Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Walter is the young black protagonist of the play. He is the only son of Lena Younger, the husband of Ruth, the father of Travis, and the brother of Beneatha. Having lived his whole life in the ghetto of South Chicago, he longs to escape the poverty and have a nice home in a safe, clean neighborhood. He also dreams of having his son attend the best schools and buying his wife expensive jewelry. Unfortunately, Walter is not realistic about making his dreams come true. He believes that he and two friends, Bobo and Willy, can get rich quick by opening a liquor store. He is sure that if Mama gives him the money from the insurance check, he can quadruple the investment. Walter is consumed with the belief that money will buy him happiness.
Walter is so obsessed with his plan to make money that he ignores his wife, Ruth. They constantly fight and never really communicate; at one point in the play, he even indicates that he no longer cares about her. When she tries to tell him that she is pregnant again, he does not even listen. She is so distressed over the problems in their marriage that she considers having an abortion rather than bring a new baby to live in their impoverished midst. At one time, Ruth and Walter must have had passion between them; but the hard times have extinguished the flame.
The Younger family has always been a peaceful one with strong family ties; therefore, the fighting between Ruth and Walter is very uncomfortable for everyone. Walter makes things worse when he becomes upset with his mother. When the insurance check comes in and Walter's mother will not give him any of the money, he becomes hostile and bitter. When he learns that she has spent a large portion of the money on a down payment on a house, he is crushed. He is sure that he will never be able to make his dreams come true and tells Mama that she has stolen his future.
Mama cannot stand to see one of her children in misery. As a result, she makes a foolish decision. Even though Mama is opposed to Walter's investing in a liquor store because of her Christian principles, she gives him more than half of the insurance money in order to appease him. Walter foolishly and immaturely gives the sixty-five hundred dollars to his partner, Willy, who quickly steals it and flees. When Walter finds out the truth, he is a devastated and desperate man. He decides that he must sell the new house to Mr. Lindner at a handsome price, even though everyone else in the family is counting on moving there.
At the end of the play, Walter finally matures, coming into his manhood. When Lindner is insulting and patronizing, he becomes proud of his family and his heritage; in the process, he decides he will not sell the white man the new house at any price. It is ironic that he finds his manhood by refusing to take money when throughout the play his whole focus has been on grabbing money. The entire family is delighted to see him stand up like a man, much like Big Walter would have done.