Signing a self-made Emancipation Proclamation

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.

Discussion questions:

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?

6 thoughts on “Signing a self-made Emancipation Proclamation”

  1. Hi, Savannah. I think this blog post is really well thought out and was done precisely. I like how you not only paralleled Walter with Martin Luther King, but also how you analyzed and took apart Walter’s language. Deciphering his speech and connecting it to how he is appraising the white community of Lindner and the rest of Clybourne was really impressive. I also noticed Walter’s character development in act three, and how he became seemingly more mature than in the previous acts. Initially, he was characterized as very immature, short-tempered, and childish through his behaviors and language. However, I feel a strong turning point for him was on page 107 when he had a strong moment with Travis regarding his drinking. I think you connected your points and defended your arguments really well.

  2. Hi Savannah. I really enjoyed reading your post and I thought that the connection the Martin Luther King Jr. was perfectly done. Connecting Martin Luther King Jr. to Walter really showcases the strength the Walter has found and now is acting like he really is head of the house. In the beginning of act three, I began to worry Walter would never rise the the challenge; even go lower if possible. On page 143, Walter says “There ain’t no causes-there ain’t nothing but taking in this world, and he who takes most is smartest-and it don’t make a damn bit of difference how”. After reading this quote and going further on to see him have a total breakdown, I thought Walter was only going to be a broken man. But he turned it all around when faced with Linder again. Walter really became a man because in the end he truly did what was right; and his family is in good hands now that he realized what is right.

  3. Hey Savannah, I really liked your post! The comparison between Walter and MLK was really smart. I also compare Endgame Walter to Mama right when she gave him the money. On page 106 where she says “There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else-if it means-if it means it’s gonna destroy my boy.” Walter has a moment when he realizes this, and throws away getting the money back so Travis can actually have a better place to live. Walter not only becomes a man, but becomes a father too.

  4. Hey Savannah! Your comparison between Walter and Martin Luther King Jr. was really interesting. It works really well with the book because Walter finally finds some leadership skills in the household and for the family. I felt like his character really went though some changing and positive development. I thought the dialogue in act 3 between Walter and Travis about his drinking issues was a really important part in the development of Walters character.

  5. Savannah,

    This was a very well thought out post. The comparisons you make to Martin Luther King Jr. really help to develop your arguments. Walter’s emotions really take a crazy turn during Act III. This is shown on page 142 after Ruth talks about if Walter will really give the money to the people in the park he says, “I ain’t just talking ‘bout it baby- Im telling you what’s going to happen.” After all the family has done and sacrificed, he’s talking about just giving up and giving in. He is trying to make right a situation that he made go wrong. He wants to get money back in order to give back what he wrongfully invested in the first place. He feels distraught and believes that this is the right thing to do.

    In the end on page 148, Walter shows tremendous growth. He has finally figured out what life he wants to live in. He is focused on family values over money. He says, “We have decided to move into our house because my father- my father- he earned it for us brick by brick.” Walter finally realized what is the most important and chose to put his family first. All the events he made it through such as getting the money, then losing the money, and dealing with people not welcoming their family into a neighborhood made him gain maturity and show growth as a character.

    Malley

  6. This was so well thought out and compassionate. I love how you took the time to take apart every little bit of Walter in this act and contrasted it with MLK Jr. and his previously seen character representation.

    I feel that this moment should be looked at a lot like when Beneatha started to rethink her stance on not planning to get married when she realized the right person for her was right there asking to give her everything she wanted. “(Quickly understanding the misunderstanding) My dear, young creature of the New World I do. not mean across the city I mean across the ocean: home to Africa.” (136) “(Girlishly and unreasonably trying to pursue the conversation) To go to Africa, Mama be a doctor in Africa . . .” (150) This is Walter’s moment to rethink everything he believes in and lay out his cards as he sees fit.

    He does so marvelously as he throws aside his belief that money is happiness, that money is everything, and puts the family’s happiness before what he sees as his own. “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.” (148) He truly has learned to be “the man of the family” and the father his father was before him.

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