Act I, Scene 2: Summary and Analysis
Joseph Asagai: a Nigerian friend of Beneatha’s who has just returned from a trip to Canada
Scene 2 opens on the following morning. The family, on this Saturday, is involved in housecleaning. The phone rings, and it is Willie Harris, Walter’s friend. They talk about the liquor store they want to start while Mrs. Younger stares at her son in disapproval. The next hone call is for Beneatha, from her school friend Joseph Asagai, who has just returned from studying in Canada.
Ruth comes home and we learn she is pregnant (which would account for why she dropped to the floor at the end of the last scene; she had not been feeling well, as some women do not at times during their pregnancies). Beneatha wants to know if it was a planned pregnancy or an accident, but, as can be imagined, both Mama and Ruth object to Beneatha’s attitude.
Then they hear a ruckus on the street, where Travis is playing, and they see that he and his friends are chasing a rat. He is told to come upstairs immediately.
In a little while, the doorbell rings, and it is Asagai. He has brought a present for Beneatha—a Nigerian dress and records of African music. Beneatha is delighted. They disagree about her hair, however, which Joseph does not think she should wear so short. They also clash on the subject of identity, with Asagai referring to American black people as “assimilationists” (as Beneatha defines the term in the play—later, on page 81, it means “someone who is willing to give up his own culture and submerge himself completely in the dominant, and in this case oppressive culture”). Beneatha disagrees with this assessment of her friend.
Asagai expresses a desire to get closer to Beneatha, but she wants to wait on serious decisions and take time to find herself and accomplish what she wants to do in the future. When Mama comes home, they all chat for a while about Africa. Mrs. Younger extends an invitation to Joseph to visit them again. As he is leaving, Joseph tells Beneatha his pet name for her, “Alaiyo,” which is in his African (Yoruban) language. It means “One for Whom Bread—Food—Is Not Enough.” A complimentary reference to her idealism, Beneatha likes her African name. Mama says, when he leaves, that she likes him.
Suddenly, the downstairs bell rings and the family is jarred into realizing the awaited check is downstairs with the postman. Travis is sent downstairs to get it, and when he comes back with it, the family gathers around Mama, who holds the check in her hand, staring at it and unable to open it. The family urges her to open the envelope, and she does, but as soon as she does, she becomes sad, for she remembers what the money is for.
Then Mama asks Ruth where she went that morning, and Ruth admits she saw an abortionist and is deciding whether or not to have an abortion. Walter comes home and immediately upon entering asks if the check has arrived. He informs them that he has started the legal work necessary to launch his liquor business with Willie Harris.
Mrs. Younger does not want to hear about that, and tells him to talk to his wife. Walter feels no one is listening to him, and plans to go outside again, to drink, we assume. Ruth wants to go with him, but he does not want her along. Mama objects to the way he is treating Ruth. Walter and Ruth keep arguing, though, with Ruth particularly objecting to Walter’s drinking. Mrs. Younger asks Walter what it is that has been bothering him lately and causing him to behave badly and drink so much. She reminds him when he least expects it, it would seem, that what is valuable about his relationship with his wife is that she loves him.
Walter again implores Mrs. Younger for money for the liquor business. He expresses the deepest despair about what life means apart from material success and money. Mrs. Younger tells him that in her day, they were worried about being lynched, and now he and Beneatha have dreams she cannot understand. She informs Walter that his wife...
(The entire section is 1,286 words.)