Mama: No—there’s something come down between me and them that don’t let us understand each other and I don’t know what it is. One done almost lost his mind thinking ‘bout money all the time and the other done commence to talk about things I can’t seem to understand in no form or fashion. What is it that’s changing, Ruth? (Act I, scene i)
Mama expresses the heavy strain of the rift growing between her and her children. Walter thinks about money constantly, and Beneatha spends her time talking about things Mama doesn’t understand at all. Mama’s children are part of a modern world and hold values that are alien to her. For Mama, family is the most important thing and it seems as though her children do not agree. She is starting to feel like she can’t keep her family together.
Mama: If you a son of mine, tell her!
(WALTER picks up his keys and his coat and walks out. She continues, bitterly)You…you are a disgrace to your father’s memory. Somebody get me my hat! (Act I, scene ii)
Mama reacts angrily to Walter’s insensitivity towards his wife. When Ruth discovers she is pregnant in Act I, she tries to discuss it with Walter, but he just talks about his plans for the liquor store. Exhausted, Ruth retires to her bedroom. Mama tells Walter that she suspects Ruth is considering an abortion, and when Walter doesn’t react as strongly to the idea as Mama hoped, she lashes out at him. Walter’s lack of unity with Ruth is extremely disappointing to Mama, who values family above everything else.
(Violently)No! ‘Cause ain’t nobody with me! Not even my own mother! (Act II, scene i)
Walter goes into a rage because no one seems to want what he wants. Mama has just announced that she put a down payment on a house in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood. Walter wants to use some of the family’s insurance money to invest in a liquor store. His wife Ruth supports Mama’s plan. Walter believes that family means respecting and supporting each other’s dreams, while Mama believes the house is the only way to keep the family truly together.
Ruth: Me neither. That’s how long it been.
(Smiling again)But we went last night. The picture wasn’t much good, but that didn’t seem to matter. We went – and we held hands. (Act II, scene iii)
Ruth, smiling, details an evening she and Walter spent together. As the strain of pregnancy and poverty on Ruth and Walter’s marriage intensifies over the play, it is at this moment that Ruth sees a glimmer of hope for them. Walter finally has control of the insurance money, so he feels empowered as a male and a member of the family. He is warmer towards Ruth and more affectionate. When Walter can solidify his positions as a financial provider and male role model of the family, he can relax in his marriage.
Mama: Yes – I taught you that. Me and your daddy. But I thought I taught you something else too… I thought I taught you to love him. (Act III, scene i)
Here Mama is reminding Beneatha that she taught her not only to respect her brother, but to love him too. At this important moment in the play, Walter has reached his lowest point. He says he will take Mr. Lindner’s money in exchange for not moving to Clybourne Park. In extreme emotional distress, Walter puts on an act as a Black servant, identifying himself with the role in which Mr. Lindner’s offer has symbolically placed him. Beneatha, disgusted with Walter’s decision, says he is no longer her brother. Mama believes that even when a family member is at their lowest point, you should still love them.