A Raisin in the Sun

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Lena Younger (Mama) Character Analysis

The matriarch of the Younger family, Lena, commonly referred to as “Mama,” is Walter Lee and Beneatha’s mother and Travis’ grandmother. Lena is a “full-bodied and strong” woman in her early sixties with a subtle air of “grace and beauty.” Lena possesses the “noble bearing” of a woman of “Southwest Africa,” although her speech “is as careless as her carriage is precise.” Mama takes great pride in her family and works as a domestic maid to help support them. A devout Christian, Lena is a woman of traditional values who dreams of buying a house for her family.

Lena Younger (Mama) Quotes in A Raisin in the Sun

The A Raisin in the Sun quotes below are all either spoken by Lena Younger (Mama) or refer to Lena Younger (Mama). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dreams Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of A Raisin in the Sun published in 2004.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Ruth Younger (speaker), Lena Younger (Mama), Walter Lee Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs during a conversation between Mama and Ruth. After breakfast, Walter exits the apartment and we are introduced to “Mama” or Lena Younger—Walter and Beneatha’s mother. She enters complaining about how loudly Walter slammed the door, and then goes through a series of questions and commands. She checks in about how Walter is doing and makes jokes about her children. It becomes clear that the role of mother is etched in her soul. This seems appropriate as she remains mostly nameless throughout the play, primarily referred to as “Mama.” In a moment alone, Ruth tells Mama that Beneatha and Walter have been fighting about the insurance money. Ruth then asks Mama how she actually plans on using that money. Mama dismisses this, but Ruth suggests that maybe gambling on the liquor store isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Mama asks why she’s changed her mind.

In response, Ruth suggests that she can’t give Walter what he needs; a chance to fulfill his own dreams. Ruth is exhausted and tired of working for hardly any pay, and in this moment shares that she wants more for herself, in the same way Walter and Beneatha do. Except as as more traditional wife and mother, Ruth's dreams are her husband’s dreams. She hopes to fix the problems in her marriage by helping Walter fulfill his dreams, and for this he needs the insurance money.

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Mama: What is it you want to express?
Beneatha: Me! Don’t worry – I don’t expect you to understand.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Beneatha Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

This moment happens during a conversation between Beneatha, Ruth, and Mama. When Mama asks Beneatha about what time she's going to be home from school that evening, Beneatha tells Ruth and Mama that she is coming home late because she plans on taking her first guitar lesson after school. Mama goes on to tease Beneatha, telling her that she’s flippant with her forms of "expression." First it was acting, followed by horse back riding, and now it's guitar. Mama hardly trusts that Beneatha will commit to this new hobby.

Beneatha defends herself by telling Mama that she doesn’t “flit” but rather experiments with different forms of expression. Mama then asks her what she’s trying to express. And Beneatha responds angrily with, “Me!”

Here we learn that Beneatha takes great pride in her self-expression and is in search of her own identity. Throughout the play she defines herself by her education, her dress, her activities and her connection to her African heritage. In this moment, Hansberry also highlights the generational differences between Mama and Beneatha. Mama doesn’t understand Beneatha’s need to express. Like Ruth, she is pragmatic and reserved. The only thing she expresses is her love for her family and staunch sense of survival.  She fits the traditional 1950s mold of mother, and takes pride in that. Indeed, after this moment Mama immediately re-routes the conversation to George Murchison, Beneatha’s suitor, pushing her to make a commitment to him, like a good woman should. 

Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Mama: Oh – So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .
Walter: No – it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
Mama: No . . . something has changed. You something new, boy. In my time we was worried about not being lynched and getting to the North if we could and how to stay alive and still have a pinch of dignity too . . .

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs during a discussion between Mama and Walter. Before this quote, Mama tells Walter that she’s concerned that he may be cheating on Ruth; he’s constantly out of the house and is very secretive with his family. Walter tells Mama that he isn’t cheating on his wife but rather searching for “peace.” He is restless. Walter explains that he sees a bright future in front of him, and investing in a liquor store is the only way he knows how to reach it. Walter goes on to tell Mama that sometimes, when he walks down the Chicago streets, he sees white men through the windows of restaurants having business meetings. He wants that.  Mama replies by asking him why he talks about money so much. Walter retorts, “Because it is life.”

Here Mama details the differences between her generation and her children’s. She was a child at the turn of the century, a time when “freedom” meant something entirely different for black Americans. Mama's parents escaped slavery to provide her with a better life. Freedom for her meant not being lynched or killed for being black. Freedom has been redefined for her children, however. Rather than being freed from the physical chains of slavery, Walter is in pursuit of freedom from economic oppression. In Mama’s perspective, Walter doesn’t realize how lucky he is. He doesn't take pride in the four generations of slaves and indentured servants that fought for freedom so that he could have a better life. She is frustrated at his lack of dignity, ingratitude, and sense of privilege. By fighting for a better life, Mama gave Walter the freedom to dream bigger than she was ever able to, and now she can’t quite understand why his dreams are based so much on financial wealth. 

Well – son, I’m waiting to hear you say something . . . I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was . . . Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them – I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give one baby up to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one . . .

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this moment, Mama expresses that she's concerned that Walter is cheating on Ruth. Walter denies this, but reveals that he is in a troubling place in his life. He hasn't been cheating, but rather has been searching for answers. He is frustrated by his position in the world and feels like his dreams of financial wealth and a better life for his family will never be realized. Mama chastises Walter for seeing money as the ultimate form of freedom. Walter dismisses this, telling Mama she doesn't understand what he's going through. At her wit's end, Mama finally reveals that Ruth is pregnant. She tells Walter that Ruth has been trying to tell him. but he hasn't been around or interested enough to listen. Mama then tells Walter that Ruth is considering aborting the baby. Walter argues that Ruth would never do that. Having overheard the conversation from her bedroom, Ruth immediately enters the room and tells Walter that she has put down a five dollar down payment for the procedure. In a moment of silence between Walter and Ruth, Mama tells Walter that this is the moment for him to "be a man." She implores him to live up to his father's legacy and convince Ruth to not go through with the abortion. 

Mama takes great pride in her faith and moral ethics, and Ruth's abortion tests those. This is also another moment where Walter's masculinity is questioned. Mama asks Walter to take pride in his beliefs and his manhood and step up and be a leader and a father. This moment also highlights the way poverty impacts decisions like childbearing, and takes a toll on pride and honor. Ruth's abortion is a result of her poverty, not a choice she would make if the Younger family were financially stable. This moment symbolizes how poverty strips people of their own dignity and sense of self.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Son – you – you understand what I done, don’t you? I – I just seen my family falling apart today . . . just falling to pieces in front of my eyes . . . We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards – talking ‘bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead . . . When it gets like that in life – you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs directly after Mama reveals that she has used the insurance money for a down payment on a new house for the family in Clybourne Park. Walter has said very little at this point and is furious that Mama chose to use the money in this way. In this moment Mama is trying to level with Walter. She explains that this day was a low point for the Younger family. She saw her daughter-in-law consider aborting her unborn child, she saw her children fighting about money, she saw her daughter struggle with her identity, and thought that her son wasn't going to make it through. She saw the effects that poverty and oppression can have on people. The choice to buy a home was Mama's effort to save her family.

Mama's strength and Walter's silence highlight the way many of the characters challenge and face gender roles in A Raisin In The Sun. Mama has taken control of the insurance money and has made an executive decision. This infuriates Walter. Much of his pride is bound up in his manhood and sense of masculinity. Throughout the play he has expressed his resentment of his inability to control his own life and provide for his family. By calling the shots, Mama has emasculated him once again. In Walter's perspective, she has stripped Walter of his choice and leadership—but for Mama, her  decision to buy the house was also a choice to restore her family's dignity. The events of the day were the last straw for her and she tried to fix the problem the only way she knew how. 

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. Walter – what you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. . . . There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. . . . I’m telling you to be the head of this family from now on like you supposed to be.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Mama tells Walter that she finally understands where his anger and frustration is coming from. Before this quote, Mama used her deceased husband's life insurance money for a down payment on a new house in Clybourne Park. Mrs. Arnold, Walter's boss, then calls to tell Walter that if he doesn't show up for work tomorrow he will be fired. Ruth and Mama learn that Walter hasn't been to work in three days. Mama asks Walter what he's been doing, and Walter tells her that he's been borrowing Willy Harris' car, driving through Illinois, and drinking at The Green Hat—a Jazz club—every afternoon. He has given up on his job and, in many ways, himself. He is lost. 

This moment reveals Walter's complete loss of pride and deep need for escape. Mama blames herself and tells Walter that she was the one who did this to him. Here, Hansberry touches on the gender roles put in place during the time period in which A Raisin In The Sun was written. By taking control of the insurance money, Mama has emasculated Walter. He is the man, and so by cultural standards is supposed to be the "head of household," and the one to decide how to allocate finances.  Mama laments that she has been doing "what the rest of the world been doing,"—depriving Walter of his manhood and keeping him from his dreams and his pride. After she says this she hands Walter the $6,500  left over from the down payment on the house. Mama asks him to put some away for Beneatha's schooling and use the rest however he wants, even for his investment on the liquor store. Mama has relinquished her role and, in order to save Walter, offers him control over the money. 

Act 3 Quotes

Talking ‘bout life, Mama. . . . Mama, you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the “tooken.” I’ve figured it out finally. Yeah. Some of us always getting “tooken.”

Related Characters: Walter Lee Younger (speaker), Lena Younger (Mama)
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this quote Mama tells the family that she doesn't think it's wise to move to Clybourne Park anymore. Ruth begs her not to make that decision. She tells Mama that she will work twenty hours a day with her newborn baby on her back but she must leave their Southside Chicago apartment. Walter enters and tells Mama and Ruth that he has made a call to "The Man" (Mr. Lindner).  He is going to invite him back to the house to do business with him. He goes on to say that he's realized that life is about people who take and people who are taken from. He then goes on to tell Mama and Ruth that he is going to "put on a show" for Lindner, perform as the stereotypical black man and give him what he wants to see, hoping that Lindner will pay a larger amount of money for the house so that the Youngers will make back the $10,000 they've lost. 

Here, Walter reasserts himself as the head of household. He also finally admits, although in a roundabout way, that he made a poor decision by giving up a large portion of the insurance money. This is his effort to fix the problem he's caused. However in doing so, by degrading himself before Mr. Lindner Walter is also stripping himself of his own identity, assimilating to the image of an inferior stereotype.

Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ‘em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. We ain’t never been that – dead inside.

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Before this quote, Walter tells Mama that he has called Mr. Lindner and asked him to return to discuss the house in Clybourne Park Mama has just purchased. Walter plans on striking a deal with Lindner and "putting on a show" for him. Mama is disappointed that Walter would belittle his pride and self-respect for a profit. She's devastated that Walter would even consider pretending to be the type of man Lindner and the white community of Clybourne park has stereotyped him to be.

For Mama, allowing themselves to be kicked out of Clybourne Park for being black, and taking a bribe to leave, is an act of submissiveness to the oppressor. They are giving into the pressures of a community of people who don't see them as equals. Here, Mama reminds Walter of her and thereby his history. Although their ancestors weren't free by law, they had pride and would never let anyone pay them money to admit that, by being black, they were inherently lesser or unequal. Self-respect is Mama's moral compass. Even though her life is unfair, her pride and dignity will always come first. 

Have you cried for that boy today? I don’t mean for yourself and for the family ‘cause we lost the money. I mean for him: what he been through and what it done to him. 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!

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger, Beneatha Younger
Related Symbols: The Insurance Payment
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote happens after Walter tells the family that he has asked Mr.Lindner to return to discuss striking a deal. Walter plans to negotiate with Lindner and try to make the money that he lost on his liquor store investment back.

Mama and Beneatha are devastated by this. Beneatha criticizes Walter for stooping so low that he would make a deal with a man who sees them as unfit to live in his community. Mama then reprimands Beneatha for her lack of empathy. She is upset that her children have been so selfish. Mama explains that she thought that she taught her children to love each other no matter what. In a time when the Younger family has had to face so much prejudice for simply being who they are, Mama begs Beneatha to love and empathize with her brother. He doesn't have anyone else, and in the face of so much poverty, racism, and bad luck, the family has to stick together.

He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain . . .

Related Characters: Lena Younger (Mama) (speaker), Walter Lee Younger
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

After Mr. Lindner leaves and the moving trucks are packed, Mama has a moment alone with Ruth before leaving their apartment for the last time. She tells Ruth that she thinks Walter has finally come into his own manhood. Like a rainbow after a storm, Walter's mistakes brought him closer to his own sense of self as well as giving him a newfound pride in his history and identity. After this moment, Mama takes one final look at the apartment, and she stares at her plant sitting on the table. She feels an overwhelming wave of an undefined emotion (pain? sadness? fear?) and sticks her fist in her mouth to hide the scream welling up inside her. The lights dim and then re-light as she comes back into the space to grab her beloved plant. She leaves and the play ends.

Here, although she never says it directly to him, Mama finally recognizes Walter as a man. After creating a massive problem for the family in losing their money, he has made the final decision to move the family to Clybourne park. Putting his family's best interest first, this decision was in an effort to provide a better life for Travis and to prove that the Younger family never has and never will stand down in the face of oppression. While she's proud of Walter, in this moment we also see Mama overcome with emotion. Here, Hansberry hints that although the rainbow has arrived, more rain may still be on its way.

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Lena Younger (Mama) Character Timeline in A Raisin in the Sun

The timeline below shows where the character Lena Younger (Mama) appears in A Raisin in the Sun. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Dreams Theme Icon
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
Money Theme Icon
...has asked Walter to invest in. Walter asks Ruth to try to persuade his mother, Lena, to use part of the coming check to invest in the store. Ruth resists the... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
Dignity and Pride Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
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...brings up the coming check, Beneatha quickly and decisively reminds Walter, “That money belongs to Mama.” Walter “bitterly” snaps back, pointing to Beneatha’s own hope that Mama will devote a portion... (full context)
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Mama enters from her bedroom and asks Beneatha and Ruth about the argument with Walter that... (full context)
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Studying Ruth’s tired face, Mama suggests that Ruth call in sick to work today, an idea that Ruth swiftly refuses,... (full context)
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Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
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In a “reflective mood,” Mama smiles and reminisces about her marriage, stating that she and Big Walter only intended to... (full context)
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Beneatha returns from the bathroom and angers Mama by “reciting the scriptures in vain” when she exclaims “Christ’s sakes” in response to a... (full context)
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Mama then changes the subject to Beneatha’s love life, asking whom she will go on a... (full context)
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After recovering from the shock of Beneatha’s comment, Mama says that Beneatha will certainly fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor, “God willing.” Beneatha... (full context)
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Mama reenters and expresses her deep concern for her children, telling Ruth, “There’s something come down... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
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The following Saturday morning Beneatha and Mama clean the apartment thoroughly, a regular occurrence in the Younger household. Travis asks his grandmother... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
...who asks if he may visit Beneatha later that morning. Beneatha agrees. Beneatha explains to Mama that Asagai is a Nigerian student whom she met on campus and she asks Mama... (full context)
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Ruth enters “forlornly” and confirms Mama’s suspicion that she is pregnant. While Mama is overcome with “grandmotherly enthusiasm,” Beneatha and Ruth... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
...calls out of the window and orders Travis to come upstairs. While waiting for Travis, Mama asks Ruth about her visit to the doctor, and Ruth’s use of the pronoun “she”... (full context)
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Before Asagai can exit, Mama reenters and Beneatha introduces her to Asagai. Honoring her promise to Beneatha, Mama refrains from... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
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As he goes to exit, Asagai calls Beneatha by a Yoruba nickname, “Alaiyo.” Mama and Beneatha ask about the meaning of the nickname, and after thinking for a moment... (full context)
Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
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...imagine something.” Suddenly, she grabs her coat and heads for the door, telling a confused Mama that she is going out, “To become a queen of the Nile!” (full context)
Gender and Feminism Theme Icon
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...the insurance check. Ruth sends Travis downstairs to get it. Travis returns moments later and Mama opens the envelope. As she sees the check, Mama’s face “sobers to a mask of... (full context)
Dreams Theme Icon
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...discussion of his proposal to use the money as an investment in a liquor store. Mama stops Walter and suggests that he speak to his wife privately, but he ignores her.... (full context)
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Mama asks Walter what’s troubling him, commenting that for the past few years “something [has been]... (full context)
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Mama critiques Walter’s overriding emphasis on the importance of money, to which he responds that money... (full context)
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Mama finally tells Walter that Ruth is pregnant and considering an abortion. Walter is shocked but... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
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Suddenly, Mama enters the apartment and ends Ruth and Walter’s intimate moment. At first, Mama ignores Walter... (full context)
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Ruth is thrilled with the news that Mama bought a house for the family, raising her arms and shouting, “PRAISE GOD!” Walter says... (full context)
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Ruth asks Mama where the house is located, and Mama, nervously responds that it’s in Clybourne Park. Ruth’s... (full context)
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After a long pause, Mama carefully tries to justify her decision to buy a house to Walter. She tells him... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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...get the degree.” Having heard enough, Beneatha tells George good night. George exits and passes Mama as she enters the apartment. (full context)
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Mama asks Beneatha about her date, and Beneatha responds by telling her mother that, “George is... (full context)
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Ruth enters and Mama asks if Walter is home. Ruth says that he is and implicitly adds that Walter... (full context)
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Mrs. Johnson asks Mama and Ruth if they “seen the news what’s all over the colored paper this week,”... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Race, Discrimination, and Assimilation Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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Mrs. Johnson bristles at Mama’s speech, declaring that the Youngers are “one proud-acting bunch of colored folks.” She then quotes... (full context)
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...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’... (full context)
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Overcome with guilt, Mama realizes that she has unknowingly contributed to Walter’s descent into depression by refusing to support... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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The man tells Beneatha that he is looking for Lena Younger. She briefly excuses herself, closes the door, and “soundlessly” explains to the oblivious Ruth... (full context)
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Mama and Travis enter the apartment. “Smiling,” Beneatha says that Mama had a “caller,” and Beneatha,... (full context)
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Beneatha “laughingly” notices that Mama is carefully tending to her plant during this conversation. She asks Mama what she is... (full context)
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Walter comes over to Mama and bends down, squeezing her in a tight embrace. Mama is “overwhelmed” but “delighted” by... (full context)
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Travis eagerly asks his father if he can give Mama his gift, and Walter agrees. “Racing back” with a large hatbox, Travis proudly presents Mama... (full context)
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The doorbell rings and Beneatha heads to her room to continue packing. Mama and Travis go to exit. Walter sings to himself and throws open the door to... (full context)
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...from God.” Walter falls to the floor and sobs, pounding the ground with his fists. Mama and Beneatha enter from the bedroom. Walter screams, “THAT MONEY IS MADE OUT OF MY... (full context)
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Mama goes to Walter and asks him if all of the insurance money is in fact... (full context)
Act 3
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Ruth enters, followed shortly by Mama. Mama seems “lost.” She picks up her plant from the table and returns it to... (full context)
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Walter reenters and tells Mama, Ruth, and Beneatha that he made a phone call to “The Man.” Beneatha realizes that... (full context)
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...a show” for the white man. The women grasp Walter’s purpose for calling Lindner, and Mama tells her son that he is “making something inside me cry.” Mama implores Walter to... (full context)
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Beneatha sneers that Walter is “not a man . . . but a toothless rat.” Mama asks Beneatha if she is “mourning” her brother’s loss of pride, to which Beneatha answers... (full context)
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...awkwardly . . . like a small boy.” Ruth tells Travis to go downstairs, but Mama orders Travis to stay put so that Walter can “make him understand what you doing.... (full context)
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.... or fight no causes,” and he rejects Lindner’s money. In vain, Lindner appeals to Mama to ask Walter to reconsider. As the family stares at Walter Lee in awe, Lindner... (full context)
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“Coming to life,” Mama and Ruth fly into action, making the final preparations for the family’s move to Clybourne... (full context)
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Making final preparations to leave the apartment, Mama references Walter’s confrontation with Lindner, asking Ruth, “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t... (full context)