A Raisin in the Sun By Lorraine Hansberry Summary and Analysis Act II — Scene 3

Summary

This scene begins one week later. Ruth and Beneatha are in good spirits; this is the day that the family will move to their new neighborhood. Ruth tells Beneatha that on the previous evening, she and Walter had gone on a date to the movies. Walter comes in and is dancing playfully with Ruth when a white man comes to the door, asking for Lena Younger. Walter tries on his new status as "head of the household," telling the stranger that he handles his mother's "business matters."


The man, Karl Lindner, acting as representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, makes a very generous offer to buy the Youngers' new home (in order to keep them from moving into Clybourne Park). At first, Walter listens then tells Lindner to get out. When Lena returns, they each try to shield her from the reality that Lindner represents by giving her the housewarming gifts they'd purchased. Soon afterwards, Bobo arrives to tell Walter that Willy ran off with their money. Both Mama and Walter explode with feelings of loss, anger, helplessness, and grief.

Analysis

When the curtain rises, Ruth is singing a well-known spiritual, "No Ways Tired," the same song that Mama asked Ruth to sing at the close of Act I, Scene 1, just before she realized that Ruth had fainted. At the end of Act I, Scene 1, Ruth is overwhelmed with fatigue, compounded by an unplanned pregnancy. These facts give the lie to the title of the song and end the act with dark irony.

When Act II, Scene 3 opens, Ruth is singing this song without waiting for someone to ask her. The significance of the song lies in its words: I don't feel no ways tired. I've come too far from where I started from . . . I don't believe He brought me this far — to leave me. The song is proof that there has been a resurgence of faith among the members of the Younger household. Mama, however, it is important to note, never relinquishes her faith — not even after she learns that Walter has lost their money; rather than succumb to feelings of despair, Mama cries out to God for strength in dealing with her new crisis.

The song also foreshadows the Youngers' decision to occupy their new home in a new neighborhood — in spite of their fears of what might await them. Interestingly, the song eventually became one of the songs sung by civil rights demonstrators in the early sixties, perhaps because of the popularity of Hansberry's play.

Here in this scene, Hansberry highlights Lindner's weakness in negotiating with the Youngers. He is not straightforward or honest, so considerable time is wasted before they actually know what he is actually proposing. Beneatha, however, distrusts Lindner immediately; the "thirty pieces of silver" to which she alludes refers to the betrayal of Christ for that paltry sum. But neither Walter nor Ruth trusts Beneatha's quick judgment of a white person because of Beneatha's almost obsessive pro-African stance. Walter even tells Beneatha to be quiet and "let the man talk" when Beneatha tries to interrupt Lindner.

After Lindner is ordered out of the apartment and Mama returns, they give her the housewarming gifts. Now that Mama's dream of having a garden is about to become a reality, gardening tools are appropriate, as is Travis' special present of a gardening hat. Travis intended his present to be a symbol of Lena's new "rich woman's" status, for he has seen wealthy women in magazines wearing similar hats. Ironically, though, Travis' gift serves more to make Mama look like a field hand than a wealthy woman, ready to go out and inspect her spacious garden.

In this scene, Walter too sings a Negro spiritual, anticipating all the money he will make from his secret deal. The song "Heaven" was sung by the slaves in order to ridicule the slave owners in code. The line "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin' there" was the slaves' way of poking fun at the slave owners who were often "religious" and had no doubts that they would eventually get to heaven. Walter's singing the song has a special meaning to him because he is "on top of the world," anticipating a happy future for himself. However, Bobo's arrival proves that the one key line in the song which Walter does not sing will have major significance in Walter's fortunes — that is, for the present at least, Walter is not "gonna walk all over God's heaven."

Glossary

hand-turned hems This refers to sewing that is done "by hand" and not in a factory on a machine. Ruth has purchased some curtains for the new house, proof of her exuberance over the possibility of their moving away from the ghetto, for Ruth did not even measure the windows before rushing out and buying curtains. When she is asked if she considered whether these curtains will even fit the windows of the new house, Ruth says, "Oh well, they bound to fit something." The curtains, she brags, have "hand-turned hems," which would, of course, make them more valuable than machine-made curtains.

Thirty pieces and not a coin less Thirty pieces of silver was the standard price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ for the same amount of money (30 pieces of silver) normally paid for a slave. Beneatha taunts Lindner with this allusion when he makes his generous offer to keep the Younger family out of the neighborhood.

Mrs. Miniver An Oscar-winning film (1942) which starred Greer Garson as Mrs. Miniver, an English middle-class housewife who appears in many scenes tending her roses. In the movie, despite the blitz bombs of Nazi Germany, Mrs. Miniver stands stalwart, the symbol of England's hope and strength. Because Mama's housewarming gift is a set of gardening tools, the card reads, "To our own Mrs. Miniver Mama's strength and her survival in a nation divided by racial struggle makes her an appropriate parallel to Mrs. Miniver.

Scarlett O'Hara When Travis gives Mama his gift, of which he is enormously proud, everyone laughs because it is an oversized gardening hat worn, as he says, by [rich] ladies "who always have it on when they work in their gardens." However, instead of looking like a rich "lady" in her garden, in this hat, Mama looks more like a slave who is about to pick cotton, which makes everyone laugh. Mama doesn't want to hurt Travis' feelings, so she tells him how much she likes it even though she probably knows better than the others how ridiculous she looks in the hat. Beneatha laughs and says that their intention in giving the gardening tools was to make Mama look like Mrs. Miniver, while Travis' gift makes Mama look more like Scarlett O'Hara (from Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, a novel that laments the fall of the South after the Civil War).

spread some money 'round Walter Lee had previously explained to Bobo that the only way to make "big" money was through the payment of required graft, which Walter Lee refers to as having to "spread some money 'round." Bobo is apparently too intellectually dense to understand that this is a term that one does not use openly. Bobo uses the expression casually, as though it were conversationally correct.

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