In the play, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry an African American family, the Youngers, are presented with a great amount of money, from the husband’s life insurance. The family is faced with the difficult decision of how to spend the money, which leads to each family member wanting to use the money for different things. The wants of each character result in them acting in a different way in response to the presence of money. In Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, the author uses symbolism to show how the role of money affects the actions and dreams of Mama, Beneatha, and Walter.
The first character affected by money is Mama. Mama is given money from insurance, in which she would like to use to fulfill her dream of owning her own house for herself and her children. She concentrates on showing how a nice house will be most beneficial for her family, in hopes that they will support her decision of buying the house with the insurance money. Mama displays this when she describes to Walter that, “it makes a difference in a man when he can walk around on floors that belong to him” (Hansberry; Act II; Scene I). Mama makes her children think that showing off their money through a house will make them better than if they do not buy the house. Also, Mama shows that money is a symbol for her husband’s work throughout his life by saying, “working like somebody's old horse...killing himself...and you - you give it all away in a day” (Hansberry; Act II; Scene III). Mama sees the house as a symbol of the money that her husband worked so hard for so that her dreams could come true. Mama has another dream, which is to have a garden at her new house that she hopes to get for her family. The garden symbolizes the fact that she has a nice house to make her family happy, so she has something to make herself happy with again. This is why she is devastated when she learns that her son, Walter, lost the money, which was going to fuel her dreams.
Beneatha relies on insurance money to help her with the cost of college to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. Beneatha seems to think of Mama’s dreams when she explains to Walter, “That money belongs to Mama, Walter, and it’s for her to decide how she wants to use it” (Hansberry; Act I; Scene I). This shows that Beneatha is influenced to act on her mother’s behalf because that is her source of money for schooling. Due to her brother’s actions, her dreams of becoming a doctor are deferred. Walter decided to use all of the insurance money on his own wants, losing the money meant to go towards Beneatha’s schooling. Beneatha expresses her anger by saying that “...people went out and took my future right out of my hands,” explaining that her future has been altered all because of her brother’s selfishness (Hansberry; Act III; Scene I). The concept of money and how the money is handled is the main reason why Beneatha and Walter’s relationship is hindered from there on. By looking at how money played a role in Beneatha’s life it shows how it forced her to put off her ideal future of attending school and how it ruined the relationship she had with her brother.
Finally, Walter saw the insurance money as a motivating factor for his own dreams. Walter was tempted to take actions that would cause tension between him and his family and show his selfishness. The play begins with Walter wanting to produce the best life for his family by establishing a good source of money for them to live off of. In his mind, the best solution was to open a storefront, where he and his buddies would sell liquor. When Walter is given a taste of wealth through the insurance money Mama gave him, he spends it all on the liquor store. He does this in hopes of giving his family the best life possible. His intentions are shown when Walter tells Travis, “Your Daddy’s gonna make a transaction...a business transaction that’s going to change our lives'' (Hansberry; Act II; Scene II). This displays how Walter explains to Travis what will happen with the money he has been presented with, which part of it is for his sister’s schooling. This shows Walter is looking out for his own future and dreams and not anyone else's. Walter shows a new side to him when he says, “We have decided to move into our house because my father- my father- he earned it for us brick by brick” (Hansberry; Act II; Scene II). This explains how the symbolism behind the money convinces Walter to think about his actions and how they would affect his family. By looking at Walter’s actions, it shows how much money played a role in his life.
Throughout the play money plays an important role in each of the characters’ lives as it influences their actions and behaviors. Mama is struck with devastation when she learns that Walter lost the money to his friend. The money was a symbol of something her husband and her dreamed of and worked so hard for. Also in the play, Mama has a dream of owning a garden to symbolize having a nice house for her family to succeed in and something for her to occupy herself with. When her dream gets altered because of her son’s actions she is even more upset. Beneatha is upset because the money is going to fund her college, so she can become a doctor, and now it is gone. Walter was disappointed in himself for losing the money and letting his actions be persuaded by money. How he handled the whole situation involving money shows how he was selfish and thought he knew what would be best for the rest of his family.