Summary: Act 1: Scene 3
On Saturday, a week later, it is moving day. Ruth shows Beneatha the curtains she has bought for the new house and tells her that the first thing she is going to do in their new house is take a long bath in their very own bathroom. Ruth comments on the changed mood around the household, noting that she and Walter even went out to the movies and held hands the previous evening. Walter comes in and dances with Ruth. Beneatha teases them about acting in a stereotypical fashion but does not really mean any harm. Ruth and Walter understand and join in the lighthearted teasing, and Walter claims that Beneatha talks about nothing but race.
A middle-aged white man named Karl Lindner appears at the door. He is a representative from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, and he tells the Youngers that problems arise when different kinds of people do not sit down and talk to each other. The Youngers agree, until he reveals that he and the neighborhood coalition believe that the Youngers’ presence in Clybourne Park would destroy the community there. The current residents are all white, working-class people who do not want anything to threaten the dream that they have for their community.
Mr. Lindner tells the Youngers that the association is prepared to offer them more money than they are to pay for the house in exchange for not moving to Clybourne Park. Ruth, Beneatha, and Walter all become very upset, but they manage to control their anger. Walter firmly tells Mr. Lindner that they will not accept the offer and urges Mr. Lindner to leave immediately.
When Mama comes home, Walter, Ruth, and Beneatha tell her about Mr. Lindner’s visit. It shocks and worries her, but she supports their decision to refuse the buyout offer. Then, as she is making sure that her plant is well packed for the trip, the rest of the family surprises her with gifts of gardening tools and a huge gardening hat. Mama has never received presents other than at Christmas, and she is touched by her family’s generosity. Just as the whole family begins to celebrate, Bobo, one of Walter’s friends, arrives. After some stumbling, he announces that Willy Harris has run off with all of the money that Walter invested in the liquor store deal. It turns out that Walter had invested not only his $3,500 but also the $3,000 intended for Beneatha’s education. Mama is livid and begins to beat Walter in the face. Beneatha breaks them up. Weakness overcomes Mama, and she thinks about the hard labor her husband endured in order to earn the money for them. She prays ardently for strength.
Analysis: Act 1: Scene 3
This scene presents two conflicts and concerns for the Youngers and their future. First, the incident with Mr. Lindner of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association reveals the power of both dreams and racial prejudice. Mr. Lindner’s comments do not intimidate the members of the Younger family. Rather, they seem to expect the conflict. The Youngers know that they are about to achieve some of their dreams and are not going to let racism get in their way. Mama’s careful packing of her plant when she hears of the incident shows she is proud of her fortitude in holding onto her dream. She knows that she needs a token of the dream’s power in order to face hardship in the all-white neighborhood. The plant symbolizes her dream of escaping from their poverty-stricken life. It also represents a dream for African-American equality and acceptance in the general culture. In addition, this episode shows that the fact that Mama holds onto her dream is as important as the realization of this dream.
The second conflict, Walter’s duplicitous investment of the insurance money and its disastrous result, evokes much greater strife and discord. When Bobo arrives and announces that the money is gone, Walter yells, “THAT MONEY IS MADE OUT OF MY FATHER’S FLESH,” reflecting his belief that money is the lifeblood of human existence. None of the Youngers feels pity for Walter, and it seems now that none of their dreams will come true. Ruth and Beneatha reach a new low of depression and pessimism. While Mama protests at first, she seems to agree with their attitude when she talks about watching her husband wither from hard work. In the face of the loss of the money, Mama’s idealism about family falters.
Mama’s sudden sad realization that her husband’s life boils down to a stack of paper bills compels her to turn on Walter as if he had killed his father himself. This anger is uncommon for Mama, and it is significant because it demonstrates that her compassion is not born of passivity. She cares too much for the memory of her husband, for their mutual dream of buying a home, and for her family to let Walter off the hook. Her beating him is the only way for her to force Walter to realize his mistakes and to look for a way to correct them.
Though the other characters talk about Willy Harris, the man who runs away with Walter’s and Bobo’s money, he never makes an appearance onstage. Willy remains a faceless symbol for Walter’s negligence and risky handling of the money. Moreover, Hansberry’s focus is not on the act of theft but rather on the Younger family and the reactions of its members to adversity.