Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
“Eat Your Eggs”
This phrase appears early in the play, as an instruction from Ruth to Walter to quiet him. Walter then employs the phrase to illustrate how women keep men from achieving their goals—every time a man gets excited about something, he claims, a woman tries to temper his enthusiasm by telling him to eat his eggs. Being quiet and eating one’s eggs represents an acceptance of the adversity that Walter and the rest of the Youngers face in life. Walter believes that Ruth, who is making his eggs, keeps him from achieving his dream, and he argues that she should be more supportive of him. The eggs she makes every day symbolize her mechanical approach to supporting him. She provides him with nourishment, but always in the same, predictable way.
The most overt symbol in the play, Mama’s plant represents both Mama’s care and her dream for her family. In her first appearance onstage, she moves directly toward the plant to take care of it. She confesses that the plant never gets enough light or water, but she takes pride in how it nevertheless flourishes under her care. Her care for her plant is similar to her care for her children, unconditional and unending despite a less-than-perfect environment for growth. The plant also symbolizes her dream to own a house and, more specifically, to have a garden and a yard. With her plant, she practices her gardening skills. Her success with the plant helps her believe that she would be successful as a gardener. Her persistence and dedication to the plant fosters her hope that her dream may come true.
When the play begins, Beneatha has straightened hair. Midway through the play, after Asagai visits her and questions her hairstyle, she cuts her Caucasian-seeming hair. Her new, radical afro represents her embracing of her heritage. Beneatha’s cutting of her hair is a very powerful social statement, as she symbolically declares that natural is beautiful, prefiguring the 1960s cultural credo that black is beautiful. Rather than force her hair to conform to the style society dictates, Beneatha opts for a style that enables her to more easily reconcile her identity and her culture. Beneatha’s new hair is a symbol of her anti-assimilationist beliefs as well as her desire to shape her identity by looking back to her roots in Africa.