A Raisin in the Sun: A look into Walter Lee Younger & Black Ownership

The image above is a scene from the 1961 film version of “A Raisin in the Sun”.

Right: Claudia McNeil  (Lena Younger)             Left: Sidney Poitier (Walter L. Younger)

I have read “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry multiple times and it’s raw simplicity captures me every read. Recently, I have decided to finally watch the 1961 version starring Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee Younger and Claudia Mcneil as Lena Younger (Mama). If you have read the play, then you are familiar with the aching sense of longing expressed by Walter Lee Younger, his wife, and the entire family. It is a longing for apt survival in a place where the black family is not seen as anything but a producer of workers for the white majority. It is a longing for something besides themselves. The acting teems with grit, passion, genuine despair, and an ending hope to break through the claustrophobic walls of city poverty.

With each character we receive a variant of the same drive to break against societal limitations imposed on the black individual. Walter Lee Younger is a young man who works as a chauffeur. As the talk of his father’s insurance money surfaces, we see a haunting development of desperation to make a name for oneself and establish ownership to fight against the lack of money. Walter Lee is spirited and heartily driven to do whatever it takes with the money as an opposition to their suffocating economic situation. As I watched Poitier’s portrayal of Walter Lee Younger, I could not help but notice how accurate his facial expressions were in depicting every sentiment that ran through Walter’s veins throughout the play. There was pain, sadness, hopelessness, and shots of pure madness that takes the light in certain scenes that demonstrate the psychological and emotional effects on the black individual when one is prevented societal mobility and general respect from the outside world.

With this in mind, I am reminded of a part of Richard Wright’s autobiographical account, “Black Boy”. He recounted that his Aunt

“was beaten by the life of the city, just as my mother had been beaten…I had fled one insecurity and had embraced another” (263).

Walter Lee Younger refused to succumb to the predetermined fate placed upon black men, and acted out of desperation to survive and remain whole rather than exist simply as an inner city statistic. He had refused to be beaten by the city just as his own father had been. We see a dignified character that has endured blows to his pride and as a result, frantically seeks to mend it.

What is it then that allows him to regain his sense of self and dignity? What is the key element in the plot that allows for us to understand why both him and the entire family found a new sense of confidence?

It not merely the prospect of a new home, but it is the idea of black ownership.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of Mrs. Lena Younger who had planned to live in the apartment for about a year only to live and still remain in the same place thirty years later.

Limitations and stagnation was and still are major sources of frustration and hopelessness in black inner cities. After losing some of the money to a untrustworthy deal “partner”, Walter Lee had to keep his head and take the opportunity when it came time to maintain a firm ground against Karl Lindner who tried to discourage them from moving into the neighborhood.

Walter had leave his ideas of starting a liquor business alone, or else he would be right there with those in power, contributing to the problems that damage the black community. Instead he takes the route of responsible ownership, for his family, and for himself.




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