Last Updated on November 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1082
MAMA Son—how come you talk so much ’bout money?
WALTER (With immense passion) Because it is life, Mama!
MAMA (Quietly) Oh—(Very quietly) So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change …
WALTER No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.
MAMA No … something has changed. (She looks at him) You something new, boy. (Act 1, scene 2)
Lena reflects on the generational differences between herself and her children, noting that Walter’s fixation on money seems almost like a luxury to her. Both Lena and her husband worked hard labor jobs their entire lives, and they come from a generation that still remembers Jim Crow laws and lynchings. By contrast, Walter has a beautiful wife, a healthy son, a job, and a family that loves him. Lena struggles to understand where his apparent dissatisfaction with his life stems from, unable to comprehend his fixation on material wealth when he already has more than previous generations could ever imagine.
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I say I been wrong, son. That I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you. (She turns off the radio) Walter—(She stops and he looks up slowly at her and she meets his eyes pleadingly) What you ain’t never understood is that I ain’t got nothing, don’t own nothing, ain’t never really wanted nothing that wasn’t for you. There ain’t nothing as precious to me … There ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else—if it means—if it means it’s going to destroy my boy. (Act 2, scene 2)
Lena asserts that family is—and always has been—the most important thing to her. Her desire to own a house was a personal dream, but it was also an investment in her family’s future, something tangible she could leave behind for Walter, Beneatha, Ruth, and Travis. However, she also recognizes that her decision to pursue her own dream rather than trusting in Walter has hurt him. In his job as a chauffeur, Walter feels continuously demeaned and subservient, and the world at large treats him as a second-class citizen due to his race. Lena—as well as Ruth and Beneatha—have contributed to Walter’s mental decline by refusing to support him or his dreams. Lena has also maintained her role as matriarch rather than allowing Walter to fulfill his role as the “man of the house” after his father’s death. By giving him the remainder of the insurance money, Lena takes the first step toward helping Walter come into his “manhood.”
BENEATHA An end to misery! To stupidity! Don’t you see there isn’t any real progress, Asagai, there is only one large circle that we march in, around and around, each of us with our own little picture in front of us—our own little mirage that we think is the future.
ASAGAI That is the mistake.
ASAGAI What you just said about the circle. It isn’t a circle—it is simply a long line—as in geometry, you know, one that reaches into infinity. And because we cannot see the end—we also cannot see how it changes. (Act 3, scene 1)
After losing the insurance money, Beneatha becomes depressed, expressing bitterness toward her family and the world at large for her perceived misfortune. She disparages Asagai’s desire to liberate his country from colonial rule, citing the fact that new problems will arise to replace the old ones. However, Asagai’s response is a firm declaration of the importance of idealism and the power of continuously dreaming of a better world. Rather than becoming mired in apathy and realism, he remains committed to the belief that progress is a continuum. His passion seems to inspire a new dream within Beneatha, who seems to be genuinely considering marrying him and moving to Nigeria to help reconnect with her roots and assist in the pursuit of liberation.
Son – I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers – but ain’t nobody in my family never let nobody pay ’em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth. We ain’t never been that poor. We ain’t never been that—dead inside. (Act 3, scene 1)
Lena is dismayed by Walter’s decision to accept Karl Lindner’s payoff, viewing it as an undermining of the Youngers’ dignity. Enslaved people had essentially no rights and were not allowed to own property, but Lena asserts that even they had more pride than Walter. By attempting to buy out the Youngers in order to prevent them from moving to Clybourne Park, Lindner is essentially telling them that they are unwanted and unworthy to exist in an all-white space. In Lena’s mind, there is no amount of money in the world that could overcome that level of insult. She also seems to fear what accepting the money would mean for Walter on a mental and spiritual level. While it may solve some of the family’s financial woes, debasing himself in such a manner would likely leave Walter “dead inside.”
And we have decided to move into our house because my father—my father—he earned it for us brick by brick… We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors. And that’s all we got to say about that. (He looks the man absolutely in the eyes) We don’t want your money. (Act 3, scene 1)
When he invited Mr. Lindner over, Walter fully intended to accept the buyout offer, viewing it as a way to recoup much of the money he had lost to Willy Harris. Rendered cynical after being scammed, Walter is ready to set aside his own pride and sense of morality, willingly debasing himself and his family for financial gain. However, surrounded by his family and bolstered by their willingness to put the final decision in his hands, he rejects Lindner’s buyout offer, reclaiming his sense of self-worth and showing his son what it means to be “a man.” Although financial concerns persist for the Youngers, Walter makes the decision to invest in a dream that they can all share in: owning their own home, surrounded by a loving family.