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 (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 (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 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 (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 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.
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.