A Raisin in the Sun (1961 movie) - Spoilers!

I watched the movie a few days ago, and I’m feeling a bit… ambiguous. Spoilers for the movie!

I enjoyed the actors and most of the story line, but I didn’t think the ending that was positive or fulfilling. The son, Walter Lee Younger, continually makes poor decisions throughout the movie. He loses almost all of the insurance money from his father’s death, including the money that was supposed to pay for his sister to go to medical school.

The portion of the insurance money that wasn’t wasted was used as a down-payment on a house (over Walter Lee Younger’s strident objections), in a white neighborhood. The neighborhood comes up with money to not only buy the Youngers out, but even pay them more than the home’s worth. The movie presents Walter Lee Younger’s refusal to accept their money as a turning point for his character and the moment he finally “becomes a man.”

I just saw this as a continuation of his poor decisions. He has the chance to get back enough money to pay for his sister’s college. Additionally, if they do move into the house, they are going to be house poor. His wife Ruby at one point dramatically states that with four adults in the house they ought to be able to scrape together enough for the monthly mortgage. So how is the decision to continue forward with the move a positive thing?

Know the play, but not the movie. There’s a lot to be said.

The ending is supposed to be an uplifting one: the family is moving into the middle class neighborhood after telling off the representative of the homeowners.

The problem is that just because they’re moving into an all-white neighborhood, their problems aren’t over. They’re probably not going to be welcomed by the others, and, depending on things, it could get very ugly.

Note, too, that the representative, Karl Lindner (in the play) was played by John Fiedler (in both the movie and the original Broadway play). Fiedler made a career of playing mousy and meek little men (his best known role is probably Mr. Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show, he was the voice of Piglet on Disney’s Winnie the Pooh franchise). In other words, he’s a very easy person to tell off. It’s interesting that he played Lindner (with a different first name) not only in the movie, but in two Broadway versions (he died before the third one). He is not a very good adversary.

I’m not the only one to notice this loose end. Bruce Norris wrote a play, Clybourn Park, where the first act takes place in the house the family in Raisin bought, beginning just after Lindner was rebuffed. Karl shows up to try to change their mind from that end.

The play is important in portraying a Black middle class, and the ending works dramatically, but the family has many more problems to deal with.

On a practical note, perhaps, but recall Lena’s speech: “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.”

The idea was that accepting the money would have been tantamount to admitting they weren’t good enough to live where they wished. Worse, as the literary analysis site Shmoop puts it, when they were slaves they had no choice–but accepting the money means Walter is WILLINGLY submitting to racism.