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 (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
(RUTHhas 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 (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 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.
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 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.