A Raisin in the Sun Summary and Analysis
One hour after Bobo's visit, the Younger home is silent and sullen. The lighting is gloomy and gray. Walter lies dismally on his bed while his sister, Beneatha, sits at the living room table. Asagai happens to drop by: unaware of the recent turn of events, he is genuinely happy and excited about the Youngers' move. Before he is able to get started on a diatribe about movement and progress, Beneatha informs Asagai that Walter has lost the insurance money.
Realizing the gravity of the situation, Asagai asks Beneatha how she is doing. Beneatha, it appears, has lost hope. For the first time, the audience learns why she wants to become a doctor. Beneath recalls sledding on ice-covered steps in the winter time when a young boy named Rufus fell off his sled and severely injured his head. As the young boy got into the ambulance, Beneatha believed that he was beyond repair, but the next time she saw him he only has a small line down his face. Beneatha became fascinated by the concrete manner in which a doctor can identify a problem and fix it. Now, after recent events, Beneatha has lost sight of her childhood motivation, and believes that medicine is not enough to solve society's problems. She says, "What about all the and thieves and just plain idiots who will come into power and steal and plunder the same as before." Beneatha feels as if true progress is unattainable, and that her fate is not within her own control.
Asagai stays true to his idealism and belief in progress. He talks about how he still has hope for his people in Africa, no matter how many setbacks they may encounter. He encourages Beneatha to stop dwelling on the past and think about her future. Giving her hope once again, Asagai surprises Beneatha by asking her to come to Nigeria with him and practice medicine there. Surprised, she refuses to give him an answer immediately.
Walter enters, and Beneatha immediately hurls sarcastic epithets at him, such as "Symbol of the Rising Class" and "Titan of the System". Walter leaves without responding to his sister. Meanwhile, Ruth and Mama are trying to figure out what to do - whether to continue on with the move, or to cancel the appointment with the moving men, who are scheduled to arrive shortly. Reflecting on how people in her past always told her that her ideas were too big, Mama feels ready to give up. She is already planning how they can make their present apartment more pleasant. Ruth, however, is insistent that the family should continue with the move. Ruth pleads,
Lena-I'll work...I'll work twenty hours a day in all the kitchens in Chicago...I'll strap my baby on my back if I have to and scrub all the floors in America and wash all the sheets in America if I have to- but we got to MOVE! We got to get OUT OF HERE!
Walter comes back from his errand, having decided upon a plan of action. He has decided to accept Mr. Lindner's offer to buy the house from the Youngers for more than they paid. The family is horrified at his decision, but Walter is tired of being taken advantage of. He is tired of being concerned about right or wrong, when other people are getting ahead. Lena tries to reason with her son. She says, "Son-I cane 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." Walter's mind, however, is made up. He feels that he deserves to have nice things, and believes that doing business with Mr. Lindner is just a means to an end. Beneatha is furious, and disowns Walter as her brother. Mama confronts Beneatha about her words and insists that it is during Walter's lowest moments that he needs his family's love and support the most.
Mr. Lindner and the moving men arrive simultaneously. Ruth motions for Travis to go downstairs while Walter deals with Mr. Lindner, but Mama insists that Travis stay right there and witness the actions of his father. Under the innocent gaze of his son, Walter is unable to make the deal with Mr. Lindner, and tells him, "We don't want your money." The moment is truly heroic, and marks Walter's introduction into manhood. The family, triumphant, bustles into action as they continue with their move. As the family gathers their things together, Beneatha announces her decision to become a doctor in Africa. Walter retorts that she should be concerned about marrying a wealthy man like George Murchison. Beneatha is furious, and they begin to argue just as they did at the beginning of the play. Everyone but Mama exits the stage. Making sure to bring her plant with her, Mama takes a last look at the apartment before leaving it forever.
Walter's nihilism manifests when his dreams dissipate before his eyes. He says,
Mama, you know it's all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the "tooken." (He laughs.) I've figured it out finally. (He looks around at them.) Yeah. Some of us always getting "token." (He laughs.) And you know why the rest of us do? 'Cause we all mixed up. Mixed up bad. We get to looking 'round for the right and the wrong; and we worry about it and cry about it and stay up night trying to figure out 'bout the wrong and right of things all the time...And all the time, man, them takers is out there operating, just taking and taking."
Several events provoke Walter's reaction. Walter, having been mocked by misfortune, feels as if his autonomy has been lost and his manhood has been slighted once again.
Beneatha's idealism breaks down as she grapples with her brother's failure and its effect on her future. Asagai appears at Beneatha's most desperate moment, offering words of hope. He is able to use his knowledge of Africa's struggle for independence to provide her with encouragement, even while Walter struggles for his own autonomy. Through Asagai, Hansberry is able to connect the significance of global events to the individual. Some critics point out that Beneatha's relationship with Asagai (and thus her perception of Africa) is romanticized. Unlike Walter, whose dreams and ideas are seriously challenged within the scope of the play, Asagai's idealism remains pure and untainted. Critic C.W.E. Bigsby notes that Asagai is like an "oracle whose declarations make sense only to those who are to the stereotype African...rich in wisdom and standing, like the noble savage, as a reminder of primal innocence." At this moment, however, Asagai's idealist vision is the nourishment "Alaiyo" needs.
With the loss of the money, the entire family must face dreams that are deferred once again, and each one reacts differently. Walter and Beneatha are not the only ones who feel like giving up. Mama abandons hope, telling her children to unpack and to cancel the moving men. She says, "Lord, ever since I was a little girl I always remember people saying, 'Lena-Lena Eggleston, you aims too high all the time. You needs to slow down and see life a little more like it is. Just slow down some.' That's what they always used to say down home-'Lord, that Lena Eggleston is a high-minded thing. She'll get her due one day!'" Mama feels as if the unfortunate loss of the insurance money is due punishment for having high expectations. She has accepted her lot in life, and is already planning how to spruce up the apartment. Ruth is the one person who is unwilling to let go of her dream so easily. When Lena gives up and begins making preparations to stay, Ruth insists, "We got to MOVE! We got to get OUT OF HERE!!" She is willing to work several jobs in order to make the move possible.
Even though their goals are very different in nature, the insurance money from Walter Sr. is the catalyst for each of their dreams. The $10,000 offers the Youngers the ability to achieve salvation: Mama will get her dream home, Beneatha her medical education, and Walter his liquor store. However, the money comes at a price: Walter Sr. must die for the Youngers to have any chance of getting out of their futile situation. In many ways, the insurance money acts as a deus ex machina. The term is used in reference to a trope in ancient Greek plays when a character doomed to die is miraculously saved from destruction. At first glance the fortunate and unfortunate ways in which the money comes in and goes out of the Younger household add absurdity to a play where circumstance and fate seems to overpower human autonomy. However, Hansberry complicates this assumption by making Walter's decision to choose dignity rather than submission the true means to salvation.
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