On a Friday night a few weeks later, George and Beneatha enter the apartment after a date. Packing crates, signifying the family’s upcoming move, dot the room. As George and Beneatha sit on the couch, George tries to kiss her, but Beneatha pulls away, attempting to continue their conversation. “Exasperated,” George tells Beneatha to cut out “the moody stuff” and “not spoil” the evening. He states that Beneatha is a “nice-looking girl” but that he doesn’t date her “to hear all about your thoughts.” In response, Beneatha asks George about the purpose of getting an education, to which George answers that the point is simply to “pass the course – to get the degree.” Having heard enough, Beneatha tells George good night. George exits and passes Mama as she enters the apartment.
George’s admission that his interest in Beneatha is only skin-deep—that he likes her looks but doesn't care about her thoughts—flies in the face of Beneatha’s personal pride and sense of self. She refuses to be taken only as a “nice-looking girl,” demanding recognition as an independent-minded young woman whose ideas are to be valued. George’s cynical response about the purpose of schooling, that it's really just a game to get the piece of paper that helps you go out in the world and make money—runs counter to Beneatha’s idealistic belief in the transformative power of education. Beneatha wants to become a doctor to be able to help people.
Mama asks Beneatha about her date, and Beneatha responds by telling her mother that, “George is a fool.” Mama replies matter-of-factly by saying that Beneatha shouldn’t waste her time “with no fools.” Touched by her mother’s response, Beneatha thanks Mama for “understanding me this time.” Beneatha exits and Mama smiles.
In light of their differences, generational and otherwise, Beneatha is touched by Mama’s ability to understand her point of view. She values her mother’s support, especially as it bears on her identity and self-worth as a woman. This also marks a change in Mama, brought about by the harm she sees that she has done to Walter. Now, rather than insisting that she can't understand her children, Mama is trying to support them.
Ruth enters and Mama asks if Walter is home. Ruth says that he is and implicitly adds that Walter is drunk. Someone knocks on the door and Ruth and Mama share a “weary and knowing” look, aware that it is their meddling neighbor. Ruth opens the door and Mrs. Johnson enters, carrying a newspaper. Mama and Ruth politely greet Mrs. Johnson, who brazenly pats the pregnant Ruth’s stomach and states that she is “just soooooo happy for y’all” in reference to the Youngers’ coming move. Mama, “doubting the total sincerity” of Mrs. Johnson’s comments, nonetheless maintains her politeness, offering Mrs. Johnson a slice of pie.
Despite Mrs. Johnson's meddling and overly familiar manner, Mama and Ruth keep a cool head and maintain their politeness, showing the pride that they take in their family and its reputation for hospitality. Although they clearly do not enjoy Mrs. Johnson’s visits, they treat her kindly as a courtesy.
Mrs. Johnson asks Mama and Ruth if they “seen the news what’s all over the colored paper this week,” eagerly telling them “with the spirit of catastrophe” that an African-American family was “bombed” out of his home in a white neighborhood of Chicago. Mrs. Johnson continues melodramatically, insincerely saying that she thinks that, “It’s wonderful how our folks keeps on pushing out.” In her speech, Mrs. Johnson uses the term “nigger,” which angers Mama, who doesn’t allow the word to be used in her house.
Mama’s sense of dignity and personal pride contribute to her prohibition of the term “nigger” in her household. Additionally, the story of the bombing draws attention to the very real dangers that accompany the family’s move and the violent extent of Northern racism.
In a not-so-subtle way, Mrs. Johnson asks for a cup of coffee, which Ruth and Mama give her. Mrs. Johnson then asks about Walter, going on to discuss his ambition and good looks and guessing that it was his idea to move the family to Clybourne Park. Mrs. Johnson imagines next month’s headlines in the colored newspaper, gleefully and dramatically suggesting, “NEGROES INVADE CYLBOURNE PARK – BOMBED!” Ruth and Mama gaze at Mrs. Johnson “in amazement,” and she disingenuously adds that of course she hopes that no harm will befall the Younger family.
At this point, Mrs. Johnson has clearly overstayed her welcome and appears to derive pleasure from filling the Younger household with fear. Ruth and Mama are shocked by Mrs. Johnson’s shameless comments, which run counter to the Youngers’ deep sense of dignity. Mrs. Johnson’s imagined headline gives voice to the Youngers’ own worst fears about the outcome of their move, and also imply that Mrs. Johnson doesn't want to see the Youngers thrive or do well in a way she herself isn't. She seems to resent their desire to escape from the place where she herself lives.
Wearing a bathrobe, Beneatha enters from her bedroom and heads to the bathroom. On her way, she “crisply” says hello to Mrs. Johnson, who is insulted by Beneatha’s curt manner. After Beneatha exits, Mrs. Johnson tells Mama and Ruth that Beneatha acts as if she “ain’t got time to pass the time of day with nobody ain’t been to college.” Mrs. Johnson then mentions Walter’s dissatisfaction with his work as a chauffeur, but states that he shouldn’t be ashamed because there “ain’t nothing wrong with being a chauffeur.” Mama objects, saying that there is “plenty wrong” with it and repeating her late husband’s belief that “being any kind of servant wasn’t a fit thing for a man to have to be.”
Mrs. Johnson criticizes the pride that Beneatha takes in her education, which Mrs. Johnson believes is excessive. Mrs. Johnson contrasts Beneatha’s self-satisfaction with Walter’s disappointment with his work as a chauffeur, which she conversely tries to defend as an honorable profession. In a change from her earlier stance, Mama rejects Mrs. Johnson argument, acknowledging the emasculating aspect of her son’s work. Mama recognizes the racial prejudice that limits her son’s job opportunities.
Mrs. Johnson bristles at Mama’s speech, declaring that the Youngers are “one proud-acting bunch of colored folks.” She then quotes assimilationist Booker T. Washington’s dictum that, “Education has spoiled many a good plow hand.” Mama responds by calling Washington a “fool.” Offended, Mrs. Johnson exits. Beneatha reenters and Mama lightly scolds her behavior towards Mrs. Johnson, to which Beneatha responds, “If there are two things we, as a people, have got to overcome, one is the Ku Klux Klan – and the other is Mrs. Johnson.” Beneatha exits.
Mama takes a stance against Mrs. Johnson’s defeatist brand of assimilation, standing up for her children and their dreams for a better future. Mrs. Johnson views the Youngers’ pride as a negative quality, one that mistakenly allows them to see themselves as exceptional. Beneatha’s statement that equates Mrs. Johnson and the KKK show the extent to which she believes assimilationist ideology is a scourge on the African-American community.
The telephone rings and Ruth answers it. Mrs. Arnold, the wife of Walter’s employer, is on the line and tells Ruth that Walter hasn’t been to work in three days. She warns Ruth that Mr. Arnold will find a new chauffeur if Walter doesn’t come in tomorrow. Ruth, unaware of her husband’s absences, nonetheless covers for Walter, telling Mrs. Arnold that Walter has been very ill. Ruth hangs up and asks Walter, now standing in the bedroom’s doorway, about his behavior. Walter tells Mama and Ruth that he spent the three days by himself, driving around in Willy Harris’ car and walking around Chicago. He says that he went to a bar called the Green Hat, where he listened to the “best little combo in the world.” Ruth exits and Mama continues to listen to Walter’s dejected and drunken ramblings.
Walter’s irresponsible behavior displays the extremely detrimental effect that the deferral of his dream has had on him. Walter has lost all hope and motivation, completely abandoning his duties as a husband and father. Additionally, at this point Ruth is unable or unwilling to combat her husband’s irresponsibility with the family’s financial security, leaving the room after she hears enough of his drunken ramblings.
Overcome with guilt, Mama realizes that she has unknowingly contributed to Walter’s descent into depression by refusing to support his dream for a liquor store. She admits that, “I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you,” but explains to Walter that she “ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you.” She takes an envelope from her handbag and places it in front of Walter. She explains that she has already paid $3,500 as a down payment on the house. She gives control over the remaining $6,500 of the insurance payment to Walter. She tells him to put $3,000 in a savings account for Beneatha’s schooling but gives him complete control over how to spend the rest of the money. Mama makes Walter “head of this family from now on like you supposed to be.” Mama exits.
As was evident during her conversation with Mrs. Johnson, Mama realizes that her denial of Walter’s dream has only added to the many limitations that already curb Walter’s opportunities for advancement. In the hopes of restoring part of his identity and self-esteem, Mama gives Walter control of the money, which gives him control over his future. Mama turns over the money and leadership of the family, allowing Walter to finally assume the role of an adult in the household, which is what he needs to be able to see himself as "man".
Deeply moved by his mother’s gesture, Walter is filled with a sense of “mingled joy and desperation.” Travis enters for bed and Walter “sweetly” begins to talk him. Walter asks his son “what kind of man” he wants to be when he grows up. Travis answers that he wants to be a bus driver, but Walter says that Travis’ dream “ain’t big enough.” Walter tells Travis that “after tonight” he will be able to provide financially for the family. He says that he plans to make a “business transaction” that will change their lives. Walter continues to talk, dreaming of the “elegant” car and home that he will buy for his family. He tells Travis that on his seventeenth birthday, Travis will be able to pick whichever college he wants to attend “and you’ll go.” Walter proudly proclaims that he will “hand” Travis “the world!”
The possibility of achieving his dream reinvigorates Walter and permits him to regain his identity as a worthy husband and father. While Walter dreams of providing for his family, his dreams nonetheless revolve around markers of material wealth, such as cars and homes. Walter dreams of being able to offer his son “the world,” an aspiration that centers on the power of money to overcome racial prejudice and limitations. It's also worth noting that he dreams of sending his son to college, though he mocks Beneatha's ambitions to get an education. It's not education he doesn't believe in—it's education for women.