Abstract illustration of the houses of Clybourne Park

A Raisin in the Sun

by Lorraine Hansberry

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Act 2, Scene 1 Summary

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Last Updated on November 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 996

Later the same day, Ruth is ironing when Beneatha emerges from her room clad fully in the Nigerian robes and headdress Asagai gifted her. She turns off the jazz music Ruth had been playing and replaces it with the Nigerian records she got from Asagai, beginning to dance in what she thinks is an African manner. Ruth is unimpressed by her antics, but as Walter returns, drunk, he also begins dancing to the music, stating that the drums “move” him. 

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As he dances along to the music, Walter is overtaken by a vivid fantasy of himself as a Yoruba chief. He calls upon his “Black brothers” to rise up. However, his fantasy is broken when an embarrassed Ruth turns the music off, announcing the arrival of George Murchison, Beneatha’s boyfriend. Walter enthusiastically greets George before quickly running for the bathroom.

George tells Beneatha that they are going to the theater and advises her to change into something more appropriate than her Nigerian robes. Offended, Beneatha removes the headdress and reveals that she has cut her hair short and restored its natural texture. George and Ruth are both shocked, and they insult Beneatha’s new haircut. Beneatha, however, explains that she hates “assimilationists,” criticizing Black people who give up their own culture in favor of the “dominant” and “oppressive” white culture. 

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George exasperatedly dismisses Beneatha’s complaints, indicating that he has heard her diatribes before. He asserts that the “Great West African Heritage” she is so proud of is really nothing more than “some grass huts.” Beneatha begins ranting about the accomplishments of various African civilizations while Ruth hurriedly forces her into her bedroom to get ready to go to the theater. Ruth then returns and makes awkward but polite conversation with George, who seems disinterested.

Walter returns from the bathroom and begins conversing with George, much to Ruth’s dismay. He initially tries to sell George on his business ideas, trying to solicit a meeting with George’s father, a wealthy investor. Walter insinuates that perhaps George and his father will share Walter’s vision for the city, unlike his family. However, when George responds with obvious boredom, Walter begins insulting him, questioning what college can teach someone about “how to be a man.” George further dismisses Walter, accusing him of being “wacked up with bitterness.”

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Walter responds by comparing himself to a “volcano” and a “giant—surrounded by ants.” He bitterly mocks George’s apparent contentment with life, lamenting that even his own mother doesn’t support Walter’s goals. Their exchange is interrupted as Beneatha emerges, dressed in more stylish Western clothes. George gets up and compliments her, while Walter—who is seeing her hair for the first time—asks what is wrong with her head. However, George and Ruth both comment that the style has grown on them, calling it “sharp.”

After George and Beneatha depart, Ruth and Walter bicker with each other. Ruth tries to ask him about his day, but he belligerently tells her to stop nagging him. He tells her that he spent it with “people who understand” him, which Ruth correctly deduces means Willy Harris, his prospective liquor store partner. They argue further, with Walter feeling as though no one in his family supports him. Sensing that Walter won’t talk to her about the baby or their relationship, Ruth prepares to go to bed, but she first offers Walter something to drink. When Walter wonders why she is always trying to feed him, she responds that food and drink are all that she has to give him.

Softening to each other, Walter and Ruth begin to talk about their marriage. Walter wonders why such negative feelings come between people who should be close, and Ruth tells him it doesn’t have to be that way. She recalls a time shortly after Travis was born when they would talk about their dreams for the future and the life they would live. They kiss passionately but are interrupted by the arrival of Lena.

Walter immediately begins interrogating Lena about what she did with the money, but she largely ignores him, instead asking after Ruth. When Travis sheepishly arrives home soon after, Ruth angrily tells him to go to his room and prepare to be punished for being out so late. However, Lena stops him, wanting him to be the first to hear her good news: she has used the insurance money to buy a house for the family, which she tells Travis will someday belong to him when he is grown up. Ruth ushers Travis to his room to await his punishment before ecstatically asking Ruth for more details about the house.

Ruth is excited and beseeches a furious Walter to be happy as well. Lena explains that the house is simple but well-made, and she explains how different a man feels when “he can walk on floors that belong to him.” However, the mood suddenly shifts when Lena admits that the house is located in Clybourne Park, an all-white neighborhood. She says that she looked at other places, but most of the housing developments built specifically for people of color were extremely expensive, and she wanted her family to have the nicest house in the nicest area for the least amount of money.

After the initial shock, Ruth’s mood rebounds, and she regains her initial enthusiasm. She cheerfully exclaims how little she will miss the shoddy apartments the family lives in and tenderly embraces her stomach, excited about what the new home will mean for the baby. However, after Ruth departs to punish Travis, Lena nervously turns to Walter, seeking his approval. She says she felt as though had to do something to save her family after hearing them talk about things like “killing babies and wishing each other was dead.” However, Walter coldly responds that it was her money to do with as she pleased and that she simply “butchered up” his dreams in the process.

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Act 1, Scene 2 Summary

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Act 2, Scene 2 Summary