More than any of the other characters, Walter most clearly serves as the main protagonist, since his dreams and his struggle to fulfill them drive much of the play’s action. Now that his father has died, Walter must take on more responsibility for the family’s well-being. Even more than making better money, this means coming more fully into manhood. Like his father, Walter feels that no man should work in the service industry, and as long as he drives a car for wealthier men, Walter remains trapped by the feeling that he’s not enough of a “man.” Thus, he develops a plan to leave his job as a chauffeur and run his own liquor store. He believes that developing his own entrepreneurial venture will give him the freedom and self-confidence he needs to live up to his father’s legacy and take care of the family.
Walter faces financial and existential struggles that prevent him from making his dream a reality. Financially, the only way he can afford to invest in a liquor store is through Mama’s insurance check. However, since each member of the family has their own expensive aspirations, there isn’t enough money to go around, and Walter must compete for the money. No one in his family believes in his liquor store venture, and their refusal to support his vision leaves Walter feeling crushed and emasculated.
But Walter’s existential struggle doesn’t derive solely from his family life. Walter also feels existentially drained by racism and social exclusion. For instance, he voices a strong desire to achieve what white men his own age have achieved, and he laments how far out of reach his desired lifestyle lies. Walter’s desire to enter the white world, which would just as well exclude him, leads him to make an impulsive decision that places all the Youngers’ aspirations in jeopardy. At the play’s end, the only way for Walter to redeem himself is to set aside his own aspirations for the greater good of the family.