Study Guide

A Raisin in the Sun Quotes

  • Poverty

    Act One, Scene One
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    Yeah. You see, this little liquor store we got in mind cost seventy-five thousand and we figured the initial investment on the place be ‘bout thirty thousand, see. That be ten thousand each. Course, there’s a couple of hundred you got to pay so’s you don’t spend your life just waiting for them clowns to let your license get approved – (1.1.79)

    Walter believes that investing a whole lot of money will earn his family their fortune. He gets a lot of crap from his family about this idea from his family, but on paper it's really not a terrible idea. Unfortunately, Walter's would-be business partner, Willy Harris, turns out to be a total crook. In the end, the Youngers remain in poverty.

    WALTER
    Anybody who talks to me has got to be a good-for-nothing loudmouth, ain’t he? And what you know about who is just a good-for-nothing loudmouth? Charlie Atkins was just a "good-for-nothing loudmouth" too, wasn’t he! When he wanted me to go in the dry-cleaning business with him. And now – he’s grossing a hundred thousand a year. A hundred thousand dollars a year! You still call him a loudmouth! (1.1.71)

    Money is a consistent reason for dispute between Walter and Ruth. This quote seems to suggest that Walter doesn't care who he goes into business with as long as it will result in more money.

    WALTER
    …Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ‘less you pay somebody off! (1.1.81)

    Walter believes he needs to spend money in order to gain money. And, in this case, he means to spend money on a bribe to help get his liquor license. It seems like Walter's poverty has helped to make him perfectly willing to be a little shady in his business dealings.

    WALTER (Without even looking at his son, still staring hard at his wife)
    In fact, here’s another fifty cents…Buy yourself some fruit today – or take a taxicab to school or something! (1.1.59)

    Walter tries to prevent the family's economic status from affecting his son. He wants his son to have everything he ought to have.

    WALTER
    Have we figured out yet just exactly how much medical school is going to cost? (1.1.109)

    Walter resents Beneatha's wish to become a doctor because it will cost the family a significant amount of money. The Youngers' poverty seems to often make them turn on each other.

    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    They said Saturday and this is just Friday and I hopes to God you ain’t going to get up here first thing this morning and start talking to me ‘bout no money – ‘cause I ‘bout don’t want to hear it. (1.1.5)

    The ten thousand dollars is the first thing on everyone's mind because they are so accustomed to being worried about having enough money. Like many Americans the Youngers have had to struggle to make ends meet.

    RUTH
    Shallow – what do you mean he’s shallow? He’s rich!…Well – what other qualities a man got to have to satisfy you, little girl? (1.1.249)

    Ruth jokes that wealth is the most important trait in a man. Somehow we doubt that she truly believes this. Otherwise, she never would have married Walter.

    RUTH
    Well, I ain’t got no fifty cents this morning…I don’t care what teacher say. I ain’t got it. Eat your breakfast, Travis. (1.1.28)

    The Younger family is so poverty-stricken that Ruth must deny her child money required for class. She's really short with Travis about this. We wonder if her snippiness belies a sense of shame.

    RUTH (Looks at him, then warms; teasing, but tenderly) Fifty cents? (She goes to her bag and gets money)
    Here – take a taxi! (1.1.139)

    Walter gave Travis his last fifty cents, forcing him to ask Ruth for money to go to work. This moment reveals a lot about Walter. For one, he's ashamed of his poverty and tries to hide it from his son even when it's totally impractical to do so. Ruth's character is also highlighted in this moment. Here, we see the kindness she shows Walter. She gives him the money even though he's totally undermined her in front of their son.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    I mean it! I’m just tired of hearing about God all the time. What has He got to do with anything? Does he pay tuition? (1.1.277)

    Bennie suggests that having faith does not ensure financial security. It could be that the family's poverty and struggles over the years have put a strain on the Christian faith that her mother brought her up in.

    BENEATHA
    Oh, Mama – The Murchisons are honest-to-God-real-live-rich colored people, and the only people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people. I thought everybody knew that. I’ve met Mrs. Murchison. She’s a scene! (1.1.264)

    George's family is one of the few black families that Beneatha has ever met that doesn't live in poverty. Of course, she is none too impressed with Murchisons and feels like their money has made them total snobs.

    Act One, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA (Still staring at [the check])
    Now don’t act silly…We ain’t never been no people to act silly ‘bout no money –
    RUTH (Swiftly)
    We ain’t never had none before – OPEN IT! (1.2.165-6)

    The arrival of Walter's life insurance check is a momentous event. The Younger family is beside itself with the possible doors that money opens.

    MAMA (Quietly)
    Oh – (Very quietly)
    So now it's life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it's money. I guess the world really do change… (1.2.229)

    This statement from Lena shows a real generational gap between her and her son. There's a good chance that her parents were born slaves. Lena would have grown up with the idea that just being free was a big accomplishment. However, Walter is further separated from slavery and so being a free man just isn't enough. To him, the goal is to make money and move up the socioeconomic ladder. What do you think about this? Is Walter not appreciating what he has? Or is Lena just out of touch with the times?

    MAMA (She holds the check away from her, still looking at it. Slowly her face sobers into a mask of unhappiness)
    Ten thousand dollars. (She hands it to RUTH) Put it away somewhere, Ruth. (She does not look at RUTH; her eyes seem to be seeing something somewhere very far off) Ten thousand dollars they give you. Ten thousand dollars. (1.2.169)

    After Lena receives the much-anticipated money, she realizes there is no price someone can put on a lost loved one. It seems she would remain in total poverty if she could have her husband back.

    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Picks up the check)
    Do you know what this money means to me? Do you know what this money can do for us? (Puts it back) Mama – Mama – I want so many things… (1.2.220)

    Walter feels limited from opportunities because of the family's lack of money. The poverty that he's been trapped in for his entire life is starting to drive him crazy.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    It is my business – where is he going to live, on the roof? (There is silence following the remark as the three women react to the sense of it) (1.2.54)

    The family is so poverty-stricken that the birth of a new family member is bad news. There's just no more room in their tiny apartment for another person, and there's barely enough money to feed the ones who already live there.

    WALTER
    Listen, man, I got some plans that could turn this city upside down. I mean think like he does. Big. Invest big, gamble big, hell, lose big if you have to, you know what I mean. (2.1.77)

    As is proven later by his dealings with Willy, Walter is willing to put a lot on the line in order to earn money. It seems like his life of poverty has made him a bit reckless. The ironic part is that it's this recklessness that lands him back in poverty by the end of the play.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Act One, Scene One
    Walter Younger

    MAMA
    Yes, a fine man – just couldn’t never catch up with his dreams, that’s all. (1.1.208)

    Big Walter was never able to attain his dream. He still had hopes, though, that his children would have a chance to see theirs come true. This makes it even sadder when, both Beneatha's dreams of medical school and Walter's dreams of being a business owner are jeopardized (and possibly destroyed) by Walter's foolish business dealings with the Willy Harris.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA (Dropping to her knees)
    Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing him on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME! (1.1.123)

    Beneatha sarcastically apologizes for having dreams. To Walter, her dream seems kind of far-fetched. However, Beneatha is determined and she stands up to her brother for her right to want to become a doctor.

    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don’t know what it is – but he needs something – something I can’t give him anymore. He needs this chance, Lena. (1.1.187)

    Walter is incredibly dissatisfied with his life, and he's taking it out on everybody around him. Poor Ruth feels the brunt of her husband's unhappiness. She seems to be afraid of what will happen between them if Walter doesn't get the chance to attain his dream.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    …Big Walter used to say, he’d get right wet in the eyes sometimes, lean his head back with the water standing in his eyes and 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 worth while." (1.1.206)

    Lena's life's dreams are not for herself but for her family's future generations. Big Walter's mention in the play serves as a reminder of the sacrifices parents make for their children.

    Act One, Scene Two
    Walter Younger

    I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy…Mama – look at me. (1.2.222)

    Walter's desires are complex to the point of becoming a hazard to him. To dream big can be dangerous if one's dreams are not given a chance.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    Honey…life don’t have to be like this. I mean sometimes people can do things so that things are better…You remember how we used to talk when Travis was born…about the way we were going to live…the kind of house…(She is stroking his head) Well, it’s all starting to slip away from us…(2.1.133)

    Walter and Ruth have lost sight of their dreams, but both realize that there is hope for change. However, if they don't do something soon, things will not get better.

    Act Two, Scene Two
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    …Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me, what it is you want to be – and you’ll be it….Whatever you want to be – Yessir! (He holds his arms open for TRAVIS) You just name it, son…(TRAVIS leaps into them) and I hand you the world! (2.2.131)

    Walter wants to encourage Travis's dreams. He's willing to give his son everything he has, just as Lena is. This dedication to his son is what makes it impossible for him to give in to Lindner at the end of the play.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Suddenly bounding across the floor to embrace her)
    ‘Cause sometimes it is hard to let the future begin! (2.3.153)

    Walter believes his dreams of a better future have come true when he expects Willy to be at the door with good news. Unfortunately, it's just Bobo with some awful news instead. It's really sad to know that Walter's dreams will soon be crushed.

    WALTER
    Gone, what you mean Willy is gone? Gone where? You mean he went by himself. You mean he went off to Springfield by himself – to take care of getting the license – (Turns and looks anxious at RUTH) You mean maybe he didn’t want too many people in on the business down there? (Looks to RUTH again, as before) You know Willy got his own ways. (Looks back at BOBO) Maybe you was late yesterday and he went on down there without you. Maybe – maybe – he’s been callin’ you at home tryin’ to tell you what happened or something. Maybe – maybe – he just got sick. He’s somewhere – he’s got to be somewhere. We just got to find him – me and you got to find him. (Grabs BOBO senselessly by the collar and starts to shake him) We got to! (2.3.180)

    Walter desperately holds onto the possibility of his dreams coming true, denying the fact that he has been swindled. He knows that he has not only ruined his own dreams by trusting Willy Harris, but he's also put a damper on Beneatha's plans of going to medical school.

    Act Three
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Of course, baby. Ain’t no need in ‘em coming all the way here and having to go back. They charges for that too. (She sits down, fingers to her brow, thinking) Lord, ever since I was a little girl, I always remembers people saying, "Lena – Lena Eggleston, you aims too high all the time. You needs to slow down and see life a little more like it is. Just slow down some." That’s what they always used to say down home – "Lord, that Lena Eggleston is a high-minded thing. She’ll get her due one day!" (3.1.69)

    Lena blames herself for dreaming too big, figuring that she was wrong to buy the house. She even seems to imply that maybe she was wrong to ever migrate north from the South in the first place. Her family has had to deal with a lot of hardship in Chicago, which makes her doubt if any of it was worth it.

    (MAMA enters from her bedroom. She is lost, vague, trying to catch hold, to make some sense of her former command of the world, but it still eludes her. A sense of waste overwhelms her gait; a measure of apology rides on her shoulders. She goes to her plant, which has remained on the table, looks at it, picks it up and takes it to the windowsill and sits it outside, and she stands and looks at it a long moment. Then she closes the window, straightens her body with effort and turns around to her children) (3.1.66)

    Mama's loss of hope is expressed in her physicality and also in the casting out of her beloved little plant. She put all her faith in her son Walter, but he has sorely disappointed her. With his failure, her dreams have died.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    That was what one person could do for another, fix him up – sew up the problem, make him all right again. That was the most marvelous thing in the world…I wanted to do that. I always thought it was the one concrete thing in the world that a human being could do. Fix up the sick, you know – and make them whole again. This was truly being God…I wanted to cure. It used to be so important to me. I wanted to cure. It used to matter. I used to care. I mean about people and how their bodies hurt…(3.1.14)

    In this lovely little monologue, Beneatha tells us why she dreams of being a doctor – she just wants to help people. To Beneatha, giving people medical attention is one of the most concretely good things a person can do. This just makes it all sadder when Walter makes Beneatha's dreams next to impossible by losing the money.

    BENEATHA
    …Did you dream of yachts on Lake Michigan, Brother? Did you see yourself on that Great Day sitting down at the Conference Table, surrounded by all the mighty bald-headed men in America? All halted, waiting, breathless, waiting for your pronouncements on industry? Waiting for you – Chairman of the Board!…I look at you and I see the final triumph of stupidity in the world! (3.1.60)

    Beneatha ridicules her brother for the possibility of ever dreaming that big. She is extremely bitter that he has put his dreams ahead of hers, making it impossible for her to go to medical school.

    BENEATHA
    I know that’s what you think. Because you are still where I left off. You with all your talk and dreams about Africa! You still think you can patch up the world. Cure the Great Sore of Colonialism – (Loftily, mocking it) with the Penicillin of Independence - ! (3.1.22)

    Beneatha mocks Asagai for keeping faith in his dream for Africa. Her idealistic nature was sorely damaged when Walter lost the money for her to go to medical school. The girl struggles to remain hopeful in the face of mounting despair.

    BENEATHA
    Bad? Say anything bad to him? No – I told him he was a sweet boy and full of dreams and everything is strictly peachy keen, as the ofay kids say! (3.1.60)

    Beneatha blames her brother's dreams for the family's downfall. She seems to think that he deserves to have bad things said to him and the rest of the family needs to stop babying him.

    Joseph Asagai

    ASAGAI
    Then isn’t there something wrong in a house – in a world – where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man? I never thought to see you like this, Alaiyo. You! Your brother made a mistake and you are grateful to him so that now you can give up the ailing human race on account of it! You talk about what good is struggle, what good is anything! Where are all going and why are we bothering? (3.1.39)

    Asagai urges Beneatha to live her dreams instead of depending on someone else to make them possible. He admires her independent spirit and hopes to ignite it in her again.

    ASAGAI (He smiles)
    …or perhaps I shall live to be a very old man, respected and esteemed in my new nation… And perhaps I shall hold office and this is what I’m trying to tell you, Alaiyo: Perhaps the things I believe now for my country will be wrong and outmoded, and I will not understand and do terrible things to have things my way or merely to keep my power. Don’t you see that there will be young men and women – not British soldiers then, but my own black countrymen – to step out of the shadows some evening and slit my then useless throat? Don’t you see they have always been there… that they always will be. And that such a thing as my own death will be an advance? They who might kill me even… actually replenish all that I was. (3.1.43)

    Asagai isn't certain about the future, but he is determined in his dreams for a better Nigeria. In order to achieve his dreams, he is willing to put his life at stake. We find it really poignant that he has already forgiven his would-be murderers – as long as his death is for the good of his country.

    ASAGAI
    (Shouting over her) I LIVE THE ANSWER! (Pause) In my village at home it is the exceptional man who can even read a newspaper… or who ever sees a book at all. I will go home and much of what I will have to say will seem strange to the people of my village. But I will teach and work and things will happen, slowly and swiftly. At times it will seem that nothing changes at all… and then again the sudden dramatic events which make history leap into the future. And then quiet again. Retrogression even. Guns, murder, revolution. And I even will have moments when I wonder if the quiet was not better than all that death and hatred. But I will look about my village at the illiteracy and disease and ignorance and I will not wonder long. And perhaps… perhaps I will be a great man… I mean perhaps I will hold on to the substance of truth and find my way always with the right course…(3.1.41)

    Asagai explains his vision for the future. He sees it as difficult and not always immediately rewarding, but ultimately he knows it will be for the betterment of his people. Asagai will actively pursue his dreams even when the going gets rough.

  • Suffering

    Act One, Scene One

    The sole natural light the family may enjoy in the course of a day is only that which fights its way through this little window. (1.1.stage directions)

    The Younger apartment barely gets any sunlight at all. This seems to parallel the dreary condition of their lives.

    Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room. (1.1.stage directions)

    The worn-down fighting spirit of the Younger family is represented in the set onstage. The room definitely reflects the hard times that the Youngers have faced over the years.

    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    (Wearily) Honey, you never say nothing new. I listen to you every day, every night and every morning, and you never say nothing new. (Shrugging) So you would rather be Mr. Arnold than be his chauffeur. So – I would rather be living in Buckingham Palace. (1.1.90)

    Ruth is weary from hearing her husband have the same complaints and the same half-thought-out idea to fix their troubles. The family's suffering has really put a strain on their relationship.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    I guess that’s how come that man finally worked hisself to death like he done. Like he was fighting his own war with this here world that took his baby from him. (1.1.204)

    Lena believes Big Walter died from the pain of having lost a child. He buried himself in work to try and escape memory of the child's death. Eventually, though, all this work brought on his own death, which brought more pain to his family. We wonder if Big Walter somehow knew this was going to happen. Did he work himself to death on purpose so that his family would get the life insurance check? Did he die to try and ease his family's suffering?

    Act One, Scene Two
    Ruth Younger

    (RUTH has her fists clenched on her thighs and is fighting hard to suppress a scream that seems to be rising in her) (1.2.66)

    Ruth bottles up her anger instead of dealing with it. Her life of poverty and toil is really causing her to suffer. The prospect of a new child is pushing her to the edge of her endurance.

    RUTH
    I’m all right…
    (The glassy-eyed look melts and then she collapses into a fit of heavy sobbing. The bell rings) (1.2.69)

    Finally, Ruth explodes. She can only deny her grief for so long until she cannot take it anymore. The rage and sadness has just gotten to be too much to keep inside.

    (RUTH reaches out suddenly and grabs her son without even looking at him and clamps her hand over his mouth and holds him to her…)
    MAMA
    You hush up now… talking all that terrible stuff… (TRAVIS is staring at his mother with a stunned expression…) (1.2.63-4)

    Ruth is horrified when her son finds pleasure in watching the murder of a rat. She is so disturbed, she shuts him up with her hand. Her negative reaction could be amplified by the fact that she is pregnant. Does she really want to bring another baby into a world where killing rats is a popular childhood pastime? Does she really want another child to experience this world of suffering?

    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Quietly)
    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. Just waiting for me. But it don’t have to be. (1.2.226)

    Walter fears that his life will always be a life of nothing. He is overwhelmed by a sense of dread and fears that his suffering will continue on and on forever.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Honey, Big Walter would come in here some nights back then and slump down on that couch there and just look at the rug, and look at me and look at the rug and then back at me – and I’d know he was down then… really down. (After a second very long and thoughtful pause; she is seeing back to times that only she can see) And then, Lord, when I lost that baby – little Claude – I almost thought I was going to lose Big Walter too. Oh, that man grieved hisself! He was one man to love his children. (1.1.202)

    Lena remembers the pain of losing her child and watching her husband break apart after the fact. The suffering was almost too much for Big Walter to bear. We wonder if Big Walter blamed himself for his child's death and for his family's struggles.

    Act Two, Scene Two
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    She said Mr. Arnold has had to take a cab for three days…Walter, you ain’t been to work for three days! (This is a revelation to her) Where you been, Walter Lee Younger? (WALTER looks at her and starts to laugh) You’re going to lose your job.
    WALTER
    That’s right… (2.2.101-2)

    Walter has become so depressed he hasn't been showing up to work. What's more, he doesn't seem to care that he might lose his job. The ironic part is that if he does lose his job things will only get worse for him and his family, which would most likely make him even more depressed. Yes, it seems like Walter really is trapped in a downward spiral.

    Act Three
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well then, you ain’t through learning – because that ain’t the time at all. It’s when he’s at his lowest and can’t believe in hisself ‘cause the world done whipped him so! When you starts measuring somebody, measure him right, child, measure him right. Make sure you done taken into account what hills and valleys he come through before he got to wherever he is. (3.1.113)

    Lena tells Bennie that people need love the most when they are suffering the most. She urges her daughter to see past the bad decisions people sometimes make when they are in pain.

    MAMA
    You making something inside me cry, son. Some awful pain inside me. (3.1.95)

    Lena is heartbroken to hear that her son has sold out his family. She can't believe that his suffering has made him sink so low.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    Asagai, while I was sleeping in that bed in there, people went out and took the future right out of my hands! And nobody asked me, nobody consulted me – they just went out and changed my life! (3.1.32)

    Beneatha claims that she suffers at the hands of others. She doesn't realize yet that she has the ability to improve her circumstances.

    BENEATHA
    And where does it end?
    […]
    An end to misery! To stupidity! Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us – our own little mirage that we think is the future. (3.1.26-8)

    Beneatha loses faith in the idea of progress after her family faces yet another blow. In this moment at least, she feels everyone's dreams are doomed to fail, that everyone is doomed to suffer.

    BENEATHA
    Well – we are dead now. All the talk about dreams and sunlight that goes on in this house. It’s all dead now. (3.1.98)

    After Walter announces that he's going to accept Lindner's offer, Beneatha believes that all is lost. She feels like there's no hope for her family to ever escape their struggle.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Act One, Scene One
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    What is there to be pleasant ‘bout! (1.1.66)

    Ruth is vocal about her dissatisfaction. She's so bummed out about the hardships of her life that she finds it hard to cheerful about anything.

    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    Just for a second – stirring them eggs. Just for a second it was – you looked real young again. (He reaches for her; she crosses away. Then, drily) It’s gone now – you look like yourself again! (1.1.20)

    Ruth is already crabby when Walter says that she looks prematurely old. Although Walter attempts to compliment his wife, her move away from him suggests that she is disinterested, which leaves Walter unsatisfied. The couple's dissatisfaction with life in general is turning into dissatisfaction with one another.

    WALTER (Rising and coming to her and standing over her)
    You tired, ain’t you? Tired of everything Me, the boy, the way we live – this beat-up hole – everything. Ain’t you? (She doesn’t look up, doesn’t answer) So tired – moaning and groaning all the time, but you wouldn’t do nothing to help, would you? You couldn’t be on my side that long for nothing, could you? (1.1.73)

    Walter acknowledges his wife's unhappiness, but accuses her of not supporting his plan on changing the state of their lives. To him, it seems like Ruth goes around dissatisfied all the time, but she won't help him do anything about it.

    WALTER
    Nobody in this house is ever going to understand me. (1.1.131)

    Walter is frustrated by how singled out he feels in the family, largely due to the obligations he feels as the man of the house. It seems like the main source of Walter's dissatisfaction comes from disappointment in himself.

    We can see that she was a pretty girl, even exceptionally so, but now it is apparent that life has been little that she expected, and disappointment has already begun to hang in her face. (1.1.stage directions)

    Ruth has grown accustomed to being dissatisfied with her life to the point where it's evident even in her face.

    Act One, Scene Two
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    A job. (Looks at her) Mama, a job? I open and close car doors all day long. I drive a man around in his limousine and I say, "yes, sir; no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir?" Mama, that ain’t no kind of job…that ain’t nothing at all. (Very quietly) Mama, I don’t know if I can make you understand. (1.2.224)

    Walter is not only unsatisfied but also embarrassed with his job. He is ashamed to have to suck up to his boss all day. More than anything, Walter wants to be his own boss.

    WALTER
    You ain’t looked at it and you don’t aim to have to speak on that again? You ain’t even looked at it and you have decided – (Crumpling his papers) Well, you tell that to my boy tonight when you put him to sleep on the living-room couch…(Turning to MAMA and speaking directly to her) Yeah – and tell it to my wife, Mama, tomorrow when she has to go out of here to look after somebody else’s kids. And tell it to me, Mama, every time we need a new pair of curtains and I have to watch you go out and work in somebody’s kitchen. Yeah, you tell me then! (1.2.191)

    Walter is unhappy that his mother won't even give his idea a chance. He is dissatisfied with the amount of hard work the family has to do in order to make ends meet and feels like he ought to be able to make things easier for them.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Well, I always wanted me a garden like I used to see sometimes at the back of the houses down home. This plant is close as I ever got to having one. (She looks out of the window as she replaces the plant) Lord, ain’t nothing as dreary as the view from this window on a dreary day, is there? (1.1.296)

    Lena has never had the garden of her dreams, so she settles on a little potted plant. However, on some level she seems to have more hope than the rest of them.

    MAMA
    No…something has changed. (She looks at him) You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too…Now here come you and Beneatha – talking ‘bout things we ain’t never even thought about hardly, me and your daddy. You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing we done. I mean that you had a home; that we kept you out of trouble till you was grown; that you don’t have to ride to work on the back of nobody’s streetcar – You my children – but how different we done become. (1.2.231)

    Lena feels disconnected with her children because they are so much more easily dissatisfied than she is. From her perspective, they have a lot to be thankful for.

    Joseph Asagai

    ASAGAI (Coming into the room)
    You look disturbed too…Is something wrong?
    BENEATHA (Still at the door, absently)
    Yes…we’ve all got acute ghetto-it is. (She smiles and comes toward him, finding a cigarette and sitting) (1.2.74-5)

    The Younger family's dissatisfaction with their surroundings ripples into other parts of their lives.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA (Laughing herself)
    I guess I always think things have more emphasis if they are big, somehow.
    RUTH (Looking up at her and smiling)
    You and your brother seem to have that as a philosophy of life. (2.3.12-3)

    Beneatha and Walter both think big, but in different ways. We kind of get the impression that neither one of them will ever quite be happy with what they have. They'll always want more. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Isn't it good to have goals?

    Act Three
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    What’s the matter with you all! I didn’t make this world! It was give to me this way! Hell, yes, I want me some yachts someday! Yes, I want to hang some real pearls ‘round my wife’s neck. Ain’t she supposed to wear no pearls? Somebody tell me – tell me, who decides which women is suppose to wear pearls in this world. I tell you I am a man – and I think my wife should wear some pearls in this world! (3.1.99)

    Walter claims that he is a victim of the world just like his family members are and is incredibly unhappy about the fact that wealth is divided so unfairly. He claims to give in to The Man because he wants more for his family.

  • Pride

    Act One, Scene One

    Still, we can see that at some time, a time probably no longer remembered by the family (except perhaps for MAMA), the furnishings of this room were actually selected with care and love and even hope – and brought to this apartment and arranged with taste and pride. (1.1.stage directions)

    The Younger family's history of pride is visually represented in their furniture. When Mama and Big Walter, Beneatha and Walter's father, first moved into the apartment and bought what was then new furniture they felt like they'd really achieved something. They saw the apartment as a steppingstone to a better future for their family. Now, though, many years have gone by and the family struggles to maintain their pride in the face of poverty.

    Act One, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing [your dad and I] done. (1.2.231)

    Lena is hurt that Walter doesn't feel proud of the family legacy he comes from. She worked hard with her husband to provide a future for their children. Now, though, Walter is ashamed of their working-class lifestyle and shabby apartment. Walter dreams of "bigger and better" things.

    Act Two, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Plenty. My husband always said being any kind of a servant wasn’t a fit thing for a man to have to be. He always said a man’s hands was made to make things, or to turn the earth with – not to drive nobody’s car for ‘em – or – (She looks at her own hands) carry they slop jars. And my boy is just like him – he wasn’t meant to wait on nobody. (2.2.78)

    Despite their background, the Youngers are a proud people. Like his father, Walter wishes to be more than somebody's servant. He wants to be his own man. In this passage it seems like Mama admired this trait in her late husband and is proud that her son thinks this way as well.

    Act Three
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    This is my son, and he makes the sixth generation our family in this country. And we have all thought about your offer –
    […]
    And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick. (3.1.131-3)

    Walter turns down the Clybourne Park Association's offer only after he remembers the roots his family has in America, and the rights that they deserve. He wants to set a strong example for his son, Travis, just like his father did for him.

    WALTER (A beat; staring at [Karl])
    And my father – (With sudden intensity) My father almost beat a man to death once because this man called him a bad name or something, you know what I mean? (3.1.127)

    Big Walter, Walter's namesake and role model, refused to accept racist treatment. Hansberry suggests that having pride means being able to stand up for oneself. If Walter gives in to Lindner, he will shame the memory of his father.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. (Raising her eyes and looking at him) We ain’t never been that – dead inside. (3.1.97)

    Lena tells her son that they come from a family of proud people. In her mind, taking money from Lindner would make them worse than slaves. At least during slavery, they didn't have a choice. If Walter takes the money and submits to racism willingly, she feels her family will really have lost its soul.

  • Gender

    Act One, Scene One
    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Straightening up from her and looking off)
    That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. (Sadly, but gaining in power) Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. (Passionately now) Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say – (In utter anguish as he brings his fists down on his thighs) – Your eggs is getting cold! (1.1.83)

    Here, Walter seems to accuse not only Ruth but all women of holding back their men. He implies that women are only interested in domestic things and don't have a head for the big picture.

    WALTER
    Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people – then go be a nurse like other women – or just get married and be quiet… (1.1.125)

    Walter belittles Beneatha's dream of becoming a doctor, implying that women are fit only for supporting roles. We have a feeling that these amazingly sexist comments will only add fuel to Beneatha's burning desire to be a doctor.

    WALTER
    That is just what is wrong with the colored woman in this world…Don’t understand about building their men up and making ‘em feel like they somebody. Like they can do something. (1.1.91)

    Walter wants the women in his life to make him feel like a man. Being manly means having the freedom to act according to one's judgment. He's also making blanket statements about black women here.

    WALTER
    …See there, that just goes to show you what women understand about the world. Baby, don’t nothing happen for you in this world ‘less you pay somebody off! (1.1.81)

    Walter says that money is a man's domain, and that Ruth, being a woman, just wouldn't understand. This sexist remark seems to come from his own lack of self-esteem. Unfortunately, for Walter and those around him, he feels the need to put people down in order to feel more powerful.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    Get over it? What are you talking about, Ruth? Listen, I’m going to be a doctor. I’m not worried about who I’m going to marry yet – if I ever get married. (1.1.268)

    Beneatha wants to make her very life a challenge to gender stereotypes.

    Act Two, Scene Two
    George Murchison

    GEORGE (Exasperated; rising)
    I know [you love to talk] and I don’t mind it sometimes…I want you to cut it out, see – The moody stuff, I mean. I don’t like it. You’re a nice-looking girl…all over. That’s all you need, honey, forget the atmosphere. Guys aren’t going to go for the atmosphere – they’re going to go for what they see. Be glad for that. Drop the Garbo routine. It doesn’t go with you. As for myself, I want a nice – (Groping) – simple (Thoughtfully) – sophisticated girl… not a poet – O.K.? (2.2.5)

    This excerpt represents what Beneatha finds shallow in George. George's ideal for a woman is purely superficial. He doesn't really want a woman with her own personality; he just wants a girl to compliment his supreme manliness.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    It ain’t much, but it’s all I got in the world and I’m putting it in your hands. I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be. (2.2.113)

    Mama tells Walter that it's time he lead the family. It seems that Lena is definitely old fashioned in her view of gender roles (no wonder she doesn't understand Beneatha). Lena feels guilty that he hasn't let Walter take his place as the "man."

    Act One, Scene Two
    Joseph Asagai

    ASAGAI
    It’s just that every American girl I have known has said that to me. White – black – in this you are all the same. And the same speech, too!…It’s how you can be sure that the world’s most liberated women are not liberated at all. You all talk about it too much! (1.2.115)

    Asagai suggests that liberated people do not need to flaunt their freedom. In his mind, if American women were really as free as they say are then it would no longer be an issue. Therefore, it just wouldn't come up so much in conversation. This is an interesting point, but it's not like Beneatha is arguing that American women have nearly enough freedom. To her, women still have a long way to go in America.

    ASAGAI
    For a woman it should be enough.
    BENEATHA
    I know – because that’s what it says in all the novels that men write. But it isn’t. Go ahead and laugh – but I’m not interested in being someone’s little episode in America or – (With feminine vengeance) – one of them! (ASAGAI has burst into laughter again) That’s funny as hell, huh! (1.2.114)

    Asagai argues that love should be enough for women, but Beneatha argues that she needs more – a career, for instance. She is determined to find her fullness as an individual and to not be defined by the man she marries.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    When the world gets ugly enough – a woman will do anything for her family. The part that’s already living. (1.2.235)

    According to Mama, a woman's main priority is to secure the future of her existing family, even if it means sacrificing other lives. And aborting an unborn baby is a huge sacrifice for Ruth.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Walter Younger

    WALTER (All in a drunken, dramatic shout…He makes his weaving way to his wife’s face and leans in close to her)
    In my heart of hearts – (He thumps his chest) – I am much warrior! (2.1.15)

    Walter clings to the idea that he would be a mighty warrior in Africa; this soothes his masculine ego.

    Act Three
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    Somebody tell me – tell me, who decides which women is suppose to wear pearls in this world. I tell you I am a man – and I think my wife should wear some pearls in this world! (3.1.99)

    Walter believes a man should provide luxurious and beautiful things for his wife. Because Walter doesn't have the money to buy expensive things for his family, he feels like less of a man.

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    I said that that individual in that room is no brother of mine.
    MAMA
    That’s what I thought you said. You feeling like you better than he is today? (BENEATHA does not answer)
    Yes? What you tell him a minute ago? That he wasn’t a man? Yes? You give him up for me? You done wrote his epitaph too – like the rest of the world? Well, who give you the privilege? (3.1.108-9)

    Mama suggests that a woman’s support and faith in a man can make or break him.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA (Quietly, woman to woman)
    He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain…
    RUTH (Biting her lip, lest her own pride explode in front of Mama)
    Yes, Lena. (3.1.155-6)

    Even though Walter is the protagonist of the story, it is the women in his life who have the biggest dream for him: to find his own manhood. Hansberry suggests that manliness is having the strength to stand up for what is right.

  • Family

    Act One, Scene One
    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    I see. (Quietly) I also see that everybody thinks it’s all right for Mama to be a tyrant. But all the tyranny in the world will never put a God in the heavens! (1.1.288)

    Lena and her daughter butt heads over faith. Lena is bothered by the fact that her child might not believe in God. This reflects Lena's traditional values.

    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Rising and coming to her and standing over her)
    You tired, ain’t you? Tired of everything. Me, the boy, the way we live – this beat-up hole – everything. Ain’t you? (She doesn’t look up, doesn’t answer) So tired – moaning and groaning all the time, but you wouldn’t do nothing to help, would you? You couldn’t be on my side that long for nothing, could you? (1.1.73)

    Walter expects Ruth to show her support for him by doing what he wants her to do. Ruth's husband never stops to consider what she might want of him. Of course, Ruth does keep her desires quiet for a lot of the play. Basically, these two barely communicate.

    WALTER (Without even looking at his son, still staring hard at his wife)
    In fact, here’s another fifty cents…Buy yourself some fruit today – or take a taxicab to school or something! (1.1.59)

    Walter tries to prevent their economic status from affecting his son. He wants his son to have everything he ought to have. He would seem like an awesome dad in this scene if it wasn't clear that part of the reason he's giving Travis money is to deliberately undermine his wife.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Crazy ‘bout his children! God knows there was plenty wrong with Walter Younger – hard-headed, mean, kind of wild with women – plenty wrong with him. But he sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something – be something. That’s where Brother gets all these notions, I reckon. (1.1.206)

    Lena tells us that Big Walter was far from perfect. Even though he was flawed, he had some positive qualities. Lena claims that the best of these was his love and support for his children. It's clear throughout the play that Walter shares many of his father's strengths and weaknesses.

    MAMA
    No – there’s something come down between me and them that don’t let us understand each other and I don’t know what it is. One done almost lost his mind thinking ‘bout money all the time and the other done commence to talk about things I can’t seem to understand in no form or fashion. What is it that’s changing, Ruth? (1.1.292)

    Lena feels her children breaking away from her and feels helpless to do anything about it. Her concern over the divide growing between her and her children is one of the things that makes her character truly universal. So many mothers have felt the same thing for so many years.

    MAMA (Seeing the make-down bed as TRAVIS has left it)
    Lord have mercy, look at that poor bed. Bless his heart – he tries, don’t he? (She moves to the bed TRAVIS has sloppily made up)
    RUTH
    No – he don’t half try at all ‘cause he knows you going to come along behind him and fix everything. That’s just how come he don’t know how to do nothing right now- you done spoiled that boy so. (1.1.148-9)

    Lena lovingly helps Travis with all of his chores at the risk of not asking him to do anything for himself. Throughout the play, we see that Lena has a special tenderness for her grandson. Perhaps, it's easier for her to feel hope for the young boy than it is for own children, who are now adults.

    Ruth Younger

    RUTH (She finally laughs aloud at him and holds out her arms to him and we see that it is a way between them, very old and practiced. He crosses to her and allows her to embrace her warmly but keeps his face fixed with masculine rigidity. She holds him back from her presently and looks at him and runs her fingers over the features of his face. With utter gentleness – )
    Now – whose little old angry man are you? (1.1.46)

    In the opening scene, Ruth and Travis bicker over money. It gets kind of heated, but in the end it's clear they love one another even when they fight. Though the Younger family may have it rough, they still love each other deeply.

    Act One, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    If you a son of mine, tell her! (WALTER picks up his keys and his coat and walks out. She continues, bitterly) You…you are a disgrace to your father’s memory. Somebody get me my hat! (1.2.240)

    Lena expects her son to demonstrate some of the character that her husband had. Her husband valued his children above all else. When Walter doesn't express any desire for Ruth to not have an abortion, Mama is incredibly disappointed in him. To Lena, this is a real betrayal of his father's memory.

    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    I’m a grown man, Mama.
    MAMA
    Ain’t nobody said you wasn’t grown. But you still in my house and my presence. And as long as you are – you’ll talk to your wife civil. Now sit down. (1.2.201-2)

    As matriarch of the Younger family, Lena maintains control over the household. Later on in the play she comes to think that her dominating nature might be part of what's driving Walter crazy. He's never been allowed to truly take responsibility.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH (Passionately and suddenly)
    Oh, Walter – ain’t you with nobody!
    WALTER (Violently)
    No! ‘Cause ain’t nobody with me! Not even my own mother! (2.1.86-7)

    Walter feels betrayed by his family when they do not adopt his enthusiasm for the liquor store idea. He desperately wants their respect and support, and he goes crazy when they won't give it to him.

    RUTH
    Oh, Walter…(Softly) Honey, why can’t you stop fighting me?
    WALTER (Without thinking)
    Who’s fighting you? Who even cares about you? (2.1.115-6)

    Wow, this is a pretty harsh thing for Walter to say to his wife. Things have gotten pretty bad here for sure. It looks like Walter and Ruth's marriage just may have fallen victim to Walter's quest for self-importance.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    (WALTER comes to MAMA suddenly and bends down behind her and squeezes her in his arms with all his strength. She is overwhelmed by the suddenness of it and, though delighted, her manner is like that of RUTH and TRAVIS) (2.3.112)

    Lena's relationship with Walter is mirrored in Ruth's relationship with Travis. Hansberry's two examples of mother-son relationships demonstrate a family dynamic that is both tough and tender at times.

    Ruth Younger

    RUTH
    Lord, that man – don’t changed so ‘round here. You know – you know what we did last night? Me and Walter Lee?…(Smiling to herself) We went to the movies. (Looking at BENEATHA to see if she understands)
    We went to the movies. You know the last time me and Walter went to the movies together?
    BENEATHA
    No.
    RUTH
    Me neither. That’s how long it been. (Smiling again) But we went last night. The picture wasn’t much good, but that didn’t seem to matter. We went – and we held hands. (2.3.15-7)

    Hurrah, there's hope for Ruth and Walter's marriage again! Once Walter has control over money, he becomes much more affectionate with Ruth. At this point in the play, it looks like the Younger family might just be back on track.

    Act Three
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    I am afraid you don’t understand. My son said we was going to move and there ain’t nothing left for me to say. (3.1.137)

    Lena proudly stands by her son's decision. This statement implies that she truly is relinquishing leadership of the family to him and that she feels like Walter finally has earned it.

    MAMA (Opening her eyes and looking into WALTER’S)
    No. Travis, you stay right here. And you make him understand what you doing, Walter Lee. You teach him good. Like Willy Harris taught you. You show where our five generations done come to. (WALTER looks from her to the boy, who grins at him innocently) Go ahead, son – (She folds her hands and closes her eyes) Go ahead. (3.1.129)

    Lena wants her son to understand what kind of example he is setting for his own son. She wants Walter to see past his ego and realize that his decision affects their entire family.

    MAMA
    Yes – I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too… I thought I taught you to love him. (3.1.111)

    Lena expects Bennie to love her brother no matter what he does, suggesting that one should always be able to depend on one's family for love.

    MAMA
    Yes – death done come in this here house. (She is nodding, slowly, reflectively) Done come walking in my house on the lips of my children. You what supposed to be my beginning again. You – what supposed to be my harvest. (3.1.105)

    After Walter gives his family a preview of the performance he's going to give Lindner, Lena believes that the future of her family has taken a turn for the worst. She's devoted her entire life to her family, and now it seems like it's all been for nothing.

  • Sacrifice

    Act One, Scene One
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    I don’t want nothing but for you to stop acting holy ‘round here. Me and Ruth done made some sacrifices for you – why can’t you do something for the family? (1.1.118)

    Walter accuses Beneatha of not making enough sacrifices for their family. At the same time, Walter resents Beneatha for the sacrifices he has made.

    WALTER
    You are in it – Don’t you get up and go work in somebody’s kitchen for the last three years to help put clothes on her back? (1.1.120)

    Walter wants to make Beneatha feel bad for benefiting from Ruth's hard work. However, Ruth doesn't seem to begrudge making the sacrifice for her sister-in-law.

    Act One, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them – (She rises) I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we don’t give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one…I’m waiting. (1.2.238)

    Lena wants Walter to say that Ruth should not sacrifice their future child's life and her health to lighten the family's load. This is just too big a sacrifice to make in Lena's mind.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Crossing slowly to his bedroom door and finally turning there and speaking measuredly)
    What you need me to say you done right for? You the head of this family. You run our lives like you want to. It was your money and you did what you wanted with it. So what you need for me to say it was all right for? (Bitterly, to hurt her as deeply as he knows is possible) So you butchered up a dream of mine – you – who always talking ‘bout your children’s dreams… (2.1.187)

    Walter's ego is too big to consider sacrificing his liquor store dream for the betterment of his family.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    I seen…him…night after night…come in…and look at that rug… and then look at me…the red showing in his eyes…the veins moving in his head…I seen him grow thin and old before he was forty…working and working and working like somebody’s old horse…killing himself…and you – you give it all away in a day – (She raises her arms to strike him again) (2.3.189)

    Lena recalls the sacrifices Big Walter made for his family. She hates the fact that his son lost all of his life's savings in one day. In this moment, it seems like all of her husband's sacrifices were for nothing.

    Act Three
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH (turning and going to MAMA fast – the words pouring out with urgency and desperation)
    Lena – I’ll work … I’ll work twenty hours a day in all the kitchens in Chicago… I’ll strap my baby on my back if I have to and scrub all the floors in America and wash all the sheets in America if I have to – but we got to MOVE! We got to get OUT OF HERE!! (3.1.74)

    Ruth is willing to sacrifice her time and energy in order to keep the house they have so rightfully bought. The old dingy apartment is killing her, and she feels that working even harder than now is a good trade for a more hospitable place to live.

    Joseph Asagai

    ASAGAI
    …Don’t you see that there will be young men and women – not British soldiers then, but my own black countrymen – to step out of the shadows some evening and slit my then useless throat? Don’t you see they have always been there… that they always will be. And that such a thing as my own death will be an advance? They who might kill me even… actually replenish all that I was. (3.1.43)

    In Asagai's mind, progress requires sacrifice. He is prepared to die in the process of improving conditions in Africa. To him, his life is worth the betterment of his home continent.

    ASAGAI (Shouting over her)
    I LIVE THE ANSWER! (Pause) In my village at home it is the exceptional man who can even read a newspaper… or who ever sees a book at all. I will go home and much of what I will have to say will seem strange to the people of my village. But I will teach and work and things will happen, slowly and swiftly. At times it will seem that nothing changes at all… and then again the sudden dramatic events which make history leap into the future. And then quiet again. Retrogression even. Guns, murder, revolution. And I even will have moments when I wonder if the quiet was not better than all that death and hatred. But I will look about my village at the illiteracy and disease and ignorance and I will not wonder long. And perhaps… perhaps I will be a great man… I mean perhaps I will hold on to the substance of truth and find my way always with the right course…(3.1.41)

    Asagai describes how fighting the good fight is a process of sacrifice. Hopefully, though, it's a struggle that will eventually be rewarding.

  • Choices

    Act One, Scene Two
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH (Beaten)
    Yes I would too, Walter. (Pause) I gave her a five-dollar down payment. (1.2.237)

    Ruth takes matters into her own hands and consults an abortionist before telling any of her family members about her pregnancy. This choice is a major sacrifice for Ruth on a personal level, but she feels like it's a necessary sacrifice for her family.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA (Putting her finger on his nose for emphasis)
    She went out and she bought you a house! (The explosion comes from WALTER at the end of the revelation and he jumps up and turns away from all of them in a fury. MAMA continues, to TRAVIS) You glad about the house? It’s going to be yours when you get to be a man. (2.1.156)

    Lena announces to Travis and the family that she has purchased a house with Big Walter's life insurance money. She did not consult anyone about it beforehand.

    MAMA (Raising her eyes to meet his finally)
    Son – I just tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money for my family. (2.1.178)

    Lena stands up for her right to use the money the best way she saw fit. She feels that she has made the right choice for her family and that, as head of that family, she had the right to do it.

    MAMA (The mother and son are left alone now and the mother waits a long time, considering deeply, before she speaks)
    Son – you – you understand what I done, don’t you? (WALTER is silent and sullen) I – I just seen my family falling apart today… just falling to pieces in front of my eyes…We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards – talking ‘bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead…When it gets like that in life – you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger… (She waits) I wish you say something, son…I wish you’d say how deep inside you you think I done the right thing – (2.1.186)

    Lena needed to make a big decision in order to get her family back on track, even if it meant disappointing her son. She knows her choice will be a hard one, but still she felt it was the best thing to do.

    Act Two, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA I’ve helped do it to you, haven’t I, son? Walter I been wrong
    […]
    Listen to me, now. I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. (2.2.111-3)

    Lena realizes she may have contributed to Walter's state of helplessness and decides to rectify her mistake. She now believes that she might have made the wrong choice in not giving Walter any of the money.

    MAMA
    That leaves sixty-five hundred dollars. Monday morning I want you to take this money and take three thousand dollars and put it in a savings account for Beneatha’s medical schooling. The rest you put in a checking account – with your name on it. And from now on any penny that come out of it or that go in it is for you to look after. For you to decide. (2.2.113)

    Lena decides to give all that's left of the insurance money to Walter, hoping that entrusting him will resurrect his faith in himself. In the short term, this seems like a really bad choice, because Walter loses all the money to Willy Harris. Ultimately, though, it leads to Walter's redemption. It seems like even choices that sometimes seem bad can turn out alright in the end.

    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    You wouldn’t understand yet, son, but your daddy’s gonna make a transaction…a business transaction that’s going to change our lives…That’s how come one day when you ‘bout seventeen years old I’ll come home and I’ll be pretty tired, you know what I mean, after a day of conferences and secretaries getting things wrong the way they do…’cause an executive’s life is hell, man – (The more he talks the farther away he gets) (2.2.130)

    Walter believes that the liquor store investment is a good idea. He's convinced that his use for the money will have a positive effect on the family, although his ambitions only disillusion him from doubting Willy.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Bobo

    BOBO (Standing over him helplessly)
    I’m sorry, Walter… (Only WALTER’S sobs reply. BOBO puts on his hat) I had my life staked on this deal, too… (He exits) (2.3.183)

    Walter and Bobo both changed the course of their families' future by trusting Willy with their money. This was bad decision on both of their parts and both of their families will suffer as a result.

    Act Three
    Walter Younger

    WALTER (Coming to her)
    I’m going to feel fine, Mama. I’m going to look that son-of-a-bitch in the eyes and say – (He falters) – and say, "All right, Mr. Lindner – (He falters even more) – that’s your neighborhood out there! You got the right to keep it like you want! You got the right to have it like you want! Just write the check and – the house is yours" (His voice almost breaks) "And you – you people just put the money in my hand and you won’t have to live next to this bunch of stinking niggers!…" (He straightens up and moves away from his mother, walking around the room) And maybe – maybe I’ll just get down on my black knees… (He does so; RUTH and BENNIE and MAMA watch him in frozen horror) "Captain, Mistuh, Bossman – (Groveling and grinning and wringing his hands in profoundly anguished imitation of the slow-witted movie stereotype) A-hee-hee-hee! Oh, yassuh boss! Yasssssuh! Great white – (Voice breaking, he forces himself to go on) – Father, just gi’ ussen de money, fo’ God’s sake, and we’s – we’s ain’t gwine come out deh and dirty up yo’ white folks neighborhood…" (He breaks down completely) And I’ll feel fine! Fine! FINE! (He gets up and goes into the bedroom) (3.1.103)

    Walter decides that he's going to play the stereotype that Karl Lindner has labeled him as. He figures selling out and forfeiting his dignity is the only way to earn his father's money back.

    WALTER
    Don’t cry, mama. Understand. That white man is going to walk in that door able to write checks for more money than we ever had. It’s important to him and I’m going to help him…I’m going to put on the show, Mama. (3.1.96)

    Walter explains to Lena that he is going to play according to a racist person's rules in order to earn the family money. This choice is a real blow to his mother.

    WALTER
    And we have decided to move into our house because my father – my father – he earned it for us brick by brick (MAMA has her eyes closed and is rocking back and forth as though she were in church, with her head nodding the Amen yes) We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. (He looks the man absolutely in the eyes) We don’t want your money. (He turns and walks away) (3.1.133)

    Walter tells Lindner that the Youngers are going to move into the house. Their move is not motivated by issues of race, but of a family's right to create a home. By choosing not to give into Lindner, Walter regains his dignity.

    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA (Opening her eyes and looking into WALTER’S)
    No. Travis, you stay right here. And you make him understand what you doing, Walter Lee. You teach him good. Like Willy Harris taught you. You show where our five generations done come to. (WALTER looks from her to the boy, who grins at him innocently) Go ahead, son – (She folds her hands and closes her eyes) Go ahead. (3.1.120)

    Lena urges Walter to consider how his actions affect his son. She makes Walter think about how his choices might influence Travis's choices in the future. If Walter gives into Lindner, will it set a negative example for his son? Will Travis sacrifice his dignity in similar ways?

  • Race

    Act One, Scene Two
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    Mama – sometimes when I’m downtown and I pass them cool-quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking ‘bout things…sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars…sometimes I see guys don’t look much older than me – (1.2.226)

    Walter is jealous of businessmen who can afford a high standard of living. He is tortured by the fact that men of the same age as him have more of a chance in the world because of their race.

    Joseph Asagai

    ASAGAI
    …You came up to me and you said… "Mr. Asagai – I want very much to talk with you. About Africa. You see, Mr. Asagai, I am looking for my identity!" (He laughs) (1.2.98)

    Asagai playfully teases Beneatha about her green but earnest wish to learn more about African culture. A few years after the play was produced many blacks in America became very interested in exploring their African roots. In a way, the character of Beneatha can be seen as a precursor to this movement in African-American culture.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could (2.i)

    Hansberry offers an example of institutionalized racism through Lena's search for housing in Chicago. Racist laws made leaving the slums much more difficult for African Americans.

    George Murchison

    GEORGE (Nastily)
    Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!
    BENEATHA
    GRASS HUTS!…See there…you are standing there in your splendid ignorance talking about people who were the first to smelt iron on the face of the earth! (2.1.52-3)

    Hansberry contrasts George's views on African identity with Beneatha's. This shows that there are lots of different perspectives on this issue within the black community. By giving us these sorts of complex perspectives Hansberry makes the play truly universal.

    Walter Younger

    BENEATHA
    [Assimilationist] means someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture! (2.1.51)

    Beneatha's passion for progressive politics acts as a foil for Walter's willingness to give in to the threats of dominant culture. She is totally disgusted when Walter temporarily agrees to accept the bribe from Mr. Lindner to not move into the white neighborhood.

    WALTER
    Why? You want to know why? ‘Cause we all tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies! (2.1.114)

    Here, Walter takes out his frustration on his own race, claiming that his fellow African Americans are to blame for their own misfortunes. Once again, Hansberry shows us the complex perspectives that exist within the black community.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Karl Lindner

    LINDNER
    …most of the trouble exists because people just don’t sit down and talk to each other…That we don’t try hard enough in this world to understand the other fellow’s problem. The other guy’s point of view. (2.3.59)

    Karl shows how hypocritical and racist his logic is. He sets up the actual proposal by suggesting that the Youngers consider the Park Association's point of view, not the other way around.

    LINDNER (Turning a little to her and then returning the main force to WALTER)
    Well – it’s what you might call a sort of welcoming committee, I guess. I mean they, we – I’m the chairman of the committee – go around and see the new people who move into the neighborhood and sort of give them the lowdown on the way we do things out in Clybourne Park.
    BENEATHA (With appreciation of the two meanings, which escape RUTH and WALTER)
    Un-huh. (2.3.47-48)

    Notice that Lindner says that he's here to tell the Youngers "the way we do things out in Clybourne Park." This hints at the fact that he thinks of himself and his white neighbors as separate from the Youngers. Beneatha picks up on this, detecting impending racism before Walter and Ruth do.

    LINDNER
    .... I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities. (2.3.65)

    Karl Lindner tries to convince the Youngers that segregation is in their best interest. He's not so sure they'll buy this argument. So, Lindner tries to make it seem like none of this was necessarily his idea, and that he's just the messenger there for the greater good of all involved. Unsurprisingly, the Youngers don't buy it.

    LINDNER (Almost sadly regarding WALTER)
    You just can’t force people to change their hearts, son. (2.3.83)

    Karl Lindner thinks it's impossible to change the minds of the white people – yet he's asking the Youngers to change their minds by abandoning their dreams. We think it's interesting that the playwright lets us know in the stage directions that he says this line "almost sadly." Could this mean that somewhere inside him he really can see past the walls of racism? Does he recognize how wrong what he's asking of them is?

    LINDNER (Looking around at the hostile faces and reaching and assembling his hat and briefcase)
    Well – I don’t understand why you people are reacting this way. What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened. (2.3.80)

    Mr. Lindner and his neighbors see the Youngers' presence in the Clybourne Park neighborhood as a threat to their way of life. When he notes that certain "people can get awful worked up," he's calling attention to the fact that these sorts of situations can sometimes lead to violence. Is Lindner just recognizing a known fact? Or does Lindner mean this to be a subtle threat?

    Beneatha Younger

    BENEATHA
    What they think we going to do – eat ‘em?
    RUTH
    No, honey, marry ‘em. (2.3.102-3)

    Ruth suggests that segregation is a result of a fear of "miscegenation" (a.k.a. interracial marriage). Some people in the white majority were very concerned about interracial marriage. They saw it as a threat to their culture.

    Act Three
    Walter Younger

    WALTER
    …Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the "tooken." (He laughs) I’ve figured it out finally…People like Willy Harris, they don’t never get "tooken." And you know why the rest of us do? ‘Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking ‘round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up nights trying to figure out ‘bout the wrong and the right of things all the time… And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking. (3.1.89)

    Embittered by Willy's backstabbing, Walter decides he can trust no one, white or black. In a moment of false lucidity, Walter decides that integrity is overrated.

    WALTER
    …There ain’t no causes – there ain’t nothing but taking in this world, and he who takes most is smartest – and it don’t make a damn bit of difference how. (3.1.94)

    In an unjust world, the unjust succeed. After humiliating himself and disappointing his family, Walter changes his moral stance to adapt to those around him.

    Joseph Asagai

    ASAGAI
    Nigeria. Home. (Coming to her with genuine romantic flippancy) I will show you our mountains and our stars; and give you cool drinks from gourds and teach you the old songs and the ways of our people – and, in time, we will pretend that – (Very softly) – you have only been away for a day. Say that you’ll come (He swings her around and takes her in his arms in a kiss which proceeds in passion) (3.155)

    Asagai wants Beneatha to return to the place he considers home for all black people. He says that eventually it will be like she was always there. What do you think about this? How easy would it be for Beneatha, an American born and raised, to integrate into Nigerian society?

  • The Home

    Act One, Scene Two
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    It’s dangerous, son.
    WALTER
    What’s dangerous?
    MAMA
    When a man goes outside his home to look for peace. (1.2.215-7)

    Mama worries that if her son starts going outside of their home to find peace then one day he might not come back. She feels that a man's house should be his safe haven, and that there's a serious problem in that home if he can't find rest there.

    MAMA
    (Looking at him as she would WALTER) I bet you don’t half look after yourself, being away from your mama either. I spec you better come ‘round here from time to time to get yourself some decent home-cooked meals… (1.2.125)

    Lena offers her home to Asagai, showing that the Younger household is hospitable to others, even in their poverty.

    Act Two, Scene One
    Lena Younger (Mama)

    MAMA
    Walter Lee – it makes a difference in a man when he can walk on floors that belong to him… (2.1.170)

    Lena hopes that owning a house will give Walter a sense of pride. In her mind, it will give him something in the world that is truly his. Of course, Walter sees this as an unwise investment. He'd rather invest in a business than a home.

    Act Two, Scene Three
    Ruth Younger

    RUTH (Who hadn’t thought of that)
    Oh – Well, they bound to fit something in the whole house. Anyhow, they was too good a bargain to pass up. (RUTH slaps her head, suddenly remembering something) Oh, Bennie – I meant to put a special note on that carton over there. That’s your mama’s good china and she wants ‘em to be very careful with it. (2.3.5)

    In her excitement for the new house, Ruth bought new curtains without worrying about the size of the windows. Ruth is very excited to decorate the new space and make the house truly theirs.