A central virtue in the Younger household, dignity exerts a unifying force throughout the play. Mama expresses pride in her family’s background and tries to instill in her children a sense of respect for their ancestors, who were Southern slaves and sharecroppers. Although some characters, such as Mrs. Johnson, criticize the family as “one proud-acting bunch of colored folks,” the family holds fast to its ancestral dignity, an inheritance it considers to be greater than gold. At the play’s climax, the Youngers’ sense of pride gives them the strength to reject Karl Lindner’s dehumanizing offer to buy back their new home because, as Mama says, “Ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth.” Despite the family’s dire financial situation following Walter Lee’s misguided investment, the Youngers resolutely refuse to forfeit their dignity in pursuit of economic gain.
Walter’s loss and eventual recovery of his pride constitute a major plotline of the play. His personal crisis of pride, brought on by his inability to support his family in his dead-end job as a chauffeur, culminates with his decision regarding Karl Lindner’s offer to purchase the Youngers’ new house. Upon first meeting Lindner, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha resoundingly reject his offer, demonstrating their collective familial pride. However, after squandering the family’s insurance payment, Walter decides to accept Lindner’s offer, showing his horrified family how he will act out the stereotype of a groveling black man while signing the contract with Lindner. It is only after Mama insists that Travis witness his father’s demeaning transaction with Lindner that Walter rediscovers his self-worth while standing behind “the sixth generation [of] our family in this country.” In a quietly triumphant moment, Walter reclaims his personal pride, asserts his family’s historical right to be treated fairly in their country, and refortifies his family’s dignity.
Dignity and Pride ThemeTracker
Dignity and Pride Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun
Asagai: You wear it well . . . very well . . . mutilated hair and all.
Beneatha: My hair – what’s wrong with my hair?
Asagai: Were you born with it like that?
Beneatha: No . . . of course not.
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 and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too . . .
Well – son, I’m waiting to hear you say something . . . I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was . . . Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them – I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give one baby up to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one . . .
George: You’re all wacked up with bitterness, man.
Walter: And you – ain’t you bitter, man? Ain’t you just about had it yet? Don’t you see no stars gleaming that you can’t reach out and grab? You happy? – You contented son-of-a-bitch – you happy? You got it made? Bitter? Man, I’m a volcano. Bitter? Here I am a giant – surrounded by ants! Ants who can’t even understand what it is the giant is talking about.
Son – you – you understand what I done, don’t you? I – I just seen my family falling apart today . . . just falling to pieces in front of my eyes . . . We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards – talking ‘bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead . . . When it gets like that in life – you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger.
Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. We ain’t never been that – dead inside.
And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick. We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. We don’t want your money.