The Younger family is waiting on a large life insurance check. The patriarch of the family has passed away.
"Lena’s husband dies and leaves his family $10,000 in insurance money." (eN0tes)
While $10,000 may not sound life-changing by today’s monetary measures, it was a much larger amount in the 1950s.
The scale of this check for the Younger family is illuminated in an early episode in the play. Travis asks his mother, Ruth, for school.
“Well, I ain’t got no fifty cents this morning.”
The financial situation of the family is not very good, despite the fact that Walter has a steady job and Ruth also works. Not only can $10,000 pay for the down payment on a house, but it can also lift the family from its current state. Thus the insurance money represents a very potent sum.
The money also represents a wide array of opportunities, yet there are distinct limits to what the money can achieve. The amount of $10,000 is not enough to do everything the family would like to do.
Beneatha hopes to go to medical school, using some of the insurance money to pay her way. Walter wants to become his own boss and open a business. Lena/Mama wants to buy a new house for the family in a nicer neighborhood.
These goals are each within reach separately but cannot all be achieved together. (The scope of options also becomes narrowed when Walter lets himself be swindled out of some of the money.)
So, what are the Younger’s waiting for? They are waiting for a check that will give them the power to pursue certain dreams. But they are also waiting, unwittingly, to be tested and to put their values to the test. The arrival of the check will give the family a chance to define itself (instead of being defined by others) and this is true on an individual and a collective level.