BENEATHA (Dropping to her knees) Well – I do – all right? – thank everybody! And forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all! (Pursuing him on her knees across the floor) FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME, FORGIVE ME! (Act I, scene i)
Beneatha’s desire to use their father’s life insurance after his death to go to medical school annoys her brother Walter. Walter thinks that studying medicine isn’t a womanly profession, and he worries that the tuition cost is too much of a cut of the check. Beneatha, who is angry, sarcastically asks her brother to forgive her for having a dream. Like all of the characters in the play, Beneatha has a dream that is just out of reach.
MAMA …Big Walter used to say, he’d get right wet in the eyes sometimes, lean his head back with the water standing in his eyes and say, “Seem like God didn’t see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams – but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while. (Act I, scene i)
Beneatha wants to go to medical school, her brother Walter wants to invest in a liquor store, and all Mama wants is a better life for her children. Mama’s dream is focused not on herself but on her family and their prospects for a brighter future. Mama references her husband Big Walter’s poignant statement to make a point that for black parents, their dreams always seem deferred towards their children. Through their children, Big Walter says, a black man’s dreams are kept alive.
RUTH Honey…life don’t have to be like this. I mean sometimes people can do things so that things are better…You remember how we used to talk when Travis was born…about the way we were going to live…the kind of house… (She is stroking his head) Well, it’s all starting to slip away from us… (Act II, scene i)
Ruth encourages her husband Walter to remember the time when their baby was born, the hopeful way they talked about the future and all the plans they made together. Ruth knows they are inching farther away from their dreams. Although weary with the constant daily struggle of making ends meet and keeping her marriage alive, Ruth has become resilient. In this scene, Ruth exemplifies how all of the characters have to work constantly to overcome their depression and feelings of hopelessness.
WALTER …Just tell me where you want to go to school and you’ll go. Just tell me, what it is you want to be – and you’ll be it….Whatever you want to be – Yessir! (He holds his arms open for TRAVIS) You just name it, son… (TRAVIS leaps into them) and I hand you the world! (Act II, scene ii)
After Mama finally releases some of the insurance money to Walter, Walter is re-energized and immediately begins asking his son Travis how he can help him accomplish his dreams. Exemplifying his father’s belief that a black man’s dreams are always deferred to his children, Walter tries to act like the head of the family and help his son. Walter’s optimism and desire to “hand [his son] the world” showcases his love for and dedication to his son, which underscores a major theme that runs through the play: Dreams are ultimately accomplished through family.
BENEATHA I know that’s what you think. Because you are still where I left off. You with all your talk and dreams about Africa! You still think you can patch up the world. Cure the Great Sore of Colonialism--(Loftily, mocking it) with the Penicillin of Independence--! (Act III, scene i)
Beneatha’s dream to be a doctor slowly fades over the course of the play, and by Act III she is overcome with misery and nearly gives the dream up completely. As Beneatha is at her lowest point, Asagai tries to reinvigorate her interest in returning to Africa, saying that Beneatha is too attached to the insurance money and Africa is where she can contribute to true reform. Beneatha mocks Asagai’s dream of reform, comparing it to a medicine that might make things feel better, but really won’t cure anything. Beneatha’s comments underscore how the idealism in the characters’ dreams is always challenged by pragmatism.