Mama: Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
Walter: No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No . . . something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched . . . You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar—You my children—but how different we done become.
This exchange occurs in Act I, scene ii when Mama asks Walter why he always talks about money. Walter responds that “[m]oney is life,” explaining to her that success is now defined by how much money one has. This conversation takes place early in the play and reveals Mama’s and Walter’s economic struggles. These lines demonstrate the ideological differences between their generations. Throughout the play, Mama’s views are at odds with Walter’s and Beneatha’s views. For Walter, money seems to be the answer to everything. Money, he believes, allows people to live comfortable and carefree lives. It also seems to define a man by measuring his success and ability to provide for his family. For Walter, who feels enslaved in his job and life, money is the truest freedom.
Throughout A Raisin in the Sun, characters connect money to discussions of race. Mama says, “Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change.” Walter grew up being “free” in the way that Mama means, but he faced other problems, such as the lack of financial and social freedom that he talks about here. Walter believes that freedom is not enough and that, while civil rights are a large step for blacks, in the real world—for the Youngers, the South Side of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s—blacks are still treated differently and more harshly than whites. Mr. Lindner, who later comes to persuade the Youngers not to move into his all-white neighborhood, embodies one example of this racist treatment. Mrs. Johnson later speaks of reading about the bombing of a black family’s house in the “colored paper” and complains that the racist white people who were responsible for the bombing make her feel like times have not changed, as if they still live in turbulent Mississippi, a hotbed of racism during the mid-twentieth century.