansberry, 84). When comparing the two, the Walter Lee portrayed in the film acts very different from expected based off of the Walter Lee described in the book. The portrayal of Walter Lee in the film made him seem more charismatic and caring than what I thought of for the character described in the book. The way he speaks and interacts with some other characters, specifically Travis, made me actually like and respect his character more than in the book. I felt sympathy for him in the film but not in the book. That is just the difference, however, of interpretation of a text, creating a character versus being given a person(actor) to say is that character. They could be completely different!

  7. Hey, Adrianna. I was engaged in your blog post and I found it very interesting that you came up with a question about Mama and her plans with the money for the family. When you touched the point that Walter and Mama have a complicated relationship and they both want the best for family, I did not see it that way. I thought Walter was just being egoistic, and not caring about others. To answer your first question, Mama had planned to help Walter because vehemently cares about the family and notices his insatiable desire to start up a liquor. Mama “was very upset, seemingly so, because she wanted the money to benefit every person in her family in at least one way. “…’working and working and working like somebody’s old horse…killing himself… and you –you give it all away in a day’” (Hansberry 129). After watching the film, I also sympathy for him. I felt as though he even wanted his wife to listen to him more than to actually get the dream that he wanted. Walter really feels that his dream got deferred. Great discussion questions and I can’t wait to participate in your presentation. Good luck!
    – Makense Garcia

  8. Hi Adriana, I really enjoyed how you included in your blog post how the film and the play portray Walter in different ways. When I was watching the movie, I knew that something about Walter was different, but I couldn’t properly identify it until I read your post. I think the fact that the movie shows more of Walter’s perspective and thinking helps us feel more sympathetic towards him because in the play all we see is him yelling at everyone about what he wants then leaving. An example of this is found on page 71 after he gets finished telling Mama what he wants to do with the insurance money and she turns him down: “I’m going out…Just out of this house somewhere…I don’t want you to come!” In this scene of the play you can almost feel the tension in the room, and the way that it’s written makes the reader feel anger towards Walter because he is shown as neglecting his pregnant wife for selfish reasons. But like you said, the film shows Walter planning out his idea very carefully which helps us be more on his side and be more understanding of where he’s coming from.

  9. Hey Adriana! I enjoyed reading your blog post and personally I do believe that Mama always had the intention to give Walter a portion of the money. The main reasoning for believing this is that Mama had $6,500 left over, meaning that the house only ended up costing $3,500. In my opinion, I believe that Mama knew the house would not have costed the full $10,000 considering it didn’t even take up half of the check. Mama was most likely trying to find what she envisioned as a better place for her family, and once the deal was done and price set, Mama wouldn’t feel regretful or guilty about not sharing any of the money. Also, watching the film didn’t change my perspective too heavily on Walter, although it is seen more in the film I believe that Walter is just a man who wants to get his family out of a subpar situation, and he is also going through a lot too. It is stated, “I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was… Your wife saying she going to destroy your child…” and “You… you are a disgrace to your father’s memory” (Hansberry, page 141-142 e-book). The situation where Walter finds out that Ruth is considering an abortion shows a lot of what Walter is going through, and he does not even find out this information from his own wife. When he finds out Ruth is pregnant he leaves the house out of shock, but that’s mistaken for not caring. Of course he cares, because he loves his children (seen with Travis), at the moment he is shocked though. & for Walter to hear that she is considering an abortion it tears at him.

  10. Reading through the play and watching the movie I noticed the character development, especially through Walter. I think that Mama did not actually want Walter to invest into the liquor store because she saw their social status in the working class. “We ain’t no business people, we just plain working folks.”(Hansberry,42). I also believe she has a certain perspective on the idea of alcohol.”But Liquor, honey”(Hansberry, 42). This shows her hesitation towards the liquor and i believe that her intent was not to give money to Walter especially not for a liquor store. I feel like the reason why Mama ended up giving the money to walter was because he showed that his main objective in life was to provide for his family and be the one to give his family anything they could ask for.

    Personally the film brought the characters more to life and the this helped me to understand Walters way of reasoning and thinking. He had good intentions the whole time and was constantly worried about his family in the sense of being able to have food on the table and money in the bank. The baby situation was something that came out of nowhere and Walter at the tie was not ready for that because he was worried about other things.

  11. Hey Adriana! I’d like to answer your questions first and by the way I love the first one about Mama. I truthfully do not think that Mama originally wanted to help Walter with his investment. I think that she saw him getting more and more depressed and being the caretaker that she is she made the decision to help. The change of heart simply came from her heart. for the second question; I have always thought Walter was doing what he was doing for the family. Although there were times he seemed selfish i never thought of him as that. He thought that the liquor store would be a steady source of income. “Do you know what this money means to me? Do you know what this money can do for us?” although he says ” means to me” he still ends it with “us.” Showing that he always had his family in mind

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