Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Home

The Younger apartment is the only setting throughout the play, emphasizing the centrality of the home. The lighting seems to change with the mood, and with only one window, the apartment is a small, often dark area in which all the Youngers—at one time or another—feel cramped. While some of the play’s action occurs outside of the apartment, the audience sees this action play out in the household. Most of what happens outside of the apartment includes Travis’s playing out in the street with the rat and Walter’s drinking and delinquency from work.

The home is a galvanizing force for the family, one that Mama sees as crucial to the family’s unity. The audience sees characters outside the family—Joseph Asagai, George Murchison, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Lindner, and Bobo—only when they visit the apartment. These characters become real through their interactions with the Youngers and the Youngers’ reactions to them. The play ends, fittingly, when Mama, lagging behind, finally leaves the apartment.


As the Younger family tries to navigate their shifting family and social dynamics, Africa looms in their conversations about their own identities and the wider world around them. Beneatha and Mama’s argument over the continent’s most pressing problem reflects each woman’s personal worries and priorities. Mama thinks Africa lacks Christian values, and we know she holds these values very seriously in her own home. Beneatha seeks a college education to be a liberated woman, and she wants liberation for Africa from European colonialism. We see Walter become playful mocking his idea of African culture after Beneatha tries on the Nigerian clothes Asagai brought her, and Beneatha plays along. However, when Beneatha reveals her natural hair, this more tangible act of connection with her African heritage feels a step too far for her family.

When Beneatha dances in the African clothes from Asagai, George Murchison deems her interest in her African roots absurd. His comments put him further at odds with Beneatha, and she begins to feel closer to Asagai and her African roots than to George and what she considers to be his false roots in white American culture. Africa comes to represent not only the main source of tension between Beneatha and George, but also her dedication to discovering her identity. In learning more about Africa, Beneatha aims to break free of her assimilation into the dominant white society of the 1950s.


The Younger family is concerned with money throughout the course of the play. Ruth sees money as the family’s ticket out of the environment she feels is smothering them. Walter believes his dreams would be successful if he only had a little capital to start them, and he feels money will help him re-establish his role as provider for his family. The life insurance check Mama receives gives her choices she has never had before. Even though her new wealth carries the reminder of her husband’s passing, Mama wants to use it to pursue her most vulnerable hope of owning a home and a garden. Beneatha needs the money to fund her medical school tuition so she can express her ambition and independence. Because there is not enough money to go around, the insurance check increases the sense of competition in the family. The hopes each family member has for the money are weighed against the dreams of the others. Altogether, the Youngers hold a tension between their current lives and the ones they dream for themselves, and financial resources are at the center of that tension.