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English 102

May, 2009

Ruth in A Raisin in the Sun

In the play A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry describes the character Ruth Younger in a

fascinating way. Ruth is portrayed to be a willing individual of sincerity and humility.

Throughout the play, Ruth is said to be helping and encouraging her family, and with a willful

attitude, she carries out the household duties. Although she is loving, caring, and thoughtful,

Ruth, like most of us humans, has a side of her that is temperamental. She shows bits of anger,

strictness, and confrontation, but has an overall composure of a well-engaged mother, wife, and


“…the character of Ruth resembles the biblical Ruth in her devotion to her mother-in-law”

(Ardolino). The Ruth in the Bible is depicted as a widow who, with total willingness and

submission, left the security of her family to go live with her widowed and childless mother-in-

law. This selfless, willful act meant that “Ruth was willing to give up remarriage to care for

Naomi, her dead husband's mother…” (Capoccia) Ruth (in the Bible) was surely a character of

good heart. I can’t even imagine myself giving up my own life to go serve another person, with

my attitude being totally agreeable. In the drama, Ruth’s first sign of sacrifice is right in the

beginning. It is the early morning, about 7:30, when Ruth comes out of her bedroom and into the

kitchen. She tries to awaken her son who should be getting ready for school. From the moment

she starts to speak, I can tell that she isn’t having a good morning. There is frustration in her

voice when she talks to her son and husband, and later her sister-in-law and mother-in-law. She

doesn’t have time to get pretty or put on some nice clothes: “Ruth is about thirty. We can see that
she was a pretty girl, even exceptionally so, but now it is apparent that life has been little that she

expected, and disappointment has already begun to hang in her face” (Hansberry 1198). She

awakens her husband in time to go to work, and prepares breakfast. Her focus is not on herself,

it’s on her family.

Although her attitude is generally calm, precise, sweet, and sophisticated, Ruth shows a bit of

her humorous side a couple of times throughout the play. The first occasion is towards the

beginning of the play when she mocks her son: “[mocking as she thinks he would say it]: Oh,

Mama makes me so mad sometimes, I don’t know what to do! ...I wouldn’t kiss that woman

good-bye for nothing in this world this morning! ...” (Hansberry 1200) Her son then looks at her

with a little bit of embarrassment and says: “Aw gaalee-Mama…” Because she didn’t want her

son to leave on bad terms, Ruth had to have some fun with him, to show that she really did care.

Another instance where she expresses some humor would be when she is sarcastic with her

husband who needs money for carfare: “[looks at him, then warms; teasing, but tenderly]: Fifty

cents? [She goes to her bag and gets money.] Here, take a taxi.” (Hansberry 1204) The reader

understands that this communication is cynical because at the beginning of the play, Ruth

disagrees to let her son do what he wants, due to the lack of money. She tries to save money and

simply worry about their necessities. However, Walter Lee, the father, comes into the scene and

tells the son that he can do whatever he wants; Walter hands him the money which happens to be

fifty cents, just enough for a snack and a cab ride. He gave his son the fifty cents, thinking he

wouldn’t need it later on.

The other main characters in this play seem to be somewhat similar, perhaps because they’re

related. For instance, Beneatha and Walter Lee are constantly having disagreements, and seem to

always have to question what others have to say. In the start of the play, Walter and Beneatha get

in an argument about the goals that Beneatha attains. Ruth, instead of having to choose a side,

simply acts like the wall betwixt her husband and sister-in-law. She gives a little bit of input, but

doesn’t team up with either of them. She says things like: “Don’t be so nasty, Bennie.” And

“Walter Lee, why don’t you leave that girl alone and get out of here to work?” (Hansberry 1203)

Then she’ll take the role of a mother and add: “Bennie, why you always gotta be pickin’ on your

brother? Can’t you be a little sweeter sometimes?” (Hansberry 1204) She says it in the most

thoughtful way, showing the differences between herself and the other family members.

Ever since the beginning of time, it has been hard for one person to be kind to someone who

is acting difficult and cruel. Ruth, however, shows submission and gentleness to her husband,

even though he is acting despicable towards her. Walter Lee comes home drunk one night and is

an enormous embarrassment for Ruth and Beneatha, since Beneatha’s date is waiting in the

living room. Walter comes in and immediately ridicules George. “Why all you college boys wear

them fairyish-looking white shoes? ...Well, they look crazy as hell--white shoes, cold as it is.”

(Hansberry 1222) Ruth is appalled at Walter, and she instantaneously apologizes to George for

Walter’s inappropriate behavior. Although she’s upset, Ruth shows respect and consideration

towards her husband by not harshly correcting and rebuking him. This is an excellent act of self-

control. After George and Beneatha leave, Walter suddenly starts angrily conveying his feelings

about Ruth. He states things that aren’t true about her; like that she constantly nags him about

everything, and that she complains frequently. Instead of arguing with him, she ignores it and

calmly, with compassion and with all kindness, offers him things to drink. He gets mad and

scowls at her for no apparent reason. At this time, it would be easy for Ruth to suddenly give up

on him and leave, but she doesn’t; her generosity overflows.

Along with being an excellent housekeeper, wife, and mother, Ruth acts like an older sister to
Beneatha. Ruth expresses her opinions about Beneatha freely: “I wish certain young women

‘round here who I could name would tak inspiration about certain rugs in a certain apartment I

could also mention.” She implies how Beneatha doesn’t help clean the house and how she acts

careless. Beneatha then gets angry, using foul language that her mother doesn’t agree with. “Just

listen to her-just listen!” says Ruth (Hansberry 1207). In addition, Ruth welcomes Beneatha’s

date when he comes to the house to pick her up. Instead of carelessly minding her own business,

Ruth greets the guest with enthusiasm and warmth. She kindly chats with George as any other

polite person would be expected to. Rather than keeping to herself and finishing the ironing that

she felt obliged to do, she greeted George and made him feel at ease. In this section of the play,

Ruth stood out to me as one who isn’t afraid to reach out to others, welcome them, while placing

her tasks aside.

Ruth’s goals are never aimed towards herself, but towards her family. There is never a time

when she states what she wants done for herself and for her own life; she is constantly doing

things for others. In the beginning it is apparent that she is caring for her family, rather than

herself. There is one day when Ruth is feeling very sick and tired, but still feels obliged to go

into work. Her mother-in-law tries to make her stay at home because she needs rest. “I can’t stay

home…I got to go in. We need the money.” (Hansberry 1206) Ruth is willing to go to work

feeling sick, just for the good of the family. Her willingness is definitely enhanced in this section

of the play. Lena (her mother-in-law) tries to tell Ruth that she has enough money for the whole

family, but Ruth denies it saying: “Now that’s your money. It ain’t got nothing to do with me.”

She then tells Lena to take her money and go on a vacation:” I’m serious. Just pack up and leave!

Go on away and enjoy yourself some.” (Hansberry 1206) Instead of thankfully accepting the

money, she refuses to take it for herself. Ruth thinks wholly and carefully about Lena and what

she could do to have fun with the money she’s earned. Her focus is entirely off of herself and on

everyone else; it is a sheer presentment of humility.

Even though Ruth’s kindness, generosity, humility and willingness should be recognized and

applauded, the only character who truly acknowledges these traits is her mother-in-law. On page

1206 she notices her illness and shows concern for Ruth. She realizes the work that Ruth does

and tells her to take a break. Then a little later she notices it again:” [Worriedly hovering over

Ruth]: Ruth, honey—what’s the matter with you—you sick? …Come on now, honey. You need

to lie down and rest awhile…then have some nice hot food.” (Hansberry 1213) As it moves on, I

start to realize how stubborn Ruth really is. She doesn’t want to lie down and eat food. She

persistently does the housework, not wanting her mother-in-law to have to do it. What the rest of

the family does not realize is that Ruth is the one holding them all together. She fixes the meals,

cleans the house, and irons the linens.

The reality in this play gives a piece of the author’s perspective on things. Towards the end of

the play, the Younger family plans to buy a house which happens to be in a nice neighborhood,

where no colored people reside. A man comes to their door the day they plan to move and makes

a proposition that he will pay them not to move into that house because the people living there

would feel uncomfortable, and because they fear for the safety of their children amongst colored

people. It was a shocking arrangement that he planned to make. They were appalled with him

since he had been so kind to them. The thoughts and perceptions of the white people in that

neighborhood were suddenly revealed. Their dream was unexpectedly crushed, or, to be more

precise, it was probably dried up, like a raisin in the sun. However, they kept their ground,

moved into the house, and intended to stay there, showing pride and dignity, upholding the honor

of their father, Mr. Walter Younger.

Works Cited

Ardolino, Frank. "Hansberry's A RAISIN IN THE SUN." Spring 2005. Proquest. 23 April 2009


did=844581821&sid=4&Fmt=3&clientId=1407&RQT=309&VName=PQD >.

Capoccia, Kathryn. Women of the Bible - Ruth. 2000. 23 April 2009


Hansberry, Lorraine. "A Raisin in the Sun." Literature for Composition. Pgs. 1196-1249. 'Ed.

Barnet, Sylvan; Burto, William; Cain, William E.. Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.