Throughout the play, Walter Younger is portrayed as an ordinary perspective of the mid-twentieth-century African-American male. He has a sense of masculinity and pride as the typical man/head of the family who struggles to support his family and who tries to discover new, better schemes to secure it financially. Throughout the play, difficulties and barriers that obstruct his and his family’s progress to achieve his dream of prosperity constantly frustrate Walter. He believes that money will solve all of their problems, but he is rarely successful with money.
His job as a chauffeur is a constant reminder to Walter that he is acting not unlike a slave to white people in such a menial job. As society’s attitudes towards African- American’s were still not far from the much more radical views not long before the setting of the play, opportunities for African-Americans were still limited. To get out of this race trap of belittling jobs and to be truly able to be a proper family man, Walter feels he needs to have his own business, which seems like a perfect opportunity to be able to deliver his family from poverty. However, he struggles to define his position within the family although Mama’s eventual decision to make him head of the household refortifies his personal identity.
Walter’s relationship with Ruth and Mama is tested throughout A Raisin in the Sun, as he seems to ignore them (along with the rest of his family) instead focusing on money and spending time making business deals. Mama asks Walter “Son – how come you talk so much ’bout money?” to which he replies with ‘immense passion”, “Because it is life, Mama!” His obsession with money also has a direct impact on the family’s relationships – particularly with Ruth, as she doesn’t understand why Walter has developed a sudden fixation with needing to have Walter Senior’s money.
Ruth has difficulty dealing with Walter’s mistreatment of her, for example, when he puts all the pressure on her to choose whether to keep her baby or not, instead of consulting and making the decision together, like a married couple would traditionally do. From his ignorance of everything around him that doesn’t involve money, the extent of his selfishness is shown as Walter is now choosing money over the life of the baby Ruth is carrying and now has become his whole ‘life’.
Walter falls into depression and seems to not care about losing his job describing it to Mama as “no kind of job”. Placing all his hope on his dream of using his father’s money for his liquor store, Walter has become financially unstable as his dreams are dependent on that money being granted to him. However, when Walter eventually does receive the money, overcome with happiness of his dream finally being ‘realise’, he is gullible and invests unwisely with it by giving it all to Willy who happened to be a criminal and ran off with all of the money.
After the arrival of Mr. Lindner and after considering his proposition for the Younger family to not move in to Clybourne Park but rather the community buy outright the house for them, Walter states he will accept this offer when Lindner arrives. However, as a result of Walter’s previous depression furthered by the fact that Willy stole all his money, he decides to plead to him as a slave would to their white master, saying “A-hee-heehee! Oh, yassuh boss! Yassssuh! Great white!”, showing just how Walter has lost all his sense of self-worth. This also depicts him as a victim of racism as by accepting Lindner’s offer, he is lowering himself and effectively promoting racism by allowing the white community of Clybourne Park to stay white and keep the black Younger family out of it, rather than letting society progress by integrating races.
As soon as Mama trusts Walter with the money, Walter gives her the perfect reason not to have trusted him with it as he loses with as quickly as he receives it by giving it to Willy. Mama is enraged when she hears about this, so in order to recoup his loss, Walter says he will call Mr. Linder back to buy them out, however the family is disgusted with Walter for his surrender to Mr Linder. Mama responds to Walter’s proposition to Lindner with “I come from five generations….. of slaves and sharecroppers, but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ’em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that – dead inside”. By this message to Walter, she is pleading for Walter to maintain some pride as they are not ‘slaves’ that can be easily taken advantage of. She feels so strongly about this as she’s never sacrificed her pride, and if Walter carries on with the deal, she will have to.
Walter’s relationship with Travis appears to be built on him trying to provide for his son in the form of material possessions and wealth. He tries to appeal to Travis through boasting about how from the profit of his liquor business, he will be able to afford expensive cars and Travis will be able to choose what school he goes to, where he says “Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me, what it is you want to be – and you’ll be it… Whatever you want to be – Yessir!” This again emphasises Walter’s belief in material wealth and putting all hope in the money, without having a backup plan.
When Mr. Lindner appears at the door of the Younger family’s house, Walter completely changes his mind and decides to go against Mr.Lindner’s community’s wishes by saying “we have decided to move into our house because my father…earned it for us brick by brick”, much to the rest of the family’s delight. Walter is still showed to have an obsession with money, telling Beneatha “You better marry yourself a man with some loot…”, however the normality of the family is restored with Walter and Beneatha arguing as per usual and Mama and Ruth reminiscing over the events that have occurred.
Walter Lee Younger’s identity is important to his well-being and self-esteem because as soon as money became a part of Walter’s identity it completely changed the relationships between him and everyone else in his family – isolating him from them leading to him becoming depressed and removing his position as the head of the family by not looking out for the rest of them. As Walter tried to restore this position with his money-making scheme, he became fixated on it and ended up losing out on his dream as a result of achieving it. By realising that his position in the family is part of his identity, Walter chose to take control and stop Mr. Linder from taking the house, essentially regaining his role as the hero of the family and saving them all from becoming subjects of racism, showing how important his identity is to him.