The Two Different Sides of Walter by Lidia

When a reader first meets Walter’s character in the play A Raisin in the Sun, they may be immediately turned off to him. After all, his first few lines suggest that he is self-centered and even a bit rude, especially when he bickers with his wife and asks about the incoming check. However, there is an explanation for his constant pushy behavior. Walter’s negative attitude stems from his dissatisfaction with his life. When he explains that he has “got a boy sleeping in the living room”(34) he implies that time is slipping away from him, and that he wishes their living situation was better, an idea that is repeatedly referred to by many characters in the play. Even Mama feels this way when she describes her dreams back when she and her husband first bought the house, yet none of her dreams ever happened(45). This goes to show that the way Walter feels-that he missed out and that his life is incomplete-is not completely unreasonable.

Early on in the play, when Walter is arguing with Beneatha, he insults her goal of becoming a doctor and tells her that she could “go be a nurse like other women-or just get married and be quiet…”(38). His comment has two meanings. One of them is a bit more obvious: Walter does not believe that Beneatha has what it takes to be a doctor and should not waste her time, and instead she should take the easy way out by becoming a nurse or marrying rich. The other meaning is that regardless of whether or not Beneatha is smart enough to be a doctor, years of school are a hassle, especially because of the family’s financial situation. Walter’s heart could be in the right place when he says this because he wants better for his sister, and maybe taking the easier path could improve the quality of her life. However, at this point in his life, Walter is incapable of expressing his caring emotions the right way because of the years of hard work that have worn him down emotionally.

In addition to the written play drawing a raw and bitter picture of Walter, the movie version of A Raisin in the Sun portrays him this way as well. In the same scene, the line “-or just get married and be quiet” from the book is changed to “-or just get married and shut up” in the movie. This line was most likely changed to make Walter seem a lot more angry with Beneatha. In reality, he is not necessarily angry at Beneatha, but rather he is angry at the situation and taking it out on his sister. Ultimately, this is still wrong, but it helps us understand where Walter’s anger is coming from and that it is somewhat justified, meanwhile in the movie, it simply makes him look mean.

Later on in the play, after Mama tells Walter to take a share of the money for his liquor business, his whole demeanor changes. He tells his son that this business is going to change “our lives”(108) not just his own life. He wants to be able to tell Travis that he can “be whatever is [he] want[s] to be”(108). He does not just want the money for himself. He wants to continue making money so that he can provide a lot more for his family than in the past. There is no denying that Walter spends most of Act I and II either looking for money or acting out because he does not have money. However, once this issue is resolved, he is much happier. His relationship with Ruth also shifts, as is evident when she cheerfully describes her movie date with Walter and how they “was still holding hands” even after the movie was over(112). When Walter and Ruth first got married, they were a lot younger. Years of working long days and raising a child while always worrying about their financial situation wore them out. Having one of these worries lifted off of their shoulders has brought them back to what they probably used to be years ago, implying that Walter was not always the mean and ungrateful character that was shown to us early in the play. 

Discussion Question #1: How is the way Walter is portrayed in the book similar and different to the way he is portrayed in the movie?

Discussion Question #2: What are your values, and how do they compare to Walter’s values in the play?

11 Replies to “The Two Different Sides of Walter by Lidia”

  1. By Amanda
    Lidia, I like that you pointed out that Walter assaults Beneatha. I believe that Walter is jealous of Beneatha on how she craves to be more successful. More successful than him. Beneatha is very smart and is more responsible than Walter. Walter likes to drink his beers and go out. He hates his job, but he does not do anything about it. Walter is constantly worried about money. He mentions, “Have we figured out how just exactly how much medical school is going to cost? (page 20) Beneatha’s biggest dream is to go to college while Walter’s biggest dream is to open up a liquor store. Mama wants a brand new beautiful house. Which she gives the money to Walter because she trusts him. That went downhill. Walter and Beanetha fight through the whole story even at the end. Walter states, “Girl if you don’t get all them silly ideas out of your head! You better marry yourself a man with some loot…” (page 134) Beneatha would never marry George in her lifetime.

    1. Lidia, I too, agree that Walter was worn out by years of poverty that led to a sense of hopelessness. At the same time, I don’t believe that he is a better person after the money comes, or even back to his old self. This is because when he takes the money and invests it into the scheme with Willy, he doesn’t have his family in his mind as his priority. He tells Travis, “..your daddy’s gonna make a transaction.. a business transaction that’s going to change our lives..”(108). Despite his reasoning for making the foolish decision to give away the money, Walter’s senseless chasing of his dream could be his family’s demise. He is so invested in his own pride and righteousness that he doesn’t consider the harm he could be doing. I believe that Hansberry intended for her readers to feel this way, to feel conflict as to how to perceive Walter when he stops being volatile toward his family. In my opinion, he uses money as an excuse to be a negative person. It reminds me of something my grandma always said, “hard times bring out people’s true character”. How do you believe Hansberry intentionally uses Walter to make us as readers judge our own character?

  2. Shane Gresser
    I really like how you pointed out the reason for Walter coming off as so mean and angry. Walter has been known to get angry and yell and scream at his family and make himself believe he is better than everyone else. Walter is “a giant- surrounded by ants! Ants who can’t even understand what the giant is talking about” (p. 85). Walter has this image and he may seem to just be mean to his family for no reason, but his intentions are in the right place. Walter is just looking to give his family a better opportunity, given the family’s financial struggle. You are able to see his image change when Mama gives him the money.

  3. By Chris
    I actually liked how you focused on both the play written version and the movie with two separate sides of Walter. I view Walter in the similar ways where he wants the best for his family, but only believes that his plan of action will provide and successfully work for all of them. Walter expresses this to them as his frustration grew saying. “WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE LISTEN TO ME TODAY!” (35) Although Walter’s tone comes off aggressive, his true point in the end is to get his family to understand his side of thinking. Walter however is worn from his job too, which is what provokes him to be agitated from the life he’s living. Walter even stated this about his own father in the play connecting it to his own son Travis and his future; “All I want is to be able to stand in front of my boy, like my father was never able to do to me, and tell him that he’a be somebody in this world besides a servant, and a chauffeur.” (48:00) Clearly Walter here is upset by the fact that mama is not paying attention to Walter’s idea of the liquor store, as for mama, would rather not have it based on her belief and faith in God as well as the memory of Big Walter to not go to waste in her eyes.

  4. Jessica Schaechinger
    I really agree that the different versions show different sides of Walter. I think his passion is portrayed stronger in the movie then in the book, the movie shows more anger inside him and thus convinces me more that he so strongly wants to invest in the liquor store. Although the book does show how much he wants it, the language itself isn’t that convincing. For example “… I’m thirty-five years old; I’ve been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room- and all I’ve got to give him is stories…”(34). This quotation shows that Walter is upset he doesn’t have much to give, and wants more, in the film the actor uses passion in this line and gives more depth to the character and how much he wants more, and how he is confident that investing in the liquor store will bring him that.

  5. Hey Lidia, I like how you focused on Walters behaviors and demeanor throughout the play. He lashes out and gets upset but the anger stems from frustration of not being able to give his family what they need. I relate to his passion and ambition for wanting to start a business because he genuinely feels it will better his family’s lives. He envies the businessmen and longs to be as successful. “I pass them cool-quiet looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting…turning deals worth millions of dollars.. sometimes I see guys don’t loom much older than me” (1.2.226). Walters jealous of the businessmen and sees the check as an opportunity to become like one of those men to be able to provide for his family.

  6. Sophia Chimenti
    Hey Lidia, I completely agree with you that a lot of Walters anger/ stress is brought upon by his financial situation. This is clear in the beginning of Act I when Walter says to Ruth, “You tired ain’t you?…You couldn’t be on my side for that long for nothing, could you?”(32). It is seen from this right off the bat that not only is Walter stressed about his financial situation, but that he is taking it out on Ruth as well as Beneatha. I really liked how you compared the play scene of Walter assaulting Beneatha to the movie scene, as it helps to portray Walters true motives behind all of his stress (despite seeming more aggressive): a better life for his family.

  7. Kristy Reynolds

    Hi Lidia,

    First off, I just wanted to say that I love the title of your blog and I really think that it goes perfectly with how Walter is portrayed in both the play and movie version, and overall as a character. I agree with you that a lot of Walter’s anger in life stems from the fact that his family is financially struggling and that he wants to provide more for his family. I truly believe that even though he goes out and gets drunk every time something goes wrong, that it comes from a good place, and what he wants and his intentions are in the right place. This is evident in Act I when Walter says, “… I got a boy who sleeps in the living room…” (34). This shows that Walter truly does care about his family’s situation and he doesn’t want his son, Travis, to grow up and have the same life that he had.
    However, I also believe that Walter is selfish and egocentric. I believe that Walter wants to keep up with the white people and he is jealous that he doesn’t have what they have. On the same page, when Walter is telling Ruth how their son is sleeping on the couch, he also says “… and all I got to give him is stories about how rich people live…”. In this scene Walter demonstrates that he looks up to these white people for their wealth and status in the world. Instead of telling Travis normal bedtime stories, he’s telling him about rich white people. Maybe this is why Travis already knows so much about money and wants to work hard?

  8. Lidia,

    I wholly agree with you when you say that at the start of the movie Walter is seemingly just an unlovable character and he can just be really angering the reader, especially if the reader is a woman. But as the story goes on I think we just end up feeling sad for the Walter. He’s just trying to be the best man for his family so they don’t have to live in poverty anymore and his attempts get more drastic as time goes on. I felt this most on page 128 in act three scene one when Walter says, “Willy…Willy…don’t do it…Please don’t do it.” He was heartbroken over losing that money for his family and I think that was the point that I started to really care about him as an essential example of the family’s struggle. He is a devoted father and sometimes husband that is trying his hardest under difficult circumstances.
    Sadie Royce

  9. Hi Lidia! I loved how you talked about Walter’s dissatisfaction with his life. I totally agree that he wants a better life for him and his family. Their financial situation along with the prejudice they face makes their lives a lot harder than they need to be. I talked about similar things in my blog post. Did you consider this line while writing your post?: ‘and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live…’” (34). I think it shows how dissatisfied Walter is with his life and how he wants to be able to give his whole family a better life.
    -Lucy S

  10. Hi Lindia,
    I liked how you not only focused on Walter in the book, but you also talked about his character in the movie and how they differ. In the movie you are actually able to see how angry he can actually become but you are also able to see how much he cares for his family and wants to do everything he can for them. The scene where Walter assaults Beneatha, I like that you talked about it cause that’s a scene where you can see where his anger is coming from and that he’s doing it all for his family.

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