The Younger family live in close quarters in an affordable, basic apartment in a poor neighborhood of Chicago. Everyone in the family copes with these problems on a daily basis. While they do not always succeed in being polite and considerate, their strong affection and belief in the importance of...
The Younger family live in close quarters in an affordable, basic apartment in a poor neighborhood of Chicago. Everyone in the family copes with these problems on a daily basis. While they do not always succeed in being polite and considerate, their strong affection and belief in the importance of family helps everyone handle the inevitable friction in the household. Two things that help them cope are humor and music. Walter and Beneatha are both serious, goal-oriented people who need a release from their often-frustrating circumstances. The strained relationship between the older brother and younger sister especially benefits from these two outlets.
Beneatha’s favored form of humor is irony and sarcasm. She has developed the habit of teasing her brother. While this helps somewhat in deflecting his frequent criticisms, she often becomes impatient with him. This pattern of interaction is established in Act I, Scene 1, as soon as she gets up in the morning and reflects on the daily competition to access the sole bathroom that five people share. When he asks her about school—which she knows is a prelude to his complaining about the expense of her college—she replies that school is “lovely” and “biology is “the greatest,” then adds:
“I dissected something that looked just like you yesterday.”
Walter tries to make light of his complaints, which include being the only adult male among three women. While he resents their lack of support, he also jokes about it. He tells Ruth, his wife,
“We one group of men tied to a race of women with small minds!”
Later he dismisses Beneatha’s calling him “a nut,” jokingly whining about being misunderstood by her and his wife.
“The world’s most backward race of people, and that’s a fact.”
Music is combined with humor in Act II, Scene 1, when Walter and Beneatha play the LPs of Nigerian music. Beneatha has been negatively comparing her well-to-do American boyfriend with Joseph Asagai. This evaluation includes her boyfriend's dismissal of the importance of African heritage. Walter loudly proclaims his identification with Jomo Kenyatta, the liberator of Kenya, and announces his identity as the “warrior, . . . Flaming Spear.” As he gets caught up in the moment and calls out , she picks up on this name and responds with the refrains from the records, such as “Ocomocosiay, Flaming Spear!”
Hansberry invests a serious quality into this episode, rather than treating it as mere parody. The stage directions read,
…the mood shifts from pure comedy. It is the inner WALTER speaking: the Southside chauffeur has assumed an unexpected majesty….