Summary: Act III
Asagai: Then isn’t there something wrong in a house—in a world—where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man?
Beneatha: AND YOU CANNOT ANSWER IT!
Asagai: I LIVE THE ANSWER!
One hour later on moving day, everyone is still melancholy. The stage directions indicate that even the light in the apartment looks gray. Walter sits alone and thinks. Asagai comes to help them pack and finds Beneatha questioning her choice of becoming a doctor. She no longer believes that she can help people. Instead of feeling idealistic about demanding equality for Black Americans and freeing Africans from the French and English colonizers, she now broods about basic human misery. Never-ending human misery demoralizes her, and she no longer sees a reason to fight against it. Asagai reprimands her for her lack of idealism and her attachment to the money from her father’s death. He tells Beneatha about his dream to return to Africa and help bring positive changes. He gets her excited about reform again and asks her to go home with him to Africa, saying that eventually it would be as if she had “only been away for a day.” He leaves her alone to think about his proposition.
Walter rushes in from the bedroom and out the door amid a sarcastic monologue from Beneatha. Mama enters and announces that they are not going to move. Ruth protests. Walter returns, having called Mr. Lindner and invited him back to the apartment—he intends to take his offer of money in exchange for not moving to Clybourne Park. Everyone objects to this plan, arguing that they have too much pride to accept not being able to live somewhere because of their race. Walter, very agitated, puts on an act, imitating the stereotype of a Black male servant. When he finally exits, Mama declares that he has died inside. Beneatha decides that he is no longer her brother, but Mama reminds her to love him, especially when he is so downtrodden.
The movers and Mr. Lindner arrive. Mama tells Walter to deal with Mr. Lindner, who is laying out contracts for Walter to sign. Walter starts hesitantly, but soon we see that he has changed his mind about taking Mr. Lindner’s money. His speech builds in power. He tells Mr. Lindner that the Youngers are proud and hardworking and intend to move into their new house. Mr. Lindner appeals to Mama, who defers to Walter’s statement. Ultimately, Mr. Lindner leaves with his papers unsigned. Everyone finishes packing up as the movers come to take the furniture. Mama tells Ruth that she thinks Walter has finally become a man by standing up to Mr. Lindner. Ruth agrees and is noticeably proud of her husband. Mama, who is the last to leave, looks for a moment at the empty apartment. Then she leaves, bringing her plant with her.
There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing.
[W]e have decided to move into our house. . . . We don’t want to make no trouble for nobody or fight no causes, and we will try to be good neighbors.
Analysis: Act III
Though this act begins in despair, the Youngers regain hope and motivation to pursue their dreams as it continues. Asagai renews Beneatha’s courage and pride. His discussion of colonial Africa and his stated belief that the ruling powers must fall predicts the unrest that was to occur in those countries in the decades following the 1950s. Asagai’s claim that when Beneatha arrives in Africa she will feel as if she has been gone for only a day is a claim that America can never be home to Black people, no matter how long they have lived there.
Asagai’s radicalism, which Hansberry seems to endorse, is somewhat problematic. As an extreme position of anti-assimilationism, Asagai’s views differ little from self-segregation. In practical terms, Asagai’s desire to leave white America and Mr. Lindner’s desire to keep Black people out of his neighborhood have a similar basis—the rejection of integration. Each man wants to preserve his notion of cultural identity, one through returning to an African homeland and the other through racist extortion tactics. After all, as a Nigerian, Asagai has a distinct cultural identity to preserve, and Mr. Lindner clearly feels that he has one as well.
But Beneatha, as a Black American, does not have a clear-cut cultural identity. Her ancestry may originate in Africa, but she has never been there. She and her immediate relatives have all grown up in Chicago. Though racial lines definitely exist between the area in which the Youngers currently live and the area to which they plan to move, the working-class neighborhood of Clybourne Park is clearly not an entire world away from the South Side. In harmony with an age-old argument about racial identity, it seems that the color lines that engender wrongful prejudice on the part of some (white society at large) are being reinforced by a movement (Black anti-assimilationism) to establish a minority characterized by those lines. Beneatha, after all, understands the working-class plight and language of the white people of Clybourne Park, while she is, at least initially, wholly ignorant of the language and customs of West Africa.
While Hansberry seems to use Asagai and Beneatha to make a radical point about race, she also returns Beneatha to a conservative position in terms of her feminism. Whereas Beneatha claims at the beginning of the play that she might not marry, Asagai’s marriage proposal sweeps her off of her feet. According to the stage directions, she mentions it to her mother, “[g]irlishly and unreasonably trying to pursue the conversation.” From a feminist perspective, Hansberry seems to abandon Beneatha’s development. The status of Beneatha’s education remains ambiguous, but it is clear that she intends to accept Asagai’s proposal, his beliefs, and his dreams. She maintains her independence from female convention by accepting Asagai and rejecting the financially secure and socially acceptable George Murchison. Other aspects of her previously expressed self-reliance and strong beliefs in education remain unresolved.
Walter’s dream for money and material goods remains unrealized, but he has modified his dream as he has matured. While he almost succumbs to accepting Mr. Lindner’s money, his family convinces him that they have worked too hard to have anyone tell them where they can and cannot live. In other words, his pride, work, and humanity become more important to him than his dream of money. Walter finally “come[s] into his manhood,” as Mama says, recognizing that being proud of his family is more important than having money. For Walter, the events of the play are a rite of passage. He must endure challenges in order to arrive at a more adult understanding of the important things in life.
While both of her children achieve happiness but incomplete fulfillment of their dreams, Mama realizes her dream of moving at last. As the matriarch and oldest member of the family, Mama is a testament to the potential of dreams, since she has lived to see the dream she and her husband shared fulfilled. The younger Youngers, aptly named to show the shifting emphasis from old to young, are at midpoints in their lives. With the new house, they are well on their way to the complete fulfillment of their dreams.
Mama’s last moment in the apartment and her transporting of her plant show that although she is happy about moving, she continues to cherish the memories she has accumulated throughout her life. Hansberry implies, then, that the sweetness of dream fulfillment accompanies the sweetness of the dream itself. Mama pauses on her way out of the apartment to show respect and appreciation for the hard work that went into making the dream come true. Her husband lingers in her recollections, and when she says to Ruth a few lines earlier, “Yeah—they something all right, my children,” it becomes almost an invocation of their unmistakably solid futures.