A Raisin in the Sun Summary and Analysis

Act II scene iii

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The play continues one week later on moving day, a Saturday. The scene begins with Ruth singing, "I don't feel no ways tired" in a triumphant voice before the curtain rises. Ruth is alone in the living room when Beneatha enters with a guitar. Ruth is excited about their new house; she has bought new curtains, even though she does not know the window measurements. As Beneatha helps Ruth pack up and label the good china, Ruth excitedly says that she and her husband went on a date the night before, and that they held hands during the movie. Walter and Ruth's relationship, it seems, is flourishing.

The relationship between Beneatha and Walter also seems to be getting better. Walter enters the living room and dances with his wife, and then begins to playfully tease his sister about her new ideas, calling her "the chairman of the Committee on Unending Agitation" because she is always talking about race. Beneatha takes the teasing in stride and answers the doorbell.

A middle-aged white man in a business suit stands there, and declares that he is looking for Lena Younger. Since Mama is not home, Walter agrees to speak with the visitor. His name is Mr. Karl Lindner, and he is from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. Walter invites him in and offers him something to drink, but Lindner declines. He introduces the association as a welcoming committee for people moving into the neighborhood. Lindner mentions the recent incidence of a bombing after a black family moved into a white neighborhood. In order to prevent this sort of deplorable event, Lindner and the association he represents want an open discussion where they can just "sit down and talk to each other." Lindner, it seems, does not want the family moving into the neighborhood. He explains,

You've got to admit that a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have the neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way. And at the moment the overwhelming majority of our people out there feel that people get along better, take more of a common interest in the life of the community, when they share a common background. I want you to believe me when I tell you the race prejudice simply doesn't enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing, rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities.

The Association is willing to pay them more than their down payment if they will abandon their plans to move into the neighborhood. Beneatha, having suspected his intentions, is the first to react with sarcasm. Walter, taken aback, gathers his thoughts and tells the visitor to get out. Mr. Lindner, placing his business card on the table, leaves.

Mama returns with Travis, and the family tells her about Mr. Lindner's visit. Mama shakes her head in response. Beneatha cracks a joke to break the awkwardness, and then turns Mama's attention to her plant, asking if she is going to take that "raggedy-looking old thing." Lena, in mock imitation of her daughter's earlier statement, replies, "It expresses ME!" During this time, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha present Mama with a gift of gardening tools. Young Travis is anxious to give his grandmother his own gift, an elaborate gardening hat. The rest of the family teases Travis for its lavishness, but Lena defends him and promptly put on the hat to show her approval.

The door bell rings: it is Bobo, visiting unexpectedly. Bobo is nervous and frightened, and wants to speak with Walter. Walter is excited to hear about how the business venture is going, as both Walter and Bobo gave Willy their share of the money to invest in the liquor store. Although Walter could not make it to the meeting, Willy and Bobo were to meet at the train station in order to go to Springfield. In Springfield, they would obtain the liquor license necessary to proceed. Bobo, however, says that Willy never arrived. Walter learns that he has been scammed out of his father's insurance money. No money has been put away for Beneatha's medical school: he has invested all of the $6,500 Lena gave him in the store. Walter, in a moment of despair, cries out, "THAT MONEY IS MADE OUT OF MY FATHER'S FLESH." Walter must now tell his family the news. Upon learning of her brother's deception, Beneatha cries out in rage. Mama is devastated, remembering how her husband worked himself to his death. The scene closes with Lena looking to heaven for strength.

Analysis

The title of the play comes from a phrase in Langston Hughes's poem "Harlem." The poem's images beautifully capture the tensions between life and death, hope and despair, and destruction and fulfillment. Hansberry could have chosen numerous images to represent these themes. In fact, a draft version of the play was named The Crystal Stair - an image borrowed from Langston Hughes's poem by the same title. The raisin, however, is particularly significant to the themes of salvation and fertility. Hansberry paints a landscape of poverty that is in itself a wasteland: dry, desolate, and infertile. Walter works, but is unable to provide for his family. Ruth considers abortion because the family cannot support another life. Even Walter's dreams falls on deaf ears. In the midst of this spiritual drought, Walter seeks refuge in the bar the Green Hat: a mirage that offers false refuge through a liquid that cannot hydrate the body or the soul.

On the surface, it may appear that regeneration comes to Walter through the insurance money. The scene opens with the family packing, a silent action that symbolically speaks volumes about the family's potential for growth and mobility. The relationship between Walter and Ruth is budding once again: they go out on a date, hold hands, and dance romantically in the living room (all activities emblematic of youth). Walter and Beneatha's arguments are filled with youthful teasing, rather anger and resentment, and when an obstacle rears its ugly head in the form of Mr. Lindner, Walter easily finds the inner strength to resist the temptation. By the end of the scene, however, defeat comes from within. Walter has trusted his friend Willy Harris without question to invest in the liquor store, and finds himself betrayed. It is a harsh reminder to the dreamer that greed and self-interest still do exist. By the end of the scene, the insurance money proves to have been a false savior.

Hansberry's play is timeless because she is able to make the political realm symbiotic with the very art of the stage. The audience is drawn into a conversation that forces them to unite the idea of poverty with its reality. The appearance of Mr. Lindner on stage is the physical manifestation of the housing controversy that has been a looming presence throughout the play, giving a voice to the roaches and rats that encroach upon the very livelihood of the Youngers. Mr. Lindner is the only white man who appears in the play. He not only represents the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, but also the attitude of many white people of that time. He speaks to imminent danger and the hypocrisy that surrounds the issue of integration. Lindner says, "I am sure you people must be aware of some of the incidents which have happened in various parts of the city when colored people have moved into the area." The address of "you people" immediately draws a distinction between the Youngers and Mr. Lindner, between "them" and "us", and between black and white. And even though he goes on to denounce such violent action, the very mention of the occurrence places the threat on the table. He continues to insist that people get along when they share "a common interest" and "that racial prejudice simply doesn't enter into it." Lindner uses the rhetoric of equality, but perverts it to justify a system that reinforces inequality. Through these words, the audience realizes that even though equality is inscribed in the Constitution, it is not yet ingrained in the heart of man. Lindner's words echo like empty rhetoric that is both contradictory and self-serving but, ultimately lies at the heart of many civil rights issues today.