Walter is a chauffeur and aspiring business owner in his mid-30s. He follows current events in the civil rights movement and is unhappy in his job working for a rich white man. He's the main character, or protagonist, of the play and goes through the most significant change. He's lean and fidgety, and he has an emotional, outspoken, passionate personality. His relationship with his wife, Ruth, is alternately loving and antagonistic. Walter expresses a need to provide for his family, especially for his son Travis, and to become the man and authority of the house. Walter's ambition drives much of the plot. He pursues his goal both selfishly—imagining himself becoming a rich businessman in an office—and out of concern for his family.
In her early 60s, Mama is a beautiful, gracious woman with "wit and faith." She speaks with a soft voice and tends to "wander conversationally." Mama lost her husband, Big Walter, before the play takes place. The cause of Big Walter's death is implied to be work related. Mama once worked outside the home for a white family but doesn't work any longer. Mama is devoted to her family and to her religious faith. She struggles to understand Walter and Beneatha. When Mama notices the confusion and ambition of her two children, she worries that they're changing for the worse and that her family is growing apart. Despite being widowed and living in poverty, Mama remains an optimist.
Beneatha is Walter's younger sister. Like her brother she has a lean figure and an intensely emotional personality. She represents a new generation of African Americans, smart and unafraid to go after what they want. Her character arc, in many ways, foreshadows the coming civil rights movement. She differs from the older Youngers in her pursuit of formal education and her "modern" ideas. Her goal is medical school, but she dabbles in artistic endeavors like photography and guitar playing, to the amusement and bewilderment of the family. Beneatha refuses to believe in God due to the suffering in the world, which brings her into conflict with her devout mother. Beneatha is well read and approaches the world with a critical, sometimes cynical eye. She's concerned about the African American community's assimilation—their blending into the white community and ignoring of their own heritage. Her two suitors, George Murchison and Joseph Asagai, function as foils, or contrasting characters, for different aspects of Beneatha's personality and opposing views of African American culture in general.
Ruth is about 30 years old and described as good-looking but weary. She approaches life with resignation and practicality—a "settled woman." Though she's stern with her husband and son, she loves and wants the best for them. She also greatly respects Mama Younger. She's close to Beneatha, despite seeing Beneatha's academic and artistic airs as frivolous. Ruth works as a cleaning woman for a white family and also does much of the Younger family's housework. She seems defeated at the play's beginning, with a lack of control over her life. As the play progresses, Ruth shows that she hopes for better circumstances and longs to rekindle her relationship with Walter. She's ambivalent about having a second child but eventually accepts the idea.
Travis is Walter and Ruth's son, a boy of about 10 or 11. He's generally respectful and polite, but he sometimes disobeys his parents by staying out too late. Though he knows the family's financial situation, he wants the same opportunities as his peers and asks his parents for money for school activities. He shows a desire to earn his own money and prove his responsibility by carrying groceries after school. Travis represents the "sixth generation" of Youngers and a hope for the future.