The Art of Social Criticism:

Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun




Historical Context










English 217 Homepage


Character analysis: Lena Younger - "Mama"

"Does it stink like rotten meat?"

When Mama got married and moved into the apartment on the Southside of Chicago, she and Big Walter were expecting to move into a house after one year. She still remembers the furnishings of the apartment being "selected with care and love and even hope" [15]. As time passed, Mama's dream of a house dwindled away into an unlikely hope. A symbol of the dream's small but continued existence was Mama's plant. It represents the whithering of the dream as a result of the denial of a life outside the apartment. The promise of $10,000 is represented as the sunlight for both things keep alive a sense of possibility. The irony for Mama was that the chance for her dream came through the death of her husband. She is conflicted about what to do with the money and insulted at the assignment of any dollar amount to the life of her husband. Like Asagai points out and Mama would agree, it is an unsettling reality to live "in a house - in a world - where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man" [16]. She sees the money as a desantification of Big Walter's life. Also, she is offended by the change in the African American mindset where "freedom used to be life - now it's money" [17]. Mama is the product of a different generation than the rest of the family and therefore accustomed to different kinds of injustices and racism.

Mama sees the house as something she can pass onto later generations. Since she's been denied many things in life, she recognizes the larger meaning of everything for it "'seem like God didn't see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams - but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while'" [18]. She buys the house as a step toward the creation and fruition of more dreams for herself, her children, and her grandchildren. She believed the realization of her dream could eventually open the door for other family member's dreams. When she realizes she was doing to Walter what the rest of the world was doing, not giving him a chance to be a man, she corrected her actions by giving Walter part of the money to open a personal bank account. Ironically, the film shows Mama giving Walter the money and saying he should have the responsibility of head of the family in a bar [19]. Since she is opposed to giving him the money because he wants to use it to invest in a liquor establishment, this setting makes the point that she's giving him the money to invest in a future outside the dingy bar walls. As a result of Walter's miscalculation, Mama's dream once again begins to "rot" as she realizes that "sometimes you just got to know when to give up some things" [20]. Since she is a woman who has adjusted to many things in her lifetime, she is the first one to begin unpacking in the apartment and considering small changes that could improve their living situation. Thankfully for Mama and the whole family, Walter comes into his manhood and rescinds his offer to sell to Mr. Lindner. As the Youngers leave for new challenges, specifically neighborhood racism, Mama grabs her plant as a remembrance of the past and a reminder of the care that dreams require.


1961 Film