The play A Raisin in the Sun demonstrates the hardships and successes of the members of a black family living in the south side of Chicago during the 50’s. For the Youngers, dreams are life. They are what bring the family together and pull it apart throughout the play. Each member of the family has a particular dream, and each of those dreams is like a wall being built between its owner and various other members of the family. Everyone’s dream straddles the line between selfishness and goodness for the family; however, some, like Walter’s, seem to be pulled more by the gravity of selfishness. Both Mama and Ruth share the same dream, but each has a slightly different reason for her preference.
Walter’s dream is the most apparent from the beginning of the play, and he presses his family and himself until he accomplishes his goal. Walter focuses so much on his dream, however, that he leaves no room for his family. One may ask, why is he so intent on his dream? Walter is out to prove something to himself, to his family, and to the world. He needs to show people that he is a man and is responsible. No one ever trusted Walter with anything important as can be seen when he says, “Ain’t nobody with me! Not even my own mother!” (Hansberry, 85). In all of his life, Walter was not allowed to grow into a man and bear the responsibility of his life and the lives of his family.
Mama has always been the head of the family, and Walter never got the chance in his childhood to take responsibility with less important matters; therefore, when he is handed a check for $6500, Walter does what he never had the chance to do before. Walter’s father was a proud man who wanted his family to move up in society, and Walter is pushed into his father’s shoes. There is one difference between Walter and his father, however, and that is that Walter is always looking for the easy way out of life: instead of working hard for his money, he tries to set himself up to reap big rewards. The only thing he sets himself up for, however, is failure.
Mama also has her dream: a new house. Her late husband worked his entire life to move his family up in the world, and Mama intends to fulfill her husband’s dream for his family. When the insurance check comes, Mama immediately puts the down payment on a house. Walter’s response to this is to get angry and leave. At this time one might ask if Mama was wrong to pursue her own dream and leave Walter’s like she has done for her son’s entire life.
However, when Willy runs off with the money that Mama gave to Walter, the reader learns that, at least this time, Mama made the right decision in not giving all the money to Walter. As in the poem Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes, Mama’s dream has sagged “like a heavy load” for her whole life, and now that the resources are available to her, she wants to drop her burden and start anew. Mama’s dream is less selfish than her son’s, and in the eyes of a virtue-seeking society, this makes her the better person.
Of the entire family Ruth has the most selfless dream of all. Hers is that the family can be whole and happy. When Mama buys the house, Ruth is overjoyed because it is a new start, and it represents the hardships that the family has and will overcome. Mama wants the house more for her and her family’s pride, but Ruth wants it because she sees the family being happier there. Ruth’s dream of the family being happy is not based solely on the new house, though.
When Walter asks her to talk to Mama about his liquor store idea, Ruth complies, even though she does not believe in his dream. Also, she is willing to abort her new baby so that there will be no more financial strain on the family because of this new person. Her dream, like Mama’s, is a perpetual burden, and it weighs down her heart so that she is rarely seen in a state of happiness. Ruth has a real virtue of courage. No matter how much difficulty her family sees, she is never the one to get angry and give up.
Dreams are dangerous possessions in the minds of many people. They can tear apart a family like the Youngers, or they can grasp and control a mind like that of Walter. However, dreams are items not easily left behind, and if they were, what would become of the people who owned them? Dreams make up a part of the life of humans that without, who can say where life may lead a person. Probably nowhere. For without dreams, a human has no ambitions and no desire to make any impact upon the world. Without dreams the human race would be one of idle creatures that desire nothing more than to be like the cockroaches in this play, searching only for the necessities of life between periods of sleep. Maybe that would be better, though, for someone like Walter; after all, what has he done but be a burden upon society? Or will he someday succeed because of a dream, if only through his son?