MAMA You ain’t satisfied or proud of nothing [your dad and I] done.” (Act I, scene ii)
Distraught over the prospect of Ruth having an abortion, Mama is talking to Walter. Unlike his mother, Walter is mostly concerned with money: Having it, he feels, is the only way to be truly free in the world. Mama tries to refocus Walter towards Ruth’s plight, saying an ugly world will push a woman to do extreme things. Mama’s only concern is with her family and keeping everyone together, happy, and healthy.
MAMA Plenty. My husband always said being any kind of a servant wasn’t a fit thing for a man to have to be. He always said a man’s hands was made to make things, or to turn the earth with – not to drive nobody’s car for ‘em – or – (She looks at her own hands) carry they slop jars. And my boy is just like him – he wasn’t meant to wait on nobody. (Act II, scene ii)
Mama vehemently disagrees with Mrs. Johnson who feels there “ain’t nothing wrong with being a chauffeur.” Mama responds that there is “plenty” to be ashamed of. Mama agrees with her late husband’s belief that a man is meant for better things than being a servant. Mama is proud of her legacy, and wants Walter to be proud too.
MAMA 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. (Raising her eyes and looking at him) We ain’t never been that – dead inside. (Act III, scene i)
Mama appeals to Walter to refuse Mr. Lindner’s money, which Walter is considering accepting. She makes the case that in two hundred years, none of her ancestors accepted payoffs meant to convey they weren’t “fit to walk the earth.” Mama is once again trying to impress upon Walter that even though the world makes him feel less of a person for being poor, he comes from a proud heritage of self-sufficiency and self-respect.
MAMA Yes – death done come in this here house. (She is nodding, slowly, reflectively) Done come walking in my house on the lips of my children. You what supposed to be my beginning again. You – what supposed to be my harvest. (Act III, scene i)
The death knell has been rung: Walter says he has decided to take Mr. Lindner’s money and Mama’s response makes it clear how she feels about his decision. All this time, Mama has been trying to coach Walter to become the man of the family, to act the way she and his father taught him—with pride and dignity, no matter what. Her word death counterpoints her imagery of beginnings and ends, harvest and loss, expressing profound disappointment in her children. This is not the family she worked so hard for.
MAMA Crazy ‘bout his children! God knows there was plenty wrong with Walter Younger – hard-headed, mean, kind of wild with women – plenty wrong with him. But he sure loved his children. Always wanted them to have something – be something. That’s where Brother gets all these notions, I reckon. (Act I, scene i)
Mama assesses her late husband’s strengths and weaknesses with Ruth as they discuss how life can be a “barrel of disappointments” sometimes. She explains that even though Big Walter had his flaws, his love of his children was the thing that drove him most. Mama recalls how when she lost a baby—Claude—she thought she would lose Big Walter, too. Throughout the play, Mama serves to remind the characters that family is the only real buoy in life.