The Transformative Effect of an Imperfect Happy Ending

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“Happily ever after” endings only exist in fairy tales, but there are real life happy endings that many times transcends life’s adversities. Indeed, life is never going to be perfect, so happy endings don’t have to be perfect either. I invite to read more about “The Transformative Effect of an Imperfect Happy Ending”

It is somewhat depressing that during the last decade most movies, books, and even theatrical productions rarely have a happy ending to them. Although it is a fact that real life is surrounded by tragedy, violence, injustice, and death, there are still many wonderful experiences that make life worth living. 

For a story to have a happy ending, it simply needs to leave its protagonists with a feeling of pride, satisfaction, empowerment, and hope that gives them strength to carry on and helps them feel accomplished and content.

But what determines a true happy ending? Writer David Homel says “these days, it’s more about redemption… It’s about getting better…” (Patriquin).

A Review of the Play ” A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry.

The Transformative Effect of an Imperfect Happy Ending

When reviewing the play “A Raisin in the Sun” critics and people in general have argued whether the play’s ending is happy or doomed because the family portrayed in it is left broke to face an uncertain future.

Notwithstanding, the play’s ending should be viewed as a happy ending because of the powerful life changing lessons learned by the character of Walter Lee during his struggles with self-esteem, failure, poverty, and discrimination; and how the change of his life’s perception transforms him from being an immature, angry, bitter man, into an emotionally mature family man with pride and honor.

The play’s less than perfect “happy ending” leaves the Younger family united and confident with a renewed feeling of achievement and peace of mind. Even when they know that the future holds continued struggle and hardship, in their hearts they know they will be ready to fight and face any challenges that arise in their way. 

In order to assert that the play’s ending is indeed happy, it is necessary to examine the time period when the story is played, as well as the moral and emotional issues straining the characters, Walter Lee Younger and his family.

As Susan Callahan explained: “probably the most useful thing readers can do is to look closely at the text before them… while attempting to place it within the wider historical context in which it is set” (Callahan 121). With this in mind, there are several catalysts for the controversies and emotional breakdowns of the play’s characters that eventually cause their lives to dramatically change.

First of all, “A raisin in the Sun” is based in a poor neighborhood in Chicago, in the years between World War II and 1959 (Hansberry 1301). Lisbeth Lipari describes the time period depicted in the play as a “reign of racial terror and violence not adequately understood by audiences, critics, or scholars” (120).

It was a time where violence and racial discrimination were a huge issue in American society and when civil rights, equality, and justice were severely undermined and disregarded by most whites. The possibilities of any African American family to achieve a happy ending were very scarce.

Nevertheless, within the hardships of the society of the time, the perseverance of the civil rights movement strived and made it possible for African Americans to achieve equality and justice.

In like manner, Lorraine Hansberry‘s “Raisin in the Sun” was the first play by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway in 1959, and it can be perceived as one of many happy endings in the history of the fight for equality and justice for all in the United States of America. 

Besides all the social turmoil of the time period, there was also the issue of the financial struggles suffered by most African Americans.

Although during the 1950’s the nation’s economic power started to recover, the job opportunities for African Americans were only for “low wage menial occupations with little opportunity for advancement” (Lipari 126) mostly due to racial discrimination.

With this in mind, one can understand the main controversy in the play “A Raisin in the Sun”, which was the disagreement and discussion that occurs after the family’s matriarch Lena (Mama) receives a $10,000 life insurance check due to the death of her husband Big Walter.

Mama wishes to use that money to purchase a “two-story somewhere, with a yard where [her grandson] could play in the summertime” (Hansberry 1312).

This was hers and her husband’s dream since they first got married, but they were never able to achieve it, the same things that happened to many African American families. Since then, the Younger family had been living in an apartment that was greatly deteriorated and too small.  

The argument begins when Walter Lee wishes to use the money to start a business, a liquor store, but Mama does not approve and completely rejects her son’s idea. Mama’s decision of not giving her son the money, but instead to use it to put a down payment for a small home angers Walter so much that he withdraws from his family, leaves his job, and looks for comfort in alcohol.

In the middle of their financial hardship and the loss of the family’s patriarch, a blessing came to them in the form of a check, but instead of granting them their happy ending, it caused anger, disappointment, and division in the family.

Although money is greatly helpful for almost everything, it is never the reason for happy endings in life because true peace and contentment may come only from within a person’s soul and not from materialistic things that eventually deteriorate and vanish. 

Continuing the analysis of the family’s issues, one finds that the character of Walter Lee is frustrated with his life, his job, and his financial instability. The fact that his mother does not trust his instincts on how to use the money to improve their family’s well-being, neither approves of his business aspirations was making Walter to get desperate and to behave erratically.

Mama sees that her son’s life priorities and values are not in accordance with what she had instilled in him, and she fears for him. In the middle of a discussion she says to Walter “something eating you up like a crazy man. … The past few years I been watching it happen to you. You get all nervous acting and kind of wild in the eyes” (Hansberry 1327).

Here one can see that Mama is worried about the change she’s seeing happening in her son’s character and his emotional instability. Mama’s dream of finally owning a decent home and attaining her happy ending is being overshadowed by her son’s unhappiness and ungratefulness. 

Furthermore, Walter is falling into a huge depression. He says to his mother: “Sometimes it’s like I can see the future stretched out in front of me – just plain as day. The future, Mama. Hanging over there at the edge of my days. Just waiting for me – a big, looming blank space – full of nothing” (Hansberry 1328). Here one can notice the feeling of emptiness, the lack of meaning, the pain and disorientation that is consuming him.

His problems arise because he fails to appreciate the good things he has in life and only complains of what he doesn’t have. Susan Callahan explains in detail her perspective about Walter’s attitude by saying: 

Walter fails to see the importance of his steady job and his loving presence in Travis’s life. He dismisses these intangible gifts and focuses on the material goods he wishes he could provide. His sense of himself comes from his belief that a man is defined by his economic status, a belief that is reinforced by the white world in which he works (126). 

This is a very accurate description of the failed reasoning of this character. Here is a thirty five years old, married man with a child that does not know what to do with his life. He was only looking for the materialistic things, money and comfort as a source for happiness, and his inability to attain them was slowly killing him inside.

Although one can see that he wishes to give to his son and family a better life (Hansberry 1348) his erroneous concepts about the meaning of success and true happiness don’t allow him to see that what his family needs most at the time: a safe comfortable space they can all call home. 

Ultimately, despite her son’s objections Mama goes ahead and puts the down –payment for a nice home in Clybourne Park, an all-white neighborhood, causing amazement in the family of her decision and the fear of more struggle. Being completely disappointed by her mother’s act, Walter responds to the news ironically “So that’s the peace and comfort you went out and bought for us today!” (Hansberry 1339).

Although they all had to accept the decision, Mama knew that her son was hurting, and in an attempt to provide him some peace and happiness, as a sign of trust she gives him what is left of his father’s insurance money, and asks him to keep one part for his sister Beneatha’s school tuition and to do with the other part whatever he wanted.

Mama explains her decision saying: “There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy” (Hansberry 1347).

This is a great sign that shows how Mama really knows what the happy endings in life are about, that they are not about money or possessions, but about being satisfied with one’s life’s choices and hard work to achieve one’s dreams. 

Although finally Walter was satisfied with the money his mother gave him, and the family seems to be finally going in the right direction in achieving their happy ending, the trouble continues when the racist neighborhood association of Clybourne Parks sends a representative named Lindner to convince them not to move into their new home.

Lindner tell them “I am sure you people must be aware of some of the incidents which have happened in various parts of the city when colored people have moved into certain areas” (Hansberry 1352).

Here, the author Lorraine Hansberry is drawing from her own family’s experience where they were threaten and attacked when they moved into an all-white community. In the play the Younger family refuses to be humiliated and discriminated upon and proudly reject the association’s offer to buy out the house from them for a profit (Hansberry 1353).

Here one can see how the Youngers were a proud strong family willing to do whatever it takes for the well-being of their family, as many African American families did during the time period despite of the violent opposition.

Dreams achieved and happy endings do not mean perfect lives, it means that people are able to get up and stand tall after they have been kicked down and continue to strive for a better future. 

However no one says happy endings are easily obtain. When finally the family was ready to move into their new home, another controversy arrives when Walter finds out that the business in which he invested all the money his mother gave him was a scam.

Walter completely breaks down and cries out “Oh, God… Don’t let it be true… THAT MONEY IS MADE OUT OF MY FATHER’S FLESH” (Hansberry 1359).

At that moment, the family realizes that all their dreams and hopes were to be lost as they were not going to able to afford the new home’s notes. In desperation, Walter decides that the only way to save some of the money he lost was to accept the offer from the Clybourne Park neighborhood association.

Mama responds to her son’s astonishing proposal to accept the offer saying: “Son…. We ain’t never been that poor… We ain’t never been that – dead inside” (Hansberry 1366). On a literary analysis, author Callahan describes her perception of this moment saying: “Up until this moment, Mama has believed that, although her family may have been poor in worldly goods, they remained rich in human dignity” (Callahan 136), flawlessly interpreting Mama’s feelings. 

At this point it is important to realize that the figure of the family’s patriarch “Big Walter” was a tremendous influence on the family. Mama describes his late husband saying: “He was one man to love his children…. Hard-headed, mean…but he sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something – be something” (Hansberry 1313).

Furthermore, Lena continues to remember how Big Walter used to say “seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams – but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worthwhile” (1313). Mama was sad that Big Walter couldn’t see his dreams come true and neither would their children. 

The moment came when Walter tries to negotiate with the neighborhood representative against his mother’s wishes, when suddenly he started to remember his father. In the middle of this huge crisis, Walter finally recognizes the impact his father’s life had onto him.

He tells Mr. Lindner, “we come from people who had a lot of pride” (Hansberry 1369), referring to his father’s character. Walter had found inside him the seed of pride and honor his father had planted. As he was looking at his son Travis, Walter finally understood what was really important in life.

The legacy left to one’s children of love, pride, honesty, dignity, and hard work, even if one is not able to attain all the dreams and happy endings.

Walter was able to accept his mistakes and to realize that he has to work hard to overcome his financial struggles and to give his family what they really need. Walter tells Mr. Lindner “we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick” (Hansberry 1369).

This is a precious moment for him and his family. It was his redemption, like he was being born again, at that moment, he finally became a man. Mama says to Ruth “he finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain” (Hansberry 1370), she is proud of her son’s transformation. 

IN CONCLUSION: The Transformative Effect of an Imperfect Happy Ending

The play’s ending is in fact a happy one; not because they were going to live happily ever after in their new home at an all-white neighborhood, but because one can see the amazing transformation of this intense, impulsive, angry man, into a man of pride, honor, and dignity, just like his father wanted him to be.

The ending of this acclaimed play is a happy one because the decision Walter Lee makes for the good of his family.  Douglas Turner Ward asserted: “It is Walter Lee – flawed, contradictory, irascible, impulsive, furious and, most of all, desperate- who emerges as the most unique creation for his time and ours” (Abramson 211).

After carefully analyzing the characters in “A Raisin in the Sun”, especially that of Walter Lee, and the circumstances each of them live through, one can attest that happy endings do not always come true without a struggle, pain or loss, but ultimately they do come true if one wants to believe it. 

We invite to read What it Means to Be Human? 3 Positive Qualities that Makes Us Who We Are

Works Cited

  • Abramson, Doris E. “The Fifties.” Negro Playwrights in the American Theatre 1925-1959. N.p.: Columbia UP, 1969. 165-266. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz and Cathy Falk. Vol. 62. Detroit: Gale, 1991. Contemporary Literary Criticism Online. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. 
  • Callahan, Susan. “The Power of Story To Shape Lives In Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun.” Critical Insights: Family (2012): 121-139. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. 
  • Hansberry, Lorraine. “a Raisin in the Sun.” Approaching Literature: Reading Thinking Writing. Third ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012. 1300-370. Print. 
  • Lipari, Lisbeth. “Hansberry’s Hidden Transcript.” Journal of Popular Culture 46.1 (2013): 119-142. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. 
  • Patriquin, Martin. “Dead: Happily-Ever-After Endings.” Maclean’s 122.22 (2009): 87. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. 

By: Yeszenia Gulloso

Yeszenia Gulloso

Yeszenia Gulloso es Técnico Licenciada en Ciencias Radiológicas R.T. (R)(CT) (ARRT), escritora motivacional, emprendedora, y madre de Allyson y Bryan.

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