Act II, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis
As the scene opens, Ruth is again ironing later in the same day. Beneatha comes out of her room in Nigerian dress, which Asagai gave her, and puts on the records of African music. Ruth admires the African garb and enjoys the music with Beneatha.
Walter comes home drunk. He gets into an exaggerated display of singing along with the record and chanting African chants. Some of his fervor is shown by his dancing on top of the kitchen table. Beneatha joins him in song and chant, although she is apprehensive about the cause of his energy—alcohol.
In the midst of this wild scene, George Murchison comes calling on Beneatha to take her to a play. Of course, he is shocked. Ruth gets her husband down from the table. Beneatha then reveals her new haircut, what today we would call an “Afro.” Her hair draws mixed reactions from everyone. When George Murchison joins in with the negative reactions, saying she looks “eccentric,” she calls him an “assimilationist.” They have a heated exchange.
Walter and George then get into a vigorous debate about Murchison’s lifestyle, with Walter spewing bitterness and sarcasm throughout his drunken attacks on him. Walter especially dislikes what he considers George’s complacent and arrogant attitudes. Finally, George and Beneatha go to the play, but on their way out, George calls Walter “Prometheus.” Walter does not know who Prometheus was, and asserts that George just made up a name to call him.
Left alone, Walter and Ruth quarrel over Walter’s dream of a liquor store. At one point, however, they manage to admit to each other that their constant bickering makes them both sad, and then they admit to each other the problems they have been having in relating to each other. At one point, Ruth says: “Honey… life don’t have to be like this. I mean sometimes people can do things so that things are better… You remember how we used to talk when Travis was born… about the way we were going to live… the kind of house… Well, it’s all starting to slip away from us…”
Then Mama comes home, and at first refuses to tell them where she has been and what she is doing. Travis comes home late, and Ruth says he is going to get a beating. Mrs. Younger calls the child to her and tells him that she has put a downpayment on a house; this is the first Walter and Ruth are also hearing of this.
Ruth’s reaction is joyous, because now they will have room for the baby. Mama then tells them about the house, which sounds very nice, and again mentions how she has always wanted her own garden to work in: “And there’s a yard with a little patch of dirt where could maybe get to grow me a few flowers…”
Then Ruth asks where the house is located, and is told, “Clybourne Park.” The family is shocked, because that is a “whites only” area. Nevertheless, Ruth grows more optimistic about the planned move than she was before, and goes to give Travis his punishment while not feeling much like punishing anyone.
When Mama and Walter are left alone, she tries to explain to him why she did what she did.
Mama: Son—you—you understand what I done, don’t you? I—just seen my family falling apart today… just falling to pieces in front of my eyes… We couldn’t of gone on like we was today. We was going backwards ‘stead of forwards—talking ‘bout killing babies and wishing each other was dead… When it gets like that in life—you just got to do something different, push on out and do something bigger…
Walter, however, upset about not getting the money for his liquor business, implies that his mother is a tyrant and walks out of the house.
One striking aspect of this scene is the reference to Prometheus, the Titan god in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind and was punished for this by the gods. They had him chained to a rock and had an eagle eat at his liver for all...
(The entire section is 1,293 words.)