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 (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 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
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 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 …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 (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.
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 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.
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.