Summary – Act Two, Scene Two
This scene is set on a Friday night and it is a few weeks later. There are packing crates in the living room and these mark the fact that the family is moving.
Beneatha and George enter and they have been out for the evening. She wants to talk and he tells her he wants her to drop the Garbo routine; he says he wants a nice, simple, sophisticated girl and not a poet. She says goodnight to him when he says he reads books to learn facts, and reveals that he thinks reading has nothing to do with thoughts.
When he has left, Beneatha tells Mama he is a fool, and Mama says she had better not waste her time on him then. Beneatha thanks her for understanding her ‘this time’.
She exits and Ruth enters and there is a knock at the door. Ruth admits their neighbor, Mrs Johnson who has brought her newspaper with her. After making effusive compliments, Mrs Johnson asks if they have seen the news about ‘the colored people that was bombed out of their place out there’. Ruth looks at her newspaper and with an ‘insincere sense of melodrama’ Mrs Johnson says how ‘it is getting like Mississippi’.
After hinting for (and getting) a cup of coffee, Mrs Johnson then talks about how this time next month she can see them being mentioned in the paper too: ‘NEGROES INVADE CLYBOURNE PARK’. Mama and Ruth look at each other in amazement and Mama says they are not moving to get bombed.
Beneatha then comes through to visit the bathroom and is curt with Mrs Johnson. In turn, Mrs Johnson voices criticisms of people with education and says Walter should be satisfied being a chauffeur. Mama disagrees and says that her husband used to argue that ‘being any kind of servant wasn’t a fit thing for a man to have to be’. Mrs Johnson rises, somewhat offended, and says she agrees with Booker T. Washington who said, ‘education has spoiled many a good plough hand’. Mama tells her that sounds like him and calls him a fool.
Mrs Johnson leaves and Beneatha returns and is reprimanded by Mama for being rude. Beneatha says there are two things we as a people have to overcome: the Ku Klux Klan and Mrs Johnson.
The telephone rings and Ruth answers. It is clear from the conversation that Walter’s employer (Mrs Arnold) has rung and is asking when he will be in for work. Ruth tells Walter and he is indifferent when she explains he will be replaced if he does not return tomorrow (as he has not been in for three days).
Mama and Ruth ask what he has been doing and he informs them that he went and looked at the steel mills one day, and then went to the Green Hat. Another day he went to Wisconsin, and then came back to the Green Hat. Today he walked all over the Southside, and then returned to the Green Hat. Mama asks if this is ‘the harvest of our days’. He turns the radio on and says he likes going to the bar for the music and the drinking.
Mama tells him she has been wrong and she has helped do this to him. He says she has not been wrong about anything. She disagrees and says ‘there ain’t nothing worth holding on to, money, dreams, nothing else – if it means – if it means it’s going to destroy my boy’. She places her papers in front of him. She says she has put $3,500 down on the house and that leaves $6,500. On Monday, she wants him to put $3,000 in savings account for Beneatha’s medical schooling and he can have the rest to do whatever he wants. She tells him he is the head of the house now. He stares at the money and asks if she trusts him. She says she has never stopped trusting him or loving him and as she goes out he picks up the money ‘in mingled joy and desperation’.
Travis enters and asks if he is drunk. Walters says sweetly that he is not and is never going to be again. He says he wants to talk to him and asks what he wants to be when he grows up. Travis says ‘bus driver’ and Walter laughs; he says this is not big enough. Walter says that in seven years, when Travis is 17, he will have a whole lot of offices and be an executive. Travis will tell him where he wants to study, and he will be able to choose from the great colleges in the world.
Analysis – Act Two, Scene Two
A momentous shift in Walter’s characterization comes about when his mother entrusts him with his and his sister’s money. Just prior to this, he was evidently at his lowest point and has been absent from work for three days. The meaningless of his life had reached a new low, but when she declares him the head of the house and demonstrates this with trust his dreams for himself and his family become ‘big’ again. A relatively simple point is made and the alteration in him demonstrates the significant role that love, trust and financial security may contribute to somebody’s happiness. They are also depicted as weapons in counteracting racism as Walter begins to see that his son needs his guidance to aim higher in his aspirations.