A Raisin in the Sun | Study Guide

Lorraine Hansberry

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A Raisin in the Sun | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

On Saturday, moving day, a week after the last scene, a happy Ruth is finishing the packing. She and Beneatha talk enthusiastically about the new house. Ruth says she and Walter went to the movies the night before, for the first time in years, and held hands on the walk home. Walter enters with a package and begins dancing with his wife. When Beneatha calls the couple "old-fashioned Negroes," Walter gently makes fun of her obsession with civil rights by claiming that she will be the "chairman of the Committee on Unending Agitation."

A white man comes to the door and introduces himself as Karl Lindner, a representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. He appears awkward and uncomfortable. The Youngers listen with interest as he explains that he wants to welcome new neighbors to Clybourne Park and encourage dialogue. Lindner claims to "deplore" the violence black residents face in white neighborhoods and wants to do something about it. Beneatha is suspicious, but Ruth and Walter are listening openly. Slowly Lindner reveals his belief that communities should "share a common background" and black families should live in their own communities. As the Youngers become openly disdainful, Lindner says the association wants to buy back the house at a financial gain to the family. Beneatha sarcastically refers to the offer as "thirty pieces and not a coin less."

Walter refuses to hear the offer and asks Lindner to leave. Lindner asserts that the Youngers will not be welcome in their new neighborhood and leaves his card. Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha, after being momentarily stunned into silence, explain the visit with sarcasm and dark humor to Mama and Travis when they return. Mama asks with fear if Lindner threatened them. "They don't do it like that any more," says Beneatha, explaining that Lindner disguised his true intentions with "good Christian fellowship."

Shaken but still excited for the move the Youngers switch their attention back to the packing. Mama declares her intention to take her plant with her to the new house, even though Beneatha calls it "raggedy-looking." Mama retorts that the plant is her form of self-expression. Then the members of the family present gifts to her. Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha give Mama new gardening tools. Travis gives her a large gardening hat. The adult Youngers laugh at the hat's resemblance to "Scarlett O'Hara," except Mama, who's genuinely touched.

The bell rings. The Youngers, who didn't expect the movers this early, are surprised. But Walter seems to know who's at the door. He greets Bobo, a small, frightened-looking man and a fellow investor in the liquor store. Bobo's nervous demeanor makes Walter's good mood fade, as Walter suspects there's bad news. Walter and an increasingly concerned Ruth ask a reluctant Bobo to tell them what happened. Bobo reveals slowly that investor Willy Harris took his and Walter's money, which they gave him for the liquor license, and disappeared.

Walter, shocked and dismayed, at first believes they'll be able to find Willy. As Walter realizes the truth—he's been swindled—he screams at Bobo and crumples to the floor, weeping. He reveals to Mama, when she asks, that all the money she gave him, including the portion to be set aside for Beneatha, is gone.

Mama suddenly starts to beat Walter in the face. Beneatha stops her. Mama talks sadly about how she had to watch her husband work himself to death. She prays aloud for strength.

Analysis

At first the scene portrays each main character with everything he or she wants, or at least on the path to getting it. But the play has two more acts to go. Hansberry, like the naysaying Mrs. Johnson, wants to take life the way it is.

The family is beginning to make impractical purchases—movie tickets, curtains that may not match the windows. They're enjoying the freedom that comes with having things they want, regardless of need, like the long hot bath Ruth hopes for. At the end of the act the audience may feel that the characters are being punished for the height of their aspirations. Then again, what have they done wrong besides wanting more than they have? Is that really a crime, or is it a necessity to stay alive in a desperate or mediocre situation? The last scene asked which goals were important. This scene asks: When do lofty goals become not worth the sacrifice?

Walter's joke about "the Committee on Unending Agitation" is a reference to differing views on rights for black Americans. "Agitation," or disturbing the status quo by stirring up public interest, was a tactic praised by activists such as Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. Other activists, like Booker T. Washington, found this method unproductive. As the family slides into despair, they begin to think Washington's method was right and they should have been happy with what they had.

Karl Lindner is a wolf in sheep's clothing, the most insidious and overt representation of racism in the play. The violence and bombs are referenced repeatedly but do not appear onstage. The main characters have different ideas about how black people should act and assert themselves in a country that is mostly white, but they all share a similar struggle—they're treated as second-class citizens. Linder is clearly trying hard not to be racist, or what he thinks of as racist. He speaks politely and hesitates over phrases like "you people."

Lindner is the only character who isn't black; he's an outsider, and at first he appears to have no power. He's overwhelmed by hospitality. His speech is halting and full of digressions. He's described as a "gentle man." Walter is finally enjoying the status he's longed for as the man of the house, though Lindner does ask about Mama. This scene illustrates how Walter has been subtly competing with his mother for authority over the home. Beneatha, who attends college, doesn't work a service job, and presumably acts as a peer to white Chicagoans more than Walter and Ruth do in their daily lives, picks up on Lindner's true agenda quickly. She knows the new way racism works—evasion and vague phrases like "the way we do things." The audience, on the Youngers' side, may be hopeful when Lindner speaks out against racialized "incidents" and expresses a desire for change. As it turns out though, he doesn't want change at all. He blames the black residents of white neighborhoods for inciting violence simply by being there. Mrs. Johnson blamed the Youngers, too, but Lindner has more power to hurt.

By comparing the Youngers to white families in Clybourne Park with dreams for their children, Linder touches a nerve. The audience wonders how Mama would have reacted to him had she been home instead of her more skeptical children. Beneatha's "thirty pieces" reference is biblical; it refers to the amount of money Judas took to betray Jesus. She implies that Lindner and the other white community members have betrayed the Youngers' trust. Lindner's last statement, when he calls Walter "son," sounds like something Mama would say—a sorrowful elder giving advice. However, it is yet another manifestation of racism, too similar to the demeaning term boy often used toward black men. To Walter, who wanted to speak to Lindner as an equal, this is the last straw.

Although Beneatha denies that Lindner threatened them, she knows he did—implicitly; he threatened them with ostracism and a lack of protection. Ruth's astute "marry 'em" comment points to widespread fears of integration and its long-term implications that are one of the strongest motives for the restrictions.

The scene where the Youngers give gifts to Mama breaks the tension and makes the audience feel for this occasionally abrasive but genuinely loving family—leading to a more crushing emotional impact in the coming falling action. Mama's "It expresses ME!" joke to Beneatha is true; the plant expresses her nurturing of the family during difficult circumstances and her own way of maintaining sanity. Even as the family experiences a true moment of joy, they return to cynical humor when Mama's hat seems like a throwback to the era of slavery.

Spirituals figure heavily in this scene. Spirituals are Christian songs created by American slaves—a representation of hope and overcoming obstacles. The hopefulness of Ruth's "church alto" in "No Ways Tired" (which Mama requested in the opening scene) reveals both the family's mood and a Christian aspiration for better things to come in the next world. For Ruth, who is frequently tired in the play's first scenes due to her daily routine and her pregnancy, the song is especially empowering. "All God's Children Got Wings," the song Walter sings right before letting Bobo in, unites the family as they look forward to a future together.

When Walter first hears the knock on the door, Hansberry allows a moment of uncertainty to linger and then releases it with Walter's continued hope. Does Walter know what to expect when he lets Bobo in? His initial fear makes it seem that way, but he's blindsided by the news. Ruth, who "senses death," picks up on the truth almost immediately. In this way she's savvier than Walter, whose dreams keep him from seeing the reality that in business you can't trust anyone.

Walter sees the trust of his family crumble as well. Ruth was right to doubt him; Mama was wrong to give him the money. The betrayal is devastating on every level. Walter's reference to his father's flesh recalls the ways black bodies were brutalized in the era of slavery and even beyond, when lynchings continued for decades. Mama's physical description of Big Walter's body does the same. And Mama is also betrayed. She "looks at her son without recognition" and beats him out of reflex, as if she's attacking Big Walter's killers. In doing so she unwittingly reenacts the violence that has been perpetuated upon the men of her family and makes the audience see it, as in real time.

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