Last Updated on November 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 769
Ruth Younger begins making breakfast for her family in their cramped, rundown apartment on the South Side of Chicago. She wakes up her son, Travis, and sends him to use the bathroom the Younger family shares with their neighbors. She then wakes up her husband, Walter Lee Younger, who asks if the check is “coming today.” Ruth impatiently tells him that the check isn’t expected until tomorrow and that she doesn’t want to talk about money so early in the morning. She also scolds Walter for having his friends over late into the evening, disrupting Travis’s sleep. Walter then tries to flirt with his wife, but she rebuffs his efforts.
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Travis emerges from the bathroom and ushers his father to use it before anyone else can. Travis then asks his mother about the check as well, and she scolds him for thinking about money. He then tells her that his teacher told him to bring fifty cents to school, but Ruth asserts that she doesn’t have any money to give him. Travis is initially angry, but Ruth’s gentle teasing and request for a goodbye kiss restore a more affectionate atmosphere. However, when Walter emerges from the bathroom and gives Travis the money he asked for, Ruth becomes angry with her husband.
Walter begins talking about his friend Willy’s plan to open a liquor store in the neighborhood, and he asks Ruth to help him convince his mother to give him the initial investment money. He tells Ruth that he wants more for his family than a cramped apartment, and he pleads with her to support him rather than tearing down his dreams. However, Ruth impatiently tells him that she has listened to his dreams for years and that she doesn’t trust his friends.
Ruth and Walter’s argument is interrupted by the arrival of Beneatha, Walter’s younger sister. She is a college student who wants to become a doctor. Walter is unsupportive of her decision, namely because of how much it costs. When he brings up the check coming for their mother, Beneatha cuts him off and reminds him that the money is hers to spend, not theirs. Walter angrily reminds her of all the sacrifices the family has made for Beneatha’s education. Ruth begs him to go to work, eventually ushering him out the door.
Lena Younger, the matriarch of the family, emerges from the bedroom and asks what Walter and Beneatha were arguing about. Ruth tells her it was the same argument they always have. Lena is dismayed that her children are always worried about money. Lena is expecting a $10,000 insurance check after the death of her husband, “Big” Walter Younger. Ruth tentatively asks her what she plans to do with it, mentioning that Walter has seemed so unhappy recently. Lena says she isn’t sure, but she isn’t comfortable with investing—especially not in a liquor store.
Lena then admits that she does have an idea for how to use the money: she wants to buy a house for the family so they can get out of their cramped apartment and stop spending money on rent. It was a dream she shared with her recently deceased husband. Ruth encourages the idea and expresses her admiration for Big Walter.
Beneatha emerges from the bathroom and casually mentions she will be home late since she is starting guitar lessons. Ruth and Lena tease her about always picking up new hobbies only to abandon them soon after. Beneatha defends herself, saying she needs a way to express herself. She then tells Ruth and Lena that she has a date with George Munchison the next night. Ruth and Lena encourage the attachment, since George is rich and good-looking. However, Beneatha thinks he is shallow, and his family does not approve of Beneatha, since she is from a working-class background.
Ruth and Lena are dismissive of Beneatha’s concerns about George, and they cannot believe she wouldn’t want to marry a wealthy man. However, Beneatha asserts that she is going to become a doctor and may not marry at all. Lena reassures her that her goal will come true, “god willing.” However, Beneatha rejects the notion of god being involved, angering Lena. When Beneatha persists in espousing atheist sentiments, Lena slaps her and then exits the room. A defiant Beneatha leaves, receiving no pity from Ruth.
Lena reemerges and confides in Ruth that she worries for her children. She then begins ruminating on the idea of having a house with a garden once again, before noticing that Ruth has collapsed.