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Dreams Deferred: A Raisin in the Sun Character Map

Study Guide Article

Will Power! Education Program


A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

directed by Carl Cofield

Yale Repertory Theatre

Dreams Deferred

As Lena reflects on Walter Lee and Beneatha’s big dreams, she realizes, “You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too. Now here come you and Beneatha—talking about things we ain’t never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy.” Lena and Walter, Sr., faced Jim Crow laws and threats of imminent violence in the South.

Different, sometimes subtler and sometimes not, manifestations of racism affect her children a generation later. Men like Mr. Lindner dress their overt racism in civility, but what he shrouds in euphemism was often written explicitly into laws to sustain generational poverty, racial segregation, and overpriced rent in Black neighborhoods—to name just a few of the barriers the Youngers face.

In one small but pivotal example: Walter Lee loses the money when he entrusts Willy Harris with bribing officials to expedite their liquor license and other paperwork needed to open their store. In contrast, Walter Lee describes seeing “cool, quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ’bout things—sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars,” which is hardly the onerous bureaucracy he loses his family fortune trying to circumnavigate.

In A Raisin in the Sun, how does systemic oppression defer the Youngers’ dreams?

Writing Exercise

What are your dreams? What would you sacrifice to achieve them—and what wouldn’t you? What obstacles do you face in achieving your dream? How are those obstacles similar or different from those the Youngers face, and why?

Character Map

Walter Younger, Sr. (Deceased)


A better life for his children. “He sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something—be something,” Lena describes, remembering how he used to say, “Seem like God didn’t see t to give the black man nothing but dreams—but He did give us children to make the dreams seem worthwhile.”

His life. Lena says she, “seen him grow thin and old before he was forty— working and working and working like somebody’s old horse—killing himself!”

His pride. Walter Lee draws inspiration from his father when he ultimately rejects Lindner’s offer, saying, “my father almost beat a man to death once because this man called him a bad name or something. [...] We are
very proud people.”

Lena Younger (Mama)

A house of their own with a garden. “You should know all the dreams I had ’bout buying that house and fixing it up and making me a little garden in the back,” she says.

Her safety. She buys a house in a white neighborhood, knowing they may face harassment, because she “just tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money for my family.”

Her children. She entrusts the remaining money—including Beneatha’s education funds—to Walter Lee when she sees how embittered he is becoming with no means to pursue his dreams. She tells him: “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.” In supporting him, she even sets aside her reservations about selling liquor, which her religious beliefs discourage.

Beneatha Younger

Becoming a doctor. “I always thought it was the one concrete
thing in the world that a human being could do,” she says, “Fix up the sick, you know—and make them whole again. This was truly being God.”


Money. Beneatha refuses the affections of her wealthy suitor, George Murchison.

Her freedom. Beneatha loves to “experiment with different forms of expression,” as she searches for her identity: she picks up hobbies from horseback riding to guitar, dates multiple young men with no intention
of rushing into marriage, and cuts off her processed hair to embrace its
natural texture.


At the end of the play, Beneatha is considering Joseph Asagai’s proposal that she marry him, move with him to Nigeria, and practice medicine there— an evolution of her childhood dream.

Walter Lee Younger

Success. “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy,” says Walter Lee. Dissatisfied with his job as a chauffeur, he dreams of opening a liquor store—which he hopes will be a launchpad to greater wealth and power.

The money, his common sense, and his dignity. He gives his untrustworthy business partner Willy all the money—including money promised for Beneatha’s education—to kickstart the business. When Willy runs off with the money, his con devastates Walter Lee. Now convinced morality is a mere distraction from the cycle of taking or being “tooken” that drives the world, Walter Lee decides to accept Lindner’s money and even plans to perform his own personal minstrel show.

His father’s pride. Throughout the play, Walter Lee seems ambitious and unscrupulous, as if there is little he wouldn’t sacrifice. When his mother challenges his obsession with money, he retorts that “money is life.” But when he faces Lindner at the end of the play, he finally chooses pride in his family instead. “We have decided to move into our house,” he says, “because my father—my father—he earned it for us, brick by brick.”

Ruth Younger

Her family’s dreams. As Hansberry writes, “She is a woman in the middle, torn between the needs and dreams of others, and she subordinates herself because, caring deeply about theirs, she chooses to; but underneath is a fire that will erupt as needs be.”

Her pregnancy. Unexpectedly pregnant, Ruth weighs whether or not to have an abortion; by terminating the pregnancy she could avoid putting
an additional burden on the family’s precarious finances and on her turbulent relationship with Walter Lee.

Herself. While initially reserved, Ruth begins to advocate for herself with greater passion and confidence. After Walter loses the money and Lena resigns herself to staying in the apartment, it’s Ruth who insists, “I’ll work! I’ll work twenty hours a day in all the kitchens in Chicago! I’ll strap my baby on my back if I have to—and scrub all the floors in America and wash all the sheets in America if I have to—but we got to MOVE! We got to get OUT OF HERE!”

Travis Younger

Unknown. More than having dreams of his own, ten-year-old Travis finds the adults in his family project their dreams onto him. His grandmother, Lena, wants him to be the first to know after she’s bought a house—one where he’ll have his own room for the first time. When his father, Walter Lee, asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, Travis replies “a bus driver,” and Walter Lee urges him to be more ambitious, like
he is. Ruth processes her mixed and changing feelings toward her husband through their son: she scolds Travis for staying out late without notice or spending pocket money frivolously, faults his father shares.

Joseph Asagai

One of Beneatha’s suitors: a visiting college student from Nigeria.

Revolution. To return to Nigeria and overthrow colonial rule and improve lives he now sees plagued by “illiteracy and disease and ignorance”—with Beneatha by his side as his wife.


His life. He understands that change might be violent—and he’s willing to “be butchered in my bed some night by the servants of empire.”

George Murchison

One of Beneatha’s suitors: a fellow college student from a wealthy African American family.

Status. To sustain—or even further—his family’s status and wealth by earning a college degree, frequenting cultural events like the theater, and wearing stylish clothes—all with a girl on his arm.


Authenticity. He is more interested in a degree than an education, saying: “It’s simple, you read books—to learn facts— to get grades—to pass the course—to get a degree. That’s all—it has nothing to do with thoughts.”

Karl Lindner

A representative from the ironically named “welcoming committee” of the family’s prospective new neighborhood, Clybourne Park.

Maintaining his all-white neighborhood, or as he euphemizes: “The kind of community we want to raise our children in.”


Money. He and others from his neighborhood have pooled money to buy the house back from the Younger family for more than they paid.


Decency—or so he claims. He clings to his self-conception as a decent man, insisting “that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it” and even claiming he’s working for the greater good, since he believes everyone’s happier living among folks from a “common background.”


A friend of Walter Lee’s, Bobo partners with him and Willy Harris to open a liquor store.

The liquor store.


His savings. He puts it all on the line, and like Walter, he’s financially ruined by Willy’s con.


Decency. Hansberry emphasizes that “Bobo is not a con-man but a victim,” just like Walter, and his choice to go to Walter to let him know what happened “is an act of great courage.”