Study Questions 1. Which theme that has been raised before is referred to in the reference to roaches “marching…like Napoleon”? Who was Napoleon? What relevance might references to him have for this play?
2. What issue in particular is alluded to when Beneatha says, “All everyone seems to know about when it comes to Africa is ‘Tarzan’”?
3. What recurring theme is alluded to when Beneatha says, while talking about how missionaries save people, “I’m afraid they need more salvation from the British and the French”?
4. In terms of the imagery associated with the rat Travis and other children are chasing, what deeper meaning do you think might be conveyed by Travis’s words as to there being rat blood all over the street? You must “read between the lines” to answer this question.
5. What theme is reiterated by the fuss over Beneatha’s hair?
6. When Mama asks Beneatha where she is going, why does Beneatha answer, “To become a queen of the Nile”? Where is the Nile, and what great civilization in antiquity flourished on the Nile? Why would that interest Beneatha?
7. When the check arrives, why does Mrs. Younger just stare at it for some time before the family urges her to open the envelope? What is her reaction to actually seeing the check?
8. Why does Mrs. Younger say, “Ten thousand dollars they give you. Ten thousand dollars”?
9. What family problem between Walter and Ruth is again reflected in his saying to his mother, about his wife: “I can talk to her later”?
10. What impending crisis are we reminded of when Ruth says that Walter’s drinking behavior makes her sick to her stomach?
Answers 1. The issue of tyrants and tyranny is alluded to in the reference to marching roaches. Napoleon was a French emperor in the early nineteenth century who deposed the French government, declared himself head of state, rallied his military, invaded and conquered much of Continental Europe, and reigned through tyranny until eventual defeat. By referring to the roaches as marching and reminding the audience of this theme of tyranny, we reflect again on the sources of tyranny in the lives of the family, even when it comes to the roaches.
2. As mentioned before, many people have stereotyped ideas of Africa and Africans. “Tarzan,” a fictional character, has more meaning for people than actual people from Africa, which Beneatha rightly objects to.
3. The different beliefs of Mrs. Younger and Beneatha as to religion are highlighted here, as is the recurring theme of the subjugation of black people. The British and the French were responsible for the colonizing of many African and other countries throughout history. Only in the twentieth century did many of these countries revolt from British and French rule, and proclaim their independence. What Beneatha’s remark indicates is that personal and spiritual struggles are not the only ones to consider in approaching the problems of black people. Domination and tyranny as they exist in reality must be dealt with as well.
4. The gruesome image of rat blood all over the street brings to mind the imagery of all the black people who have been persecuted and killed in America, even after slavery was ended. The horror of the image is understated when compared to the horrors of racism and what black people have had to endure.
5. When Beneatha’s hair draws such a reaction, we are reminded both of her unconventional views, her idealism, as well as the theme of the struggle for identity and to accept oneself and one’s heritage.
6. In keeping with...
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her desire to get in touch with her African lineage, Beneatha says she will become Queen of the Nile. The Nile River runs through Egypt, which was the site thousands of years ago of the great civilization of Ancient Egypt. We are reminded that although the popular culture may know more about Tarzan than Ancient Egypt when it comes to Africa, nevertheless black people come from a mighty tradition at the height of civilization.
7. We are reminded in Mrs. Younger’s paralyzed response in receiving the check of her ethical and principled approaches to life, in shared contrast to the materialism of her son. She says, “We ain’t never been no people to act silly ’bout no money.”
8. Mrs. Younger’s deep grief at the loss of her husband, and her sense of desolation that an insurance policy worth $10,000 is considered compensation for his loss are the motivation for her comments.
9. The degree of miscommunication and discord between the husband and wife are reflected in Walter saying this. The audience is not too sure that he is right, that he can always talk to her later, if things keep going the way they are going between them. And later may be too late to head off the abortion Ruth is planning.
10. Again, in this reference to her stomach, we are reminded of her pregnancy and that she may choose not to have the baby.