A Raisin in the Sun

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A Raisin in the Sun Act 2, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That evening, Ruth is ironing and listening to the radio when Beneatha enters “grandly” from her bedroom, wearing the robes and headdress that Asagai gave her that morning. She tells Ruth, “You are looking at what a well-dressed Nigerian woman wears.” Beneatha also carries an “ornate oriental fan,” which is “mistakenly” more reminiscent of Asia than Africa. Ruth is dumbfounded as Beneatha proudly “parades” around the room. Beneatha goes over to the radio and turns off the “good loud blues” that Ruth was listening to, saying, “Enough of this assimilationist junk!” Beneatha puts on one of the Nigerian records that Asagai gave her and begins dancing and singing along with the African melody.
With her costume and music choice, Beneatha embraces her African heritage. Nonetheless, her mistakenly “oriental” fan signifies that Beneatha still lacks a fully developed sense or understanding of true African identity. Additionally, Beneatha celebrates her African heritage at the expense of her African-American identity, dismissing the “good loud blues”—an musical style that emerged from the African-American experience—as whitewashed “assimilationist junk.”
Themes
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Walter enters during Beneatha’s “performance” and he is clearly drunk. Although he first watches the spectacle with “distaste,” he gradually warms to the music, saying that, “them drums move me.” Ruth ignores her husband’s drunken antics, but Beneatha encourages Walter’s behavior, fascinated and “thoroughly caught up with this side of him.” Shouting cries in Yoruba, Walter leaps onto the table and completely loses himself in a fantasy in which he is “a great chief, a descendant of Chaka.” The lighting “shifts subtly” to convey the intensity of Walter’s vision. Suddenly, Ruth turns off the music and George Murchison arrives at the apartment, putting an end to Walter’s fantasy.
Uncharacteristically, Walter embraces his African heritage, but only in a fleeting moment of fantasy. Walter’s communion with his African identity centers on regaining the lost status and majesty of African leaders, which was stolen from many African-Americans through the transatlantic slave trade. Walter imagines himself as a “great chief,” a fantasy that connects to his desire to fulfill a traditional male role as a powerful protector and provider for his family.
Themes
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Embarrassed, Ruth orders Walter off of the table. He exits. Looking at Beneatha’s African garb, George tells Beneatha to go dress properly for their date, snidely saying that they’re going to the theater, not performing in it. In response, Beneatha stares at him and “ceremoniously” takes off the headdress, revealing her newly “close-cropped and unstraightened” hair. Ruth and George are both shocked by Beneatha’s “nappy” hair. While Beneatha proudly declares her hair “natural,” George calls it “eccentric.” Beneatha accuses George of being an “assimilationist” Negro, and George replies by saying that the “heritage” of which Beneatha is so proud is “nothing but . . . some grass huts!” Infuriated, Beneatha recites a litany of African accomplishments while Ruth pushes her towards her bedroom.
George and Beneatha situate themselves on opposing sides of the argument surrounding African-American assimilation. Beneatha uses her natural hair as a visible marker of her protest against assimilation, while George uses his social status in order to reap the benefits of membership in the mainstream of society. According to Beneatha, George denies his heritage and thus sacrifices his pride. George, in contrast, from his self-pride in his own family’s success, sees a focus on African heritage as being juvenile. Meanwhile, Ruth falls in the middle of this debate, possessing neither George’s social standing nor Beneatha’s fierce dedication to a largely foreign cultural identity.
Themes
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Ruth tries to make small talk with George while Beneatha dresses. George, fairly indifferent, ignores most of Ruth’s chitchat, only commenting in order to display his knowledge of culture and to boast about his visits to New York. Walter reenters and critiques George’s expensive-looking “college boy” outfit. Getting a beer from the fridge, Walter moves on to another topic, asking George about his father’s business ventures. Walter tries to get George interested in his investment ideas, telling him, “I got some plans that could turn this city upside down.” Visibly bored, George dismisses Walter’s talk, which offends Walter.
George uses his social standing to elevate himself above what he sees as the stigma of his racial identity (and acts like a stuck-up jerk in doing so). Walter both abhors George’s outward signs of wealth, such as his outfit, and deeply covets them, as evidenced by his attempt to interest George in his business ideas. Walter’s dreams revolve around wealth; they center on obtaining money itself and are likewise unachievable without money. George’s obsessions seem similar—having achieved wealth, he sees it as justifying his own sense of superiority.
Themes
Dreams Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
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Walter then launches into a critique of George’s college education, questioning whether his expensive schooling is “teaching you how to be a man?” With “distaste,” George responds by telling Walter, “You’re all wacked up with bitterness, man.” Walter counters, saying, “I’m a volcano. . . . I am a giant – surrounded by ants!” Walter expresses his frustration that “not even my own mother” supports his dreams, but Beneatha’s reentrance puts an abrupt stop to his complaints. Beneatha and George leave, and George sarcastically tells Walter, “Good night, Prometheus,” as he exits.
Walter’s fears about his worth as a man lead him to question George’s manhood. Taking a defensive stance, Walter describes himself as a “volcano” in an attempt to fortify his male identity. George’s reference to “Prometheus,” a Greek demigod who stole fire from Zeus, is intended to mock Walter’s grand business dreams and also to draw attention to George’s own knowledge (George is putting himself in the position of being the God).
Themes
Dreams Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
After George exits, Ruth and Walter puzzle over the meaning of “Prometheus.” Ruth advises Walter to ignore it, but Walter is “in fury” over George’s “insult.” Ruth then tries to broach the subject of her pregnancy, but Walter dismisses her “nagging.” Walter states that he spent the afternoon “talking with people who understand me,” and Ruth correctly assumes that he is referring to Willy Harris. Ruth grows impatient, and Walter bitterly snaps that he is “tied up in a race of people that don’t know how to do nothing but moan, pray and have babies!” Ruth “softly” appeals to Walter to “stop fighting” her, and Walter slowly begins to cool down.
With his insult to Ruth about African-American women, Walter attempts to blame his own failings and insecurities on the women who surround him. His insult packs even more punch in light of Ruth’s recently discovered pregnancy. Nonetheless, Ruth “softly” tries to resolve the couple’s issues, highlighting her dedication to her marriage and family.
Themes
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Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Ruth resignedly puts away the iron and clothes and prepares to go to bed. She apologizes to Walter for “this new baby” and states that she “better go on and do what I started,” meaning that she intends to go through with the abortion. Ruth tries to offer Walter hot milk or coffee to counteract the effect of “all that liquor” that Walter drank. When Walter questions why Ruth is always trying to give him something to eat, Ruth pleadingly asks him, “What else can I give you, Walter Lee Younger?” Walter’s mood softens, and he begins to talk to his wife about the way that “something done come down between us.” They slowly and “gently” begin to broach the problems in their marriage, and in a moment of intimacy they kiss “tenderly and hungrily.”
Walter again has the chance to talk Ruth out of having an abortion, but he says nothing. Walter’s unspoken approval of Ruth’s decision shows that he still fails to meet Mama’s expectations for a man. His silence also indicates that he leaves the burden of this monumental decision on his wife’s shoulders. Nonetheless, in a rare moment of intimacy—created when Ruth makes it clear that her offers of food are not ways to avoid his dreams but the only way she can support him—the couple seems to make limited progress towards solving the problems in their marriage, although they still lack agreement on several important issues.
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Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Suddenly, Mama enters the apartment and ends Ruth and Walter’s intimate moment. At first, Mama ignores Walter and speaks only to Ruth, asking her where Travis is. Ruth tells Mama that Travis still hasn’t come home yet, saying that he is “going to get it” once he returns. Finally, Mama acknowledges Walter’s questions about where she went that afternoon, saying only that she had “to tend to some business.” Walter angrily worries that she did “something crazy” with the insurance money. Travis enters and tries to explain his lateness, but Ruth cuts him off and tells him to go to the bedroom and prepare for “your beating.” But Mama calls Travis to her and tells him that she “bought you a house” with the insurance money. Walter erupts “in fury” and Ruth pushes Travis towards the bedroom.
For Walter, the fulfillment of Mama’s dream for a house spells the death of his own dream for owning a liquor store. The insurance money again functions as a wedge that drives the family members farther apart. In Walter’s eyes, the new house symbolizes the continued deferment of his dream. But for Mama the money created a possibility for Travis—who, as is implied here, in the neighborhood where they now live is getting into trouble, getting punished, and suddenly she can give him a different possibility.
Themes
Dreams Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
Ruth is thrilled with the news that Mama bought a house for the family, raising her arms and shouting, “PRAISE GOD!” Walter says nothing, and Ruth implores him to “let me be glad . . . you be glad too.” She places her hand on his shoulder, but he “roughly” pulls away. Ruth asks Mama questions about the house, and she answers “tentatively,” trying to convince Walter to accept her decision. Speaking to her son’s turned back, Mama explains, “It’s just a plain little old house – but it’s made good and solid – and it will be ours.”
Mama tries to convince Walter to accept her dream and to recognize its value, but he cannot. He needs the dream to be his own—he needs to be the one providing. Mama takes immense pride in the realization of her and Big Walter’s deferred dream. She also prides herself on the fact that the family will own its home, however humble it may be. For Mama, ownership of the house symbolizes personal freedom as well.
Themes
Dreams Theme Icon
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Ruth asks Mama where the house is located, and Mama, nervously responds that it’s in Clybourne Park. Ruth’s jubilance “fades abruptly” and Walter finally faces his mother with bitterness and “hostility.” Ruth says that there “ain’t no colored people living in Clybourne Park,” and Walter angrily mocks the so-called “peace and comfort” that Mama bought for the family. Mama explains her decision, telling Walter that she “just tried to find the nicest place for the least amount of money.”
Mama’s explains that her choice of neighborhood was financial, but, as evidenced by her reluctance to sharing this detail with Ruth and Walter, she clearly has some concerns about the situation. Mama’s dilemma highlights the racial prejudices that severely limited African Americans’ options for suitable, safe, and affordable housing in segregated cities.
Themes
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
Ruth recovers from this revelation and regains her previous radiance, shouting, “GOOD-BYE MISERY,” and expressing her joy at the prospect of leaving the cramped apartment. Holding her abdomen, Ruth recognizes the possibility that the “life” she is bearing “pulses with happiness and not despair.” “Collecting herself,” Ruth exits to deal with Travis.
The fulfillment of Ruth’s hope for an escape from the family’s cramped living situation gives her the opportunity to imagine a happy future for her unborn child. Her pregnancy is no longer a burden, but instead signifies hope and expectation. This shows that her desire to get an abortion was entirely the product of the family's poverty, not a personal choice.
Themes
Dreams Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
After a long pause, Mama carefully tries to justify her decision to buy a house to Walter. She tells him that she saw her family “falling to pieces” that morning when they talked about “killing babies and wishing each other was dead.” She explains that the family needs to “push on out and do something bigger,” and she asks Walter to understand her motivation. “Silent and sullen,” Walter calmly tells Mama that she doesn’t need his approval because, as head of the family, Mama “run[s] our lives like you want to.” In an effort to hurt his mother, Walter tells Mama that she “butchered up a dream of mine.” He exits and Mama “sits alone, thinking heavily.”
For Mama, the earlier events of the day, with the talk of abortion, signaled a low point for her family. Mama tells Walter that the house will be a new beginning, a unifying force that can repair the family’s bonds. However, Walter cannot find hope in the promise of a new home, seeing only the death of his own dream. If his family is going to end up in a comfortable home, he wants to be the one to earn that home. With his closing line, Walter uses his deferred dream as a barb, intentionally trying to hurt Mama.
Themes
Dreams Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon