The typical view of the American dream is illustrated by the various characters in the plays “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams and the play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. Each character has their perspective as to what the American dream means and how to attain it. The protagonists in each family have their own individual dreams as well as their own barriers in attaining that dream. Although the social, economic and educational barriers are similar, the underlying barriers are quite different in each case. The emasculation of Walter Lee and the strong family commitment of Tom Wingfield are their own personal barriers. The character Walter Lee of “A Raisin in the Sun” as well as Tom Wingfield of “The Glass Menagerie” are two individuals attempting to attain their deferred American dream.
In the play “The Glass Menagerie”, Tom feels trapped and submissive to his family’s wants and needs. His commitment to his family often gets in the way of him pursuing his personal goals. He is the breadwinner who hates his warehouse job and eventually gets fired. His dreams and aspirations of being a poet or joining the Merchant Marines and becoming a world traveler, are momentarily deferred for the sake and well-being of his family. So he escapes into his own world of poetry and movies, and dreams of better days. At one point he expresses his frustration by stating to his mother, “Look I’ve got nothing, no single thing”- “In my life here that I can call my own!” (284; 3). Tom also states – “I go to the movies because – I like adventure. Adventure is something I don’t have much of at work, so I go to the movies”. “I like a lot of adventure”. (301; 4) Statements of this nature help to illustrate the frustrations of his desire to change his current lifestyle. In this situation the needed family support and dependent relationships tend to be an enormous barrier for Tom in attaining his American dream.
In the play “A Raisin in the Sun”, the protagonist Walter Lee Younger, is a dreamer, defiant husband, caring father as well as a belligerent son and brother. His get rich quick solutions to his families problems, comes into direct conflict with the rest of the family, especially his wife, Ruth. His frustration with his inability to attain the American dream is evident throughout the play. Walter exclaims to his wife at one point in the play, after her bitter remark “Oh Walter Lee…” “You tired ain’t you? Tired of everything. Me, the boy, and the way we live – this beat up hole. Ain’t you.” (350; Act 1, 1) Walter seems to be expressing his frustration with his wives attitude and his own feelings of inadequacy. In another scene Walter again shows his frustration with the lack of concern by his wife, in reference to his dream of owning a liquor store. “See I am trying to talk to you about myself and all you cam say is eat your eggs and go to work”. (351; Act 1, 1) Also in another scene Walter Lee reacts to hearing his Mama has no intention of paying for the liquor store with great indignation, “Oh – so you don’t aim to have to speak on that again?” “So you have decided”. (361; Act 1, 2) All these comments tend to lend to the feeling of emasculation on Walter Lees part. Whether these feelings are imaginary or grounded in real life, they affect Walter Lees’ outlook on life.
Although each play represents a different era in American history, A Raisin in the Sun also represents the threshold of the Civil Rights movement and The Glass Menagerie represents the post war era. Each protagonist (Walter Lee & Tom Wingfield) have a lot in common. They both feel bound to their families and responsible for the livelihood of their families and they each feel that their current economic status leaves a lot to be desired. In Walter Lees’ case he is married and has a family and does no have the same options afforded Tom, who is single, and has no legal obligation to stay.
In conclusion, Walter Lee and Tom have a lot of the same dilemmas in pursuing the American dream. Economic, social and educational barriers for each are similar, and they both are frustrated with their inability to provide a stable lifestyle for their families. Through little or no fault of their own their dreams have been deferred, in Walter’s case poor planning (lack of knowledge in the business sense) and his end justifies the means attitude, which is relevant in his selfish distribution of the check and the fact that his wife may be pregnant does not temper his zealous ambitions. The prospect of abortion does not seem to bother him at this point. In Tom’s case frustration finally wins out over family commitment. He has lost his job and inadvertently attempted to match his severely shy and dependent sister with a man that has been spoken for. His final solution is to walk out and follow in the foot steps of his father, who had abandoned the family long ago.
Hansberry, Lorraine.”A Raisin in the Sun”. Exploring Literature. Ed. Frank Madden, 3rd ed. New York: Pearson, 2007. 350, 351, 361.
Williams, Tennessee. “The Glass Menagerie”. Exploring Literature. Ed. Frank Madden, 3rd ed. New York: Pearson, 2007. 284,301.