The Younger house is full of anticipation as the family awaits the arrival of the insurance check. Mama cleans the kitchen as Beneatha sprays for cockroaches. Travis, finished with his chores, wants to go outside and play. Beneatha and Travis all inquire where Ruth has gone this morning, and discover that she is at the doctor. The phone rings: Beneatha's friend Asagai wants to come over. Even though the house is messy, Beneatha allows him to come because Asagai does not let superficial things influence his judgment. Mama, however, is not pleased because she feels her house is a reflection of herself. Beneatha then begins to deliver a diatribe about Asagai's native country so that Beneatha will not be embarrassed by her mother's comments. Asagai, Beneatha tells her mother, is from Nigeria. Beneatha informs her mother that even though she donates money to missionary workers in Africa, the real threat to Africa is colonialism.
Ruth comes home from the doctor and despairingly announces that she is pregnant. Mama is enthusiastic about any new member of the family, but both Beneatha and Ruth are worried about finding the resources with which to provide for the child. Ruth has already inquired about getting an abortion. The conversation is interrupted when Travis gets into trouble for chasing rats with his friends.
Asagai arrives carrying a large package. He greets Beneatha as Alaiyo. Asagai has just returned from his studies in Canada, but is more interested in discussing their relationship than his studies. While Asagai knows how he feels, Beneatha still needs time to figure out whether she loves him in return. Asagai gives Beneatha a Nigerian robe and promises to teach her how to drape it. Asagai's light comment about her straightened hair sparks a debate. Asagai feels that Beneatha's decision to straighten her hair rather than wear it naturally, in an afro, is symptomatic of the broader problem of assimilation amongst blacks in the United States. Beneatha adamantly denies being an assimilationist. Asagai dismisses her serious nature in a paternalistic manner and returns to the topic of their relationship.
As Beneatha again reasserts her feminist viewpoints, Mama enters the room and the conversation shifts. Beneatha introduces Lena to Asagai. Mama, determined to prove to her daughter that she understands her modern viewpoints on Africa, recites Beneatha's previous tutorial on the injustice of Africa's colonialism and the infiltration of Christianity. Having "flashed a superior look at her daughter upon completion of her recitation, " Lena becomes truly sympathetic towards Asagai. She looks at him like her own son, asking him if he misses his mom and inviting him to come over to eat since he is so far away from home. Over the course of the conversation, Asagai calls Beneatha "Alaiyo", which in Yoruba means "One for Whom Bread Is Not Enough."
Asagai leaves, and the family returns their attention to the insurance check. The check arrives, and Travis brings it to his grandmother. The family is at first very excited, checking to make sure the amount is correct. Then, the gravity of the situation hits Lena. As she realizes this the compensation for her husband's life, she sobers and says, "Ten thousand dollars they give you. Ten thousand dollars."
After Travis leaves, Lena inquires more about Ruth's doctor visit. Lena senses something is amiss, but Walter soon enters and is too preoccupied by the insurance check to be worried about his wife. Walter excitedly brings up the liquor store investment, but Mama shoots him down immediately. Walter, upset, gets up to leave. Ruth, wanting to talk to him, gets her coat too. Frustrated and unable to reason with him, Ruth goes into the bedroom.
Lena, disturbed by the relationship between her son and her daughter-in-law, tries to figure out what is going on with Walter. Walter expresses how he is tired of his situation and wants to make more money. He says, BLOCKQUOTE [Mama-sometimes when I'm downtown and I pass them cool, quiet-looking restaurants where them white boys are sitting back and talking 'bout things...sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars...] Mama is frustrated with Walter's obsession with money. She tries to put things in perspective, and talks about when freedom used to be the most important thing to their ancestors. Walter still objects, and as a last attempt to put things in perspective, Lena tells her son that Ruth is pregnant and has been considering getting an abortion. Ruth, having just come out of the bedroom, confirms the story. Lena expects her son to be enraged and to talk some sense into Ruth, but Walter is speechless. Lena, in turn, becomes furious. As Walter walks out of the door, Lena says, "You are a disgrace to your father's memory." She too prepares to leave.
It becomes clearer that Walter's impulses are primarily class-motivated. After describing to his mother how he sees wealthy white men downtown, he expresses a very important principle that is at the crux of the formulation of his identity.
MAMA Son-how come you talk so much 'bout money?
WALTER (With immense passion) Because it is life, Mama!
In this statement, Hansberry reveals that Walter's dreams and aspirations are a perversion of the American dream. The American dream in its entirety upholds intangibles such as liberty, justice, and equality. Walter's version, however, has reduced this dream into the crude, materialistic desire for money. Walter has accepted a corrupt middle class ideology that places money and power above all else. As he is unable to achieve that which he most desires, a peculiar breed of bitterness begins to consume him. A major obstacle in Walter's path is racism. As an African-American male, Walter has been systematically disenfranchised from the American dream he so fervently praises. The system of racism has placed the white man's desire for economic power and elevated social status above the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. Therefore, the very perversion of the American dream that Walter buys into is the same one that oppresses him.
Part of Walter's oppression is his emasculation. His subservient job as a chauffeur and his inability to provide adequately for his family all whittle away at his self-esteem. When Mama refuses to invest in the liquor store, Walter says,
Well, you tell that to my boy tonight when you put him to sleep on the living-room couch...Yeah-and tell it to my wife, Mama, tomorrow when she has to go out of here to look after somebody else's kids. And tell it to me, Mama, every time we need a new pair of curtains and I have to watch you go out and work in somebody's kitchen.
Economic oppression hinders Walter's ability to fulfill his roles as a father, a husband, and a son. Up until now, Walter has "performed" these roles despite his inability to truly fulfill them. He plays his part well: when Travis asks for fifty cents, he gives his son a dollar even though he does not have enough money left to get to work.
However, when his wife tells him she is considering an abortion, Walter is no longer able to perform the role of the content husband. His mother expects him to be like his father.
MAMA I'm waiting to hear how you be your father's son. Be the man he was...(Pause. The silence shouts) 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-(she rises) I'm waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain't going to give up nary another one...I'm waiting.
WALTER Ruth- (He can say nothing)
MAMA If you a son of mine, tell her! (WALTER picks up his keys and his coat and walks out. She continues, bitterly) You...You are a disgrace to your father's memory. Somebody get me my hat!
The world the Youngers live in stifles reproduction and forward motion. Walter is unable to provide for the physical needs of his unborn child, and is unable to reproduce the model of masculinity given to him by his father. Lena pushes her son to act like his father, but Walter is unable to do so. He falters under his mother's gaze, and must run away from her disapproving stare.
With such a brief play, Hansberry is able to address a remarkable number of issues pertinent to the African-American community. One issue dealt with in this scene is the relationship between African-Americans and Africa. Like many cultures who have experienced Diaspora, there is a disconnect between the native and displaced peoples. Mama represents the knowledge base of the majority of African-Americans about Africa at that time. She believes the image perpetuated by the media (which includes not only radio and television but also plays) about Africa. One misconception Beneatha brings up is about Africans not wearing clothes, like in Tarzan. Beneatha also addresses the danger of the church's "saving missions" to Africa. Beneatha explains how this paternalistic attitude is misdirected, and says that what Africa really needs is to be rescued from French and British imperialism.