A Raisin in the Sun: Novel Summary: Act 3, Scene 1
Summary – Act Three, Scene One
It is an hour later and there is a gray light in the room; it resembles that which began the first scene in Act One. Walter is alone in his room and is laid on his bed and Beneatha is in the living room. The bell rings and she admits Asagai. She explains to him that Walter has given the money away and says she is ‘nothing’. She then relates a story of when she was a child and saw a boy, Rufus, smash his face. She had thought that was the end of him, but the next time she saw him he had been fixed up and had just a little line down his face.
Walter sits up and listens and the stage directions point out that throughout this scene it is important that ‘we feel his reaction at all times’ as he responds to the words of his sister and Asagai.
She explains how she never got over how marvellous it was to be able to sew up people’s problems and fix up the sick. She saw this was ‘truly being God’. She wanted to cure people and cared; Asagai asks if she has stopped caring now, and she says she thinks so.
Walter goes to the door, then stops and listens when Asagai asks why. She explains that this was an ideal and is the way a child sees things. The conversation shifts to how Asagai is still idealistic and wants independence in Africa. She then questions the idea of progress and says how things were decided without consultation. She describes them as all marching around in a circle (rather than forwards). Asagai questions this and says she is mistaken. She points out that he will not talk about what will happen after independence. She claims corruption will continue, but with ‘black’ people in charge instead of white. He shouts over her and says he lives the answer. He will teach for change to overcome illiteracy, disease and ignorance. He suggests she comes home with him, to Nigeria, and says he will show her the country. He adds that in time they will pretend she has only been away for a day. He leaves and tells her to think about it.
Walter enters the room and frantically and destructively looks for something. She ignores what he is doing and ‘goes on with a monologue of insult’ of how he wanted to be a Chairman of the Board. He finds the small piece of white paper that he has been looking for and rushes out.
Ruth and Mama enter and Mama takes her plant, puts it on the window sill and closes the window. Mama says how they have a lot of unpacking to do and thinks one of them should let the removal men know they are not going. She then says that people used to tell her that she aimed too high and she and her husband never learned this. Ruth disagrees with her and says it is still possible for them to earn the money they need.
Walter returns and informs them that he has made a call to The Man – Lindner. He has told him to come over and they are going to do business with him. He says life is divided between takers and those who get taken and Willy has taught him to keep his eye on what counts. He says Asagai will find himself in a dungeon one day and ‘the takers will have the key’; he argues that he who takes the most is the smartest. Mama tells him that he is making something inside her cry and Walter answers that he wants her to understand. He is going to put on a show for ‘that white man’.
Mama reminds him that she is from five generations of people who were slaves and share croppers and none of them took money ‘that was a way of telling us we wasn’t fit to walk the earth’. Walter says he did not make this world and asks who decides which woman should wear pearls. He tells her he is a man and thinks his wife should wear them too.
He then demonstrates (with exaggeration) how he will grovel to Lindner and says he will feel fine about it and the women look at him with horror. When he goes to his room, Beneatha says he is not a man, but ‘a toothless rat’. Mama says death has come walking in her house and Beneatha says he is not her brother. At this, Mama remonstrates and asks her who gave her this privilege. She reminds her she has been taught to love him and to remember the ‘hills and valleys’ he has come through.
Lindner appears as Travis enters to tell them the moving men have arrived. Ruth tells Walter and he comes out of his room after a long minute passes. Ruth orders Travis to go out as Walter prepares to sign the papers, but Mama demands that he stays and says Walter can teach him as good as Willy Harris taught him. Walter is unnerved, but Mama is implacable: ‘You show where our five generations done come to.’
Walter looks down and explains to Lindner that he works as a chauffeur and his wife and mother do domestic work. Lindner cuts in impatiently and Walter stares at him. He then tells him about his father who almost beat a man to death for calling him a bad name and Lindner freezes. Walter continues and says they are proud people and his sister is going to be a doctor. He explains that his son is of the sixth generation of his family from this country and they have decided to move into ‘our house’ because his father earned it ‘brick by brick’. Ruth stands by him and Mama rocks as though in church and her head nods the Amen yes. He ends by telling Lindner that they do not want his money, and turns and walks away.
Lindner appeals unsuccessfully to Mama and leaves saying he hopes they know what they are letting themselves in for. Mama goes for her plant and they start to file out of the room as the removal men come in. Beneatha tells her Asagai has asked her to marry him and has invited her to Africa. Mama says she is not old enough and Walter says she should marry someone with money, such as George Murchison. He and Beneatha leave yelling vigorously at each other.
Ruth and Mama are left and Mama says that Walter ‘finally come into his manhood today’ like a rainbow after the rain. Ruth agrees with pride and exits when Walter calls for her. This leaves Mama alone in the living room and her plant is on the table as the lights start to come down. She looks at the walls and ceilings and despite herself ‘a great heaving thing rises in her’ and she puts her fist in her mouth. She goes out and the lights dim down; she then returns for the plant and leaves for the last time.
Analysis – Act Three, Scene One
Act Three begins with the same dim lighting used at the beginning of Act One and this symbolizes how the family is, at this point, going around in a circle rather than forward. This is reiterated when Beneatha articulates this point when talking to Asagai.
Her disillusionment is at its greatest and it appears her hopes – as well as the other members of the family – are reinstated when Walter refuses to grovel to Lindner after all. Walter is regarded as acting like a man at this point, and it is as though his masculinity and identity are tied to a constant need to challenge racist values.
The final note of the play asks for the concept of thinking ‘big’, and having aspirations, be accepted rather than deferred as the family leave together with a sense of unity. Despite the inevitable conflict that will arise from moving to Clybourne Park, to do anything else would be a sign of weakness.