Last Updated on July 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1137
Mrs. Johnson: neighbor of the Youngers, noted previously for her frugality
The scene begins on a Friday night, three weeks after the previous scene. Packing crates are all over the room. Beneatha and George Murchison are sitting on the couch, talking. He wants to kiss her, but she wants to talk about her hopes and dreams instead. He becomes too demanding, and she tells him to leave, as Mrs. Younger comes home. Beneatha tells her mother that Murchison is a fool, and her mother tells her not to waste her time with him then. Beneatha thanks her mother for understanding her this time. When Ruth enters the room, she is asked if Walter is drunk again, and Ruth answers that he is.
Mrs. Johnson, the next door neighbor, visits. Time and again, she shows a lack of tact as she talks with the Youngers about various things. It becomes apparent, however, that her main reason for the visit is to tell the family, in a cheery way, about more racist bombings.
Johnson: …I guess y’all seen the news what’s all over the colored paper this week…
Mama: No—didn’t get mine yet this week.
Johnson: (Lifting her head and blinking with the spirit of catastrophe) You mean you ain’t read ‘bout them colored people that was bombed out their place out there?
Before leaving and going back to her apartment, Mrs. Johnson has managed to consume quite a bit of food generously offered to her by the Youngers. She also makes a sarcastic remark about Walter’s drunkenness. She says about him, “He sure gets his beauty rest, don’t he?” We see that Mrs. Johnson, while perhaps meaning well, has a way of being irritating to the family in many ways.
When Mrs. Johnson leaves, Mama berates her daughter for the way she had greeted Mrs. Johnson. Beneatha disagrees with her, and asserts that in her own way, Mrs. Johnson is as detrimental to the progress of Black people as is the Ku Klux Klan.
Then Mrs. Arnold, Walter’s employer, phones them, asking for Walter. Ruth tells her that he has been very sick. Walter, now awake, hears the end of the conversation, but when he is told that his job is in danger, instead of being concerned, he launches into a monologue about where he goes and what he does (mainly, drink) when he doesn’t go in to work. Although we feel his pain, we also witness a great deal of self-pity in his speech. Ruth leaves the room, unable to witness what has become of her husband. Then Walter again implies that his mother is rigid and tyrannical when she wants to do what she can to help him.
Mrs. Younger then decides to give Walter the money he wants for a liquor business telling him to take the money she has left, put some of it aside for Beneatha’s education, and use the rest of it for his business venture. Walter is joyous.
Travis comes into the room and Walter asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. When Travis answers that he wants to be a bus driver, Walter tells him that isn’t “big enough” an ambition. The scene ends as Walter promises to “hand” his son “the world,” but as we know and Travis knows, his father is very drunk.
Several developments in this scene augment the themes which have been presented so far. The differences between George Murchison and Beneatha, leading to their final rift, shows how Beneatha is committed to her ideals, and, again, how most people do not really understand her perspective on life. When she tells George to leave, we get the picture of her doing whatever it will take to reach her goals and live by her ideals.
It is also a new development between them when Mama, for once, understands Beneatha’s feelings about Murchison. Beneatha is thankful that her mother understands her this time, and she expresses this gratitude to her mother.
The visit of Mrs. Johnson is significant, as well, in furthering some of the themes of the work. Although frugal in the way she lends things to the Youngers, Mrs. Johnson is happy to accept all the food the Youngers generously offer her. Although Mrs. Johnson seems to be visiting out of neighborly concern for the Youngers about the neighborhood they plan to move into, she may really be resentful that they have more courage than she to stand up to bigotry thwarting them from having a good life. Her comments about herself, including her use of an epithet in describing her own people make this point. She also cannot resist making a dig at the family in reference to Walter’s being drunk (“getting his beauty rest.”)
When Walter is confronted with losing his job and does not respond appropriately, namely doing whatever it would take within reason to hold on to the job, we are faced with the crux of Walter’s problems. Walter’s problems are made much worse by his denial of his alcoholism and his inability to take steps to improve his situation in a reasonable manner. We see the pain of someone just giving up, and it is painful for us, as well. We get the feeling that it would take a miracle to change his deep despair to some productive actions.
There can be many interpretations as to why Mrs. Younger decides to give Walter the money for his liquor store, entrusting him with Beneatha’s school money as well. From what she says in asking her son if she is to blame for his problems, we see that to the extent that Walter cannot lay responsibility at his own feet, his mother may well place too much blame on herself. Perhaps also, her children’s constant accusations as to her tyrannical nature have gotten to her. In any case, she does make this decision. At this point the audience waits to see if this is the “miracle” that might save Walter from what seems to be a fate of despair and heavy drinking.
It is also quite meaningful that when Walter hears he will be getting the money he has wanted, he tells his son that he will have the finest education. What we might have suspected earlier in the play, that is, that Walter sorely regrets that he has not been able to continue his own education, seems to be confirmed in what he says to his son. We are left wondering, however, whether as simple a “solution” as giving him the money can turn Walter’s life around, since much of what is wrong with it comes not from material deprivation, but from a deprivation of vision and ideals.
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