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 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 (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.
WALTER (Coming to her) I’m going to feel fine, Mama. I’m going to look that son-of-a-b**** 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 n*****s!…" (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?