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A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry
  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Antagonist

Main Ideas Antagonist

Walter believes that the women in his life are his main antagonists. In particular, he believes that his wife, Ruth, prevents him from taking the steps necessary to escape his dead-end service job and create a better life for himself. Walter expresses this belief in the play’s opening scene, when he quotes a harmful stereotype in which “the coloured woman” fails to support her husband and make him “feel like they somebody.” Walter also sees his sister and mother as antagonists. His relationship with Beneatha has always been adversarial, and the two siblings bicker about everything. Walter feels bound in competition with her for the insurance money, and he knows that Mama privileges her goal of becoming a doctor over his goal of owning a liquor store. As such, Walter also feels like Mama has betrayed him. He voices his sense of betrayal after Mama uses a significant portion of the insurance money to make a down payment on a house: “It was your money and you did what you wanted with it . . . So you butchered up a dream of mine—you—who always talking ’bout your children’s dreams.”

For all that Walter lashes out at the women in his life, it’s clear that the racist society he lives in deserves more blame. The bigotry of the outside world enters the Youngers’ apartment most explicitly through Karl Lindner from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. However, racism appears in other, subtler ways as well. For instance, racism appears in Walter’s profound sense of exclusion, which he expresses when he describes walking downtown and looking into “them cool-quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ’bout things,” and when he asks why he shouldn’t want what white people have: “Yes, I want to hang some real pearls ’round my wife’s neck. Ain’t she supposed to wear no pearls?” Importantly, racism in the play doesn’t just come from the outside. Walter’s internalized racism appears, for instance, when he complains, “we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies,” and when he performs degrading racial stereotypes in preparation for Lindner’s second visit. In this sense, Walter may also be his own antagonist.