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The play is set in the mid-1900s in a small apartment in a Chicago tenement. In her author's notes at the beginning of the script, Lorraine Hansberry describes the Youngers' home in detail. A home to Mama, Beneatha, Walter, Ruth, and their son Travis, the living quarters are cramped. Mama and Beneatha share the only bedroom, Walter and Ruth's "bedroom" is a converted breakfast room, and Travis sleeps in the living room. There is no separate kitchen, only a kitchen area ; meals are eaten in the living room. Also, the family shares a bathroom in the hall with other residents in the building. The only light in the apartment comes through one small window in the kitchen area.
Hansberry also describes the apartment's furnishings in detail. The couch is worn, covered with doilies and covers that are also worn. The carpet is worn, too; various pieces of furniture have been placed to cover up the worn spots. She sums up the furnishings of the Youngers' home:
[They] have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years--and they are tired.
Hansberry also establishes the feel of the apartment:
Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often.
The setting adds important elements to the story. It establishes that the Younger family lives together out of necessity; they are poor. However, there is pride here, also. The worn furniture had once been new, carefully selected by Mama Younger and her husband, now deceased, and it has been cared for even as it has worn out. The apartment is clean, "polished" and "scrubbed." The Youngers are poor people, but their strength of character and the nature of their family is reflected in the setting of the play.
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