Last Updated on July 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1630
As the act begins, Joseph Asagai has come over to help with the packing. Beneatha, upset about the lost money, tells him what has happened. She speaks, very dejectedly of the dreams she had of being a doctor, and of having her aspirations dashed. Her friend, however, is incredulous at the level of her despair. He speaks to her about not giving up her idealism, and not insisting life be perfect in order to accomplish what she wants. He reminds her that it was not her money to begin with, and that lost money does not have to mean an end to medical school. Yet Beneatha is still filled with self-pity.
Finally, almost as if to wake her up, he starts yelling about the conditions in the part of the world he comes from (Nigeria). He tries to give her a sense of perspective in terms of what has happened to her and her family, but what also is the fate of so many other people who have it so much worse than they do. Beneatha does not want to be jarred from her bad mood, however, and nothing he says seems to help.
Finally, he tells her he would like to marry her and take her back with him to Nigeria to practice medicine when she completes medical school. Despite her best attempts to stay in a bad mood, she does start to respond favorably when he says this to her. She is confused, and he tells her, “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think,” as he goes to the door to leave.
Joseph leaves and Walter comes into the room. He is looking for something frantically, but we do not know what. His sister, still angry about the lost money, taunts him as he does. He finds what he is looking for and rushes out.
Ruth comes in, and then Mama does. Mama tries to be cheerful but talks about unpacking and staying in the cramped apartment instead of moving to Clybourne Park. Ruth becomes alarmed and tries to get Beneatha to convince her mother to continue with the move, saying how four grown people can work to make enough money to live in the house. Even though she sees Ruth becoming desperate, Mama says that this is a time to acknowledge they must give up.
Walter comes back and tells them he has called Lindner. Beneatha cannot believe hat she is hearing, but in a very cynical monologue, Walter repeats his deep despair at realizing any hopes for himself except to be one of the takers” in life, like Willie Harris, who stole their money, and not one of the “tooken.”
Both Mama and Beneatha are filled with revulsion for this plan. Nevertheless, he is not dissuaded, citing the need to put some pearls on his wife’s neck, while his mother and sister decry the lack of dignity this dealing with Lindner would represent. Finally, his sister says he is not a man, but a toothless rat.
Walter retreats to another room, and his sister speaks of him to their mother in most disrespectful terms. Her mother, however, reprimands Beneatha for her attitude, telling her that the most important time to show love to her family member is not when he is feeling fine, but when he is in the most trouble.
As the moving men arrive, so does Lindner. In the midst of his babbling platitudes, he takes out legal papers to enact the deal, whereby the family get some money in return for not moving into the house.
Walter talks to Lindner. He recounts his life as a chauffeur, and the work his mother and wife do as domestic workers. Lindner makes conventional replies to Walter’s words, just wanting to get down to business.
Suddenly, Walter recalls an incident where his father almost beat a man to death who had called him a bad name. He goes on to talk about the pride his family feels, especially in his sister’s aspirations to become a doctor. He surprises Lindner by telling him that they will be moving into the house. He ends his speech, in a total character transformation, by saying. “We don’t want your money.”
Lindner asks the family if they agree with that, and Beneatha says, “That’s what the man says.” As he leaves, Lindner says, “I sure hope you people know what you’re getting into.”
The family springs into action to get the move underway. Beneatha tells her mother about Joseph Asagai’s marriage proposal (which Mama says Beneatha is too young to think about yet). Walter tells her to marry a man with money.
As the play ends, Mama talks to Ruth about the change in Walter that happened that day; both women are very proud. When everyone but Mrs. Younger is downstairs with the moving men, she looks around for a last time, goes out the door, then comes back in and grabs her plant, and leaves for the last time.
This is a very powerful act, with much to consider as the play rushes towards its conclusion.
When Beneatha’s friend Joseph Asagai stops over to help with the packing on moving day. He is not prepared, however, for the depths of Beneatha’s despair. What we see is that there is a thin line between Beneatha’s idealism and Walter’s usual cynicism. Beneatha speaks very unhappily about her ruined plans for medical school.
Surprisingly, however, Asagai insists on trying to change her mood by pointing out how lucky she is when compared to some people. We have not seen this side of Asagai before, but it is obvious in only a few pages that his idealism at least matches Beneatha’s, and his enthusiasm may even exceed hers. We see that he has more in common with Beneatha than we might have previously realized and are reminded of the time she wore the dress he gave her on a date with George Murchison.
Then he asks her to marry him and go with him to practice medicine in Africa when she finishes medical school. She says she can’t decide or think right then, and he says he’ll give her time to decide. As he leaves, he says, “Never be afraid to sit awhile and think,” and we see that he has a great deal in common with Beneatha in terms of his continual strivings, as well.
The antagonism between brother and sister, however, is never worse than in the middle of this act. While Walter is looking for something, Beneatha severely ridicules and berates him. The conflict is so severe that the audience is kept on the edge of their seats.
Worse, when Mama comes in, she prepares to unpack everything and stay where they are. This throws Ruth into a state of alarm because once again there will be no room for the baby. When Mama says, “Sometimes you just got to know when to give up some things… and hold on to what you got,” the morale of the characters in the play is at an all-time low. We see is character after character submitting to the deepest despair.
In the midst of this, Walter tells them of his decision to take the money from Lindner, and we see the depths of his cynicism. He has figured out the world is just a matter of who takes and who gets taken. There is no clearer expression of his cynicism in the play, and there are few statements as clear as this in all of literature. We fear for the family as the end of the play approaches.
When Walter refers to “marching songs,” we again perceive the symbol of tyranny, and see that cynicism is probably the worst tyrant in Walter’s life. Even though it is his own attitude, it holds him in a death grip. (On page 143, the word “dead” appears three times in the middle of the page, along with talk of dreams not deferred, but dead.) Beneatha even calls her brother a toothless rat, not a man, and we are reminded of the cornered rat Travis was chasing.
When Mama steps in at this point, however, and reminds Beneatha that the time to love her brother most is when he’s most down, not when everything is fine, we again see the deep spiritual and moral values Mrs. Younger has and bestows on her family. Mama tells Beneatha that if she doesn’t know the time to love him most is now, then her education is far from over.
The greatest dramatic event appears in the form of Walter’s transformation. We saw signs of this previously, as noted above in this guide, but nothing to prepare us for the speech he makes to Lindner. As he speaks, he recovers the pride of his father, the idealism of his mother and sister, and finds within himself the courage to refuse the man’s offer of money. When he does, Beneatha tells Lindner he heard what the man, her brother, said.
Changing from the most opportunistic of outlooks (life is a matter of who takes and who is “tooken”), Walter, transformed in character, is now truly the man of the house, ready to lead his family to what is facing them at Clybourne Park. It is apparent it is not going to be easy for them; it might be very dangerous. But the people are transformed, and not afraid.
When Mama grabs her plant at the end of the play, we are reminded again of Voltaire’s Candide, and its theme, that no matter what pestilence exists in the world (in reality or symbolically), one can always strive to tend one’s own garden.
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