A Raisin in the Sun Act 1 Scene 1 Summary

     This play by Lorraine Hansberry takes place in the Younger household, which is a two-bedroom apartment on Chicago's south side sometime likely around the 1950's. It is clear that the Youngers, an African American family, don't have a lot of money because the furnishings are old and worn. Walter lives there with his mother, his wife Ruth, his son Travis, and his sister Beneatha. They share a bathroom with the people down the hall.

     The play begins with a tired Ruth trying to wake her son and husband. She sends Travis down the hall to the bathroom to get dressed as her husband begins arguing with her. Walter is a chauffeur for a white man. It is clear that they struggle for money when Travis tries to ask for fifty cents for school, and Ruth refuses to give it to him. Travis, who is only ten, asks if he can help carry groceries for people at the supermarket after school to make some extra money. His parents seem to wish that he didn't need to do such things because they don't like admitting that they're poor.

     Walter then talks to his wife about a business proposition that his friend Willy Harris has brought to his attention. Ruth doesn't like the idea because she doesn't trust Willy. Walter wants Ruth to talk to his mother about the deal because he would need money from his mother to invest in the business. Walter, Willy, and Bobo have been discussing how they can open their own liquor store. They would each need to put in ten thousand dollars for the initial investment. Ruth tells Walter that it's his mama's money, not theirs. Walter tells his wife that he feels like he is suffocating in his current job and his current home. He needs to make a change.

     Walter's sister Beneatha, who is about twenty years old, enters the conversation. Beneatha attends medical school because she wants to be a doctor. Walter mentions that the check is coming tomorrow, and Beneatha, like Ruth, reminds her brother that the money belongs to their mama. Walter resents Bennie for the money she spends on schooling that they help provide. As they argue, it becomes clear that the money that Walter wants is life insurance money that is arriving because their father recently died. Bennie calls her brother crazy and then he leaves for work.

     Mama then enters the room and asks what they were arguing about, which leads to the topic of money. Ruth tries to ask Mama what she's going to do with the money. She mentions the liquor store, but Mama doesn't seem interested in the idea. Mama says Ruth should call in sick for work because she doesn't look well, but Ruth insists that they need the money. Mama then returns to the ten thousand dollars that is going to be arriving in the mail. Ruth suggests that Lena might want to take a trip or do something fun with the money. Lena says that she's not interested in vacationing. She thought she would put some of the money aside for Beneatha's schooling. Then she was considering purchasing a house for the family. She recalls how she and her husband, Big Walter, had always dreamed of buying a house. She feels her husband may have just worked himself to death trying to provide the best for his children and trying to fight for the child that they lost.

     Bennie returns from dressing in the bathroom and comments on the woman upstairs vacuuming again by saying, "Oh, God." Her mother chastises her for using the Lord's name in vain. When Beneatha mentions that she wants to take guitar lessons, Mama points out that she tends to flit from one thing to the next, which leads to a conversation about dating. Beneatha has been seeing George Murchison, but she doesn't really care too much for him. He's rich and full of himself, plus Beneatha isn't sure that she ever wants to get married. She wants to focus on being a doctor. She doesn't like when God gets the credit for what she has been able to accomplish. Mama once again becomes angered with her blasphemy, and she slaps Beneatha. She makes Beneatha repeat, "In my mother's house there is still God." She points out that although Bennie thinks she's a woman, her mom knows she's still a little girl. Bennie leaves, and Mama expresses her concern about her children to Ruth just before Ruth passes out.

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