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As the play opens we are introduced to the family in their home on a normal week-day morning as the Younger family get up and go off to work and school. Mention is made of two things: a racially motivated bombing and then a life insurance cheque that they are waiting to receive from the deceased Mr. Walter Younger.
It is clear that the family are obsessed with money in this scene. Travis asks for 50 cents for school but Ruth says they can't afford it. He then asks if he can get some menial work after school to earn some money, but his mother refuses. Walter then talks with Ruth about opening a liquor store with some of the insurance money and they disagree. Beneatha, Walter's sister wakes up, and Walter makes fun of her long-term plan to study at medical school, making it clear he resents the sacrifices they have made for her and also that he doesn't want her to have any of the insurance money. Walter then leaves for work, but has to ask for money for transport from Ruth as he has given too much to Travis.
Mrs. Younger arises and wants to know why Beneatha and Walter were fighting, guessing correctly that it was about the Insurance money. After caring for her plant, she talks to Ruth about the ironing they have got to do. Despite being pressurised by Ruth, she refuses to talk about the money, except to say she doesn't approve of Walter's plans. Mrs. Younger asks Ruth if she shouldn't go to work today as she is tired, but Ruth says she is afraid of losing her job if she doesn't go.
Beneatha and Mrs. Younger argue: about Beneatha's language, her expensive hobbies and why she won't marry one of her rich suitors for his money. The argument climaxes with Mrs. Younger slapping her daughter for taking the name of God in vain. Beneatha leaves for school and Mrs. Younger tells Ruth her children scare her. She is watering her plant and so doesn't notice Ruth staggering. Then Ruth faints, with Mrs. Younger rushing to her side.
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