Imagine for a moment that it is your big sister’s 17th birthday. She is out with her friends celebrating, and your parents are at the mall with your little brother doing some last-minute birthday shopping, leaving you home alone.
You then hear a knock on the front door. When you get there, nobody is there, just an anonymous note taped to the door that says Happy Birthday,” along with a hundred dollar bill. You’ve been dying to get that new video game, and your sister will never know. You are faced with a tough decision, but not a very uncommon one. In both Fences by August Wilson and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, tough decisions have to be made about getting money from someone else’s misfortune. But money’s that important, right? The role of money in people’s day-to-day lives is quite amazing when it’s put into perspective.
The primary reason most Americans get up in the morning is so they can go out and make money. Money buys things, influences people, keeps us alive, and can make us happy. However, in Fences by August Wilson, the Maxtons come into money when Gabe’s head is shot in the war. Similarly, in A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansbury, the Younger family receives money when Walter’s father dies. But does this money bring them happiness? Of course not. They are benefiting from someone else’s misfortune, someone they love.
The money may have made life easier for a brief moment in time, but the novelty soon wears off and reality soon returns. The interesting thing about these two novels is that the money received by both the Maxtons and the Youngers did exactly the opposite of what everyone expected it to do. It eventually made problems for both of the families. In Fences, the Maxtons used Gabe’s money to buy a house and even though it seemed like a good idea, when Gabe moved out, it caused a great deal of guilt in the family, but especially in Troy.
He just couldn’t get over how he used someone he loved so much, and they didn’t even know it. In A Raisin in the Sun, the Youngers also buy a house with the money the life insurance gave them. But their problems are caused not by guilt, but by two entirely different emotions. One is the feeling of being the object of racism in their new community when the Welcoming Committee” tries to get them not to move in. The other is the combination of defeat, loss, anger, and self-pity felt by the whole family when Walter loses the rest of the money and the Younger family is left with nothing but a house in a neighborhood where they aren’t wanted.
Is money a good thing? The answer is simple: yes, money is a good thing when it is handled properly. Both the Maxtons and the Youngers had trouble managing their money, which led to many of their problems. Money is important in our modern society, but it should not be used to measure success, love, or happiness. As Bob Dylan said, What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”
All money really is, is a way to buy material things. Sure, it’s important, but not as important as the people we love. They are where real happiness comes from, not from little green pieces of paper. Happiness is not having what you want, it’s wanting what you have.