Walter Younger can be really hard to get along with. For most of the first act, he's nasty to just about every other character in the play. He picks fights with his sister, Beneatha. He says all kinds of mean things to Ruth, his wife, and is even short with his long-suffering mother, Lena.
All this nastiness seems to come from the fact that Walter is totally disgusted with his life. Working as a chauffeur for a rich white man has got him totally dissatisfied. There's no room for advancement, and he hates having to suck up to his boss all the time. Basically, Walter feels like less of a man, because he's in his thirties and can still barely provide for his family.
The only time Walter seems to get excited in the early sections of the play is when there's talk of the $10,000 life insurance check (Walter's father has died) that's soon to come in the mail. Walter plans to use the money to invest in a liquor store with his "buddy," Willy Harris. He sees this investment as an opportunity to be his own boss and to finally provide for his family the way he feels he should.
Everybody tries to warn Walter against investing in the liquor store. Ruth tells her husband that he shouldn't trust Willy Harris. And Lena, a devout Christian, thinks it is sinful to sell liquor. Lena even flat out refuses to give the money to Walter at first; the insurance policy is in her name, so she has control over it.
Instead of giving her son the money for the liquor store, Walter's mother takes a portion and puts a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood. This sends Walter into the depths of despair. He goes on a three-day drinking binge and refuses to go to work.
Eventually, Lena gives in and lets Walter have a big chunk of what's left to invest however he sees fit. She also trusts her son to put some of the money in a bank account so that Beneatha can go to medical school. Walter doesn't do this, however, and just hands it all over to Willy Harris for the liquor store.
At this point in the play, we get a glimpse of who Walter would be if he was happier with his work life. He's friendly to his sister, hugs his mother, and even takes his wife out on a date, where they get super-frisky and hold hands. The Walter that we see here is a loveable, friendly, family man. We get to this section and we're like, "Wow, I guess he's not such a jerk."
Unfortunately, this just doesn't last. Everybody's doubts about the liquor store investment are proven right when Willy takes off with all the money. Things get really bad here. Earlier, Mr. Lindner, a white man from the new neighborhood, tried to pay the Youngers not to move into their new house. Back when Walter was on top, he proudly kicked Mr. Lindner out and told him that they didn't need his money.
Now, though, Walter is desperate. He sinks to a new low and calls Mr. Lindner back, saying that he'll accept the money. Walter tells his family that he's prepared to bow down to "The Man" to get the money. This is really Walter's lowest point in the whole play. He's prepared to totally shame himself for the money.
In the end, though, Walter is redeemed when he eventually refuses to take the money from Mr. Lindner. When the white man returns, Lena forces Walter to talk to him in front of Travis, Walter's young son. Walter just can't bring himself to act so shamefully in front of Travis. In the end, Walter finds his self-respect and leads his family on to their new house.
Although Walter makes the worst mistakes out of any other character in the play, he also undergoes the greatest transformation. His journey takes him from total jerk, obsessed with get-rich-quick schemes, to a man worthy of respect. In Walter Younger, Lorraine Hansberry shows how poverty and racism can twist and depress people, turning them against those that they most love. Of course, with Walter, the playwright also shows us how these social barriers can be overcome through personal determination and staying true to one's own beliefs.