CONTINUED FROM LAST POST
In addition, this scene illustrates how difficult it is to be Walter Lee Younger without being bitter. When George Murchison refers to Walter Lee as “bitter,” Walter Lee agrees that he’s bitter; Walter also wonders how George can be content having to live as a second-class citizen — in spite of his wealth — and not be bitter himself.
Hansberry also uses this scene in order to validate the natural hairstyle (unstraightened hair on black women) — a very new concept in 1959 — and even considered somewhat radical when this play opened, but a hairstyle which became popular in the late sixties as the “Afro” hairstyle. When Beneatha reenters, dressed for her date with George, she is wearing a natural hairstyle. Ultra-conservative George surprises everyone with his praise of Beneatha’s new look; however, his attitude is patronizing and condescending, as though she requires his approval.
Finally, in this scene, Hansberry makes an emphatic statement about integration. Ruth is apprehensive, almost frightened, when she hears that the new house is located in the all-white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. But Mama explains that a comparable house in a black neighborhood would cost twice as much. Mama is not moving to Clybourne Park because she wants to integrate a neighborhood; instead, she simply wants the best deal for her money. This scene is often the most misinterpreted of all the scenes in the play.
Act II — Scene 2
Hansberry makes it clear here that George and Beneatha are not compatible. Because of their strong philosophical differences, any marriage between these two is destined to fail. George tells Beneatha that she is too much of an intellectual and that men don’t like opinionated, liberated women. He also says that Beneatha is a bit too “moody” and artistic; he tells her that he didn’t ask her to go on a date with him to discuss her “thoughts.”
Beneatha uses George’s weak attempts to change her personality as the excuse that she needs to end their relationship. Later, Beneatha is surprised that Mama agrees with her decision about George, which indicates a softening of the tensions that had previously plagued their relationship.
The “Mrs. Johnson” character brings laughter to the scene, for she is a comical figure, but she also expresses sentiments that have always been prevalent in the black community. She compares, for example, the overt racism of the south at that time with the covert racism found in the north. In 1959, when this play opened, many blacks who had only recently left the south were surprised to find a different type of racism in the north. Mrs. Johnson’s implication is that it is easier to survive the blatant racism of a 1959 southern town than it is to be prepared for the hidden, and therefore more dangerous, racism of the urban ghettos.
After Mrs. Johnson leaves and Mama learns that Walter has not been to work in three days, she feels responsible for his despair (“I been doing to you what the rest of the world been doing to you”), so responsible, in fact, that she gives him $6500, all that’s left of the insurance check after her downpayment of $3500 on the Clybourne Park house, so that he can feel that he is the “man of the house.” She stipulates that $3000 is to go in a savings account for Beneatha’s medical schooling, but it is not clear that he even hears Mama. He is overwhelmed and his sudden exuberance over this financial windfall leads him to share some of his many fantasies with Travis.
Walter’s already exaggerated dreams, however, suddenly turn into an avalanche of pitiful prattle. He says, for example, that one day he will come in from work, “home from my office downtown,” and even Travis is incredulous as he reminds his father, “You don’t work in no office, Daddy.” Walter cannot seem to stop, though, and the more he talks to Travis about his dream, the bigger the dream gets. The bigger the dream gets, the more preposterous it sounds because Walter soon begins to talk about his future gardener, to whom he has given the first name of “Jefferson.” It is then that we realize that Walter has reached a “point of no return.” He must either take action now to make his dream a reality or just give up on his dream altogether.
Act II — Scene 3
When the curtain rises, Ruth is singing a well-known spiritual, “No Ways Tired,” the same song that Mama asked Ruth to sing at the close of Act I, Scene 1, just before she realized that Ruth had fainted. At the end of Act I, Scene 1, Ruth is overwhelmed with fatigue, compounded by an unplanned pregnancy. These facts give the lie to the title of the song and end the act with dark irony.
When Act II, Scene 3 opens, Ruth is singing this song without waiting for someone to ask her. The significance of the song lies in its words: I don’t feel no ways tired. I’ve come too far from where I started from . . . I don’t believe He brought me this far — to leave me. The song is proof that there has been a resurgence of faith among the members of the Younger household. Mama, however, it is important to note, never relinquishes her faith — not even after she learns that Walter has lost their money; rather than succumb to feelings of despair, Mama cries out to God for strength in dealing with her new crisis.
The song also foreshadows the Youngers’ decision to occupy their new home in a new neighborhood — in spite of their fears of what might await them. Interestingly, the song eventually became one of the songs sung by civil rights demonstrators in the early sixties, perhaps because of the popularity of Hansberry’s play.
Here in this scene, Hansberry highlights Lindner’s weakness in negotiating with the Youngers. He is not straightforward or honest, so considerable time is wasted before they actually know what he is actually proposing. Beneatha, however, distrusts Lindner immediately; the “thirty pieces of silver” to which she alludes refers to the betrayal of Christ for that paltry sum. But neither Walter nor Ruth trusts Beneatha’s quick judgment of a white person because of Beneatha’s almost obsessive pro-African stance. Walter even tells Beneatha to be quiet and “let the man talk” when Beneatha tries to interrupt Lindner.
After Lindner is ordered out of the apartment and Mama returns, they give her the housewarming gifts. Now that Mama’s dream of having a garden is about to become a reality, gardening tools are appropriate, as is Travis’ special present of a gardening hat. Travis intended his present to be a symbol of Lena’s new “rich woman’s” status, for he has seen wealthy women in magazines wearing similar hats. Ironically, though, Travis’ gift serves more to make Mama look like a field hand than a wealthy woman, ready to go out and inspect her spacious garden.
In this scene, Walter too sings a Negro spiritual, anticipating all the money he will make from his secret deal. The song “Heaven” was sung by the slaves in order to ridicule the slave owners in code. The line “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t goin’ there” was the slaves’ way of poking fun at the slave owners who were often “religious” and had no doubts that they would eventually get to heaven. Walter’s singing the song has a special meaning to him because he is “on top of the world,” anticipating a happy future for himself. However, Bobo’s arrival proves that the one key line in the song which Walter does not sing will have major significance in Walter’s fortunes — that is, for the present at least, Walter is not “gonna walk all over God’s heaven.”
Through Asagai, we see that the African struggle for independence is similar to Walter’s struggle for independence; however, at the same time, Hansberry expresses her own fears that the new black leadership of the emerging African nations might prove to be as corruptly oppressive as the previous colonial rulers. Ironically, Walter achieves his independence — that is, he comes “into his manhood” without the money that has been his obsession throughout the play. Previously, Walter stated that his self worth was predicated on the amount of money he could garner or generate. He is broke now and feeling foolish over his egregious error, but he has a more realistic and mature vision of what independence means and demands of individuals. It is also through Asagai that we are made aware of the Western definition of success, as he questions the happiness one should expect through money gained because of someone’s death.
Hansberry also uses the final scene to show us the maturation of each character, including Mama, who has learned while teaching. When she tells Beneatha that the true test of love is the ability to love a person when he is at his lowest, we realize that Mama has had time to reflect upon this fact herself.
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