In Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play, A Raisin in the Sun., four family members with contrasting dreams each attempt to convince the rest of the family that theirs is the most appropriate use of a $10,000 insurance check, until they all are faced with the threat of discrimination. At the onset of the play, Walter’s dream was to own a liquor store, which he tried to pitch using ethos and logos. However, in the latter portion of the story, it is revealed that the liquor store was a part of Walter’s greater dream of supporting his family. Now using pathos, Walter is immensely more successful at convincing his family that his dream is the one to follow.
Initially, when Walter had his heart set on the liquor store, he used a combination of logos and ethos in his attempts to persuade Mama to give him the insurance money. These two tools were also used to convince the family as a whole to understand that this was the best use of this money. The morning before the insurance check arrived, after Ruth tells him that his friends who he wants to go into business with are “…good- for-nothing loudmouth|s]..” (32), Walter comments on another friend of his and how, “…now-he’s grossing a hundred thousand a year..” (32) The statement itself is a fact, but Walter has hidden a strongly implied hypothetical situation, although no one knows for sure, Walter makes a simple cause and effect argument: if had Walter gone into business with this friend and Ruth had agreed, then they would be rich too. Incidentally, this indirectly plays at Ruth’s desires as well, the want of material. In addition, this fact also shows that Walter historically has been able to choose competent and successful business partners, and he trying to get Ruth to acknowledge this reputation, or ethos. In the same conversation, when he is trying to sell Ruth into talking to Mama, he tells her, “Mama would listen to you. You know she listen to you more than she do me and Bennie. She think more of you.” (32)
Although this statement does not make Walter himself more trustworthy, recognizing that he lacks his mother’s trust, he is taking advantage of the ethos that his wife has built up with Mama to project the idea as trustworthy endeavor. Even though Ruth’s proposition was rejected, Mama did give the idea more thought then when Walter asked her himself. When she finally sat down and talked to Mama, Ruth quoted Walter saying, “I spec people going to always be drinking themselves some liquor.” (42) The intention of this fact was to assure anyone who heard it, Mama in this case, that Walter’s potential investment was a stable one, because if liquor is a constantly consumed commodity, those who supply it will have constant revenue. The fact that Ruth can quote him saying it and use it definitively to make a point signifies that Walter’s statement has made a strong impression on his wife. However, it is more likely that she agreed to talk to Mama not because she believed the business to be right, but instead hoped this would rekindle their relationship like her dream is. Although this was not what convinced Mama to give Walter the money-in fact it may have delayed him receiving it, it still planted the idea there.
In the latter portion of the play, when Walter realizes that ultimately, his exigence is to support his family and protect them from the threat of racial discrimination, he uses pathos to make his points, and gets through to his audience much more clearly than before. When painting a picture in Travis’s mind about his son’s future life, Walter’s tone, as a stage direction, is “(sweetly, more sweetly than we have ever known him)” (107). The magnificent aspirations for the future Walter is instilling into his son are meant to fill Travis with joy, hope, and towards his father, pride. Based on Travis’s response, the first physical expression of emotion towards his father since receiving the 50 cents at the start of the play, Walter demonstrated to Travis that his plans were the right thing to do. After he realizes that a majority of the insurance money is gone, he earnestly believes that the best remaining option is to sell the house back to Clybourne Park and has to convince the rest of the adults that this is the right action for all of them. He does so by saying “That white man is going to walk in that door able to write checks for more money than we ever had” (125) Since the origin of this depressed mood comes from the loss of the insurance money, Walter intends to get it back and appeals to the family’s wish to return to happier times.
When demonstrating how he would talk to Lindner, he says “And r’il feel fine! Fine! FINE!” (126) even though the family obviously knows he isn’t. This stirs pity in Mama, who realizes that being opposed by the rest of the world had done this to Walter, and caused her to let Walter make the final decision. In the end, the arguments of the rest of the family were also quelled, and they allow him to represent the interests of the family. However, although Mama will not negotiate with Lindner, she uses her pathos to make Walter go through a change of heart, by making Walter explain his intentions to Travis, she is appealing to his sense of fatherly pride and responsitbility to one’s child(ren). Eventually, Walter realizes that even if they got the money, admitting that “we wasn’t fit to walk the earth” (125) was far from the best decision, since he realizes that his greatest dream is that he, and his family, be treated as equals, and moving into an all-white neighborhood would prove that they were. When talking to Lindner, he says “(With sudden intensity)
My father also beat a man to death once because the man called him a bad name or something” (130). Once again he is using a strong emotion, this time fear, to achieve the reaction he desires. Because he wants to be respected by Lindner and his community, he shows that they are not willing to be treated as second-class but instead is equals. Based on Lindner’s “frozen (1.30) reaction, the reader knows that Walter has gotten the attention of a man indifferent to their struggles and made their agenda clear. Although Walter has a hard time seeing the big picture of what exactly his exigence is, from owning a liquor store, to retrieving the lost money, to finally owning a house, and ultimately being respected and treated as equals, eventually his family provided him with the means to accomplish everything that he wanted. Walter is much more successful and much more human when he considered the entire family before making his decisions. His struggles and successes show that if one truly has the interests of others at heart, one will always be supported in the end.
Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: And with Sixteen Related Readings. Lodi, NJ: Everbind Anthologies, 2003. Print.