In Act III of A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, there is a particular development of Walter Younger’s character that struck me. Throughout the play, Walters high strung character has brought misogyny, anxiety and contempt with the use of particular language chosen by Hansberry to illustrate how childish he is, even though he attempts to claim manhood in every scene. To decompose and analyze some of the language and relate it outwards to Martin Luther King Jr, we can see the parallels between how Walter is presented and how MLK speaks on manhood. Act III contains Walters breakdown about money, and how he attempts to solve the issue of himself losing it by having Lindner come back to pay the family off of the recently bought house.
When discussing the plans he constructed for getting the money from Lindner, he tells Ruth, Beneatha and Mama, “I’m going to feel fine, Mama. I’m going to look that son-of-a-bitch in the eyes and say and say, “All right, Mr. Lindner that’s your neighborhood out there! You got the right to keep it like you want! You got the right to have it like you want! Just write the check and the house is yours…” (pg. 144) This breakdown begins with using appraising language to talk about “you”- the “you” being the white community. By using the words you/your, and phrases such as, “you got the right to have it like you want”, and “the house is yours” in reference to something the Younger’s currently own, Walter is relinquishing his ownership of himself to the white community in Clybourne Park. The reasoning behind considering those statements more of ownership of person rather than home is because the statements are followed by condemning conversation concerning black people. Walter continues, “And- and I am going to say- “And you- you people just put the money in my hand and you won’t have to live next to this bunch of stinking niggers!… And maybe- maybe I’ll just get down on my black knees…”Captain, Mistuh, Bossman, A-hee-hee-hee! Oh, yassuh boss! Yasssssuh! Great white- Father, just gi’ ussen de money, fo’ God’s sake, and we’s- we’s ain’t gwine come out deh and dirty up yo’ white folks neighborhood…” (He breaks down completely) And I’ll feel fine! Fine! FINE!” (pg. 144) The first and only time the n-word is stated in the play is in this quote, and Walter uses the -er ending on the word as well as using improper grammar and references to a master to emphasize himself as a begging slave.
The only time Walter is seen as a man is when Lindner arrives and he tells Lindner that the Youngers will be moving into Clybourne Park- taking some responsibility in the family by showing himself to be a father for Travis. “Travis, come here. (TRAVIS crosses and WALTER draws him before him facing the man) This is my son, and he makes the sixth generation our family in this country. And we have all thought about your offer… And we have decided to move into our house because my father my father he earned it for us brick by brick…“ (pg. 148) Mama and Ruth have a short conversation right before the last curtain in which Mama states, “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain…” (pg. 151) Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent figure in the civil rights movements and had stated, “I come here tonight to plead with you: Believe in yourself, and believe that you’re somebody!… I said to a group last night, nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. Not even an Emancipation Proclamation can do this for us… If the negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own Emancipation Proclamation.” Walter was freed from his childish antics in a way when he spoke to Lindner on page 148- and emancipated himself from a boy to a man. He applied himself in the first and only mature manner in which he was depicted throughout the play by denying the money offered by Lindner. The parallel between Walters language and actions, along with MLK’s take on manhood and how it effects the freedom someone owns over themselves was striking to me within the last few pages of the play.
What other words or phrases on pages 142-151 in particular, give insight to Walters inner turmoil, and the reflections of himself that are painted within those words?
Throughout the play, Walters character seems undeveloped in maturity and holds other negative qualities as well. What statements in Act III contradict those negative qualities and show character growth?