Act I, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
Walter Lee (Brother): a man of 35, employed as a chauffeur, married to Ruth, brother of Beneatha, father to Travis
Beneatha: a 20-year-old young lady, college student, sister to Walter Lee, planning to go to medical school after college
Ruth: a woman in her early thirties, employed as a domestic worker, married to Walter, mother to Travis, sister-in-law to Beneatha
Travis: a boy about 10 years old, son of Walter and Ruth, grandson of Mrs. Lena Younger
The play opens on a typical early morning during the week, as the Younger family gets ready to go to school and work. After a reference to another bombing (referring to a racist attack on a black church or family), the family makes preparations for the day. Mention is also made of a check the family expects to receive the next day. It is for the life insurance of the elder, deceased, Mr. Walter Younger.
Travis wants 50 cents for school, which the teacher has asked the students to bring in. Ruth says they do not have the money to spare. Travis asks if he can go carry groceries after school to earn some money, but his mother wants him to come home right after school. His father gives him the 50 cents and another 50 cents in addition, before Travis leaves for school.
Walter and Ruth then talk, and he discusses his scheme for a liquor store he wants to open with some of the insurance money. Ruth dislikes the idea for many reasons, as well as the idea of his getting involved with the men he wants as partners in the liquor business. Walter feels she does not understand him or his dreams, but she wants a life with more respectability than the one her husband envisions with his dream of a liquor business.
Then Beneatha, Walter’s sister, gets up. Walter goads her about her plans for medical school, and it is apparent that this is a long-standing topic of debate between them. He feels she wants the family to make continued sacrifices for her and resents her claim on any of the insurance money for continuing her education. He feels she should stop expecting them to do anymore than they already have for her. Beneatha, however, does not like the idea of Walter’s investing in a liquor store.
When Walter is leaving for work, he finds he must ask his wife for carfare because he has given Travis too much money for school.
Mrs. Younger arises. She asked what the ruckus was before, and Ruth tells her that Walter and Beneatha were arguing again. Mama spends some time caring for her plant, and talks with Ruth about the ironing that they will be doing, and about Travis’s breakfast. She wants to know what Walter and Beneatha were arguing about, and guesses correctly that it is about the money they expect tomorrow, and the way it will be spent.
Then Ruth bluntly asks Mrs. Younger how the money will be spent, as Walter had earlier asked her to. Mama, however, objects to talking about money so early in the morning. She answers, “It ain’t Christian.”
Nevertheless, Ruth presses the point because Walter wants money for the liquor store business. Mama does not approve of using the money for such a purpose, though.
It is then apparent that Ruth is tired, so Mama suggests she stay home from work. Ruth says no, however, because she feels she might lose her job if she does.
They again discuss the $10,000 check due the next day, and Mama reveals that she has always wanted a house with a garden in the back that she could work in. She then reflects on her life when her husband was alive, how they struggled, and how they lost a baby.
Following this, Mama and Beneatha argue because Mrs. Younger does not like the things Beneatha is saying, and feels her daughter is taking the name of the Lord in vain. Beneatha states her age, 20 years old, as proof of her right to speak the way she wishes, but her mother feels it has nothing to do with age. They then discuss why Beneatha seems...
(The entire section is 1,834 words.)