Symbolism is used in several instances throughout this play. Beneatha's hair style is symbolic for her character and the choices she faces and Mama's plant represents her character, her dreams, and her passion.
The use of symbolism in the play is not necessarily limited to these two examples, but in Beneatha's hair style and Mama's plant we have poignant, physical representations of the inner life of these two characters.
Beneatha's conflicts in this play relate to ambition and a need to establish an identity worthy of respect.
Throughout the play, she struggles for an adult identity, determined to express her ideas but often failing to do so tactfully.
Unable to see value in marrying or dating a proudly conventional man like George Murchison, Beneatha is drawn to Joseph Asagai, an African man with considerable dignity. We see Beneatha's choice in her hair style as she goes "au natural", inspiring negative comments from Murchison. Utimately, Beneatha desires both pride and dignity but the experiment with her hair style represents her willingness to be bold, to be independent, and to choose her own identity.
Mama's plant is a more obvious symbol and is discussed directly as a symbol in the play. The plant represents Mama's undying hope to find a better life for her family. The plant never gives up, despite difficult circumstances. It struggles to grow, but it lives.
Though the plant has struggled to live and seems to lack the beauty for which it would ordinarily be valued, it is significant to Mama because it has survived despite the struggle, as her family has survived.