A Raisin in the Sun Act 1, Scene 1: Friday morning
Set in Chicago's Southside at some point between World War II and the present, the Younger living room is described in great detail before any action of the play begins. It has been lived in well by many people and is shaped by an atmosphere of love.
"Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 3.
Ruth, a 35-year-old woman, calls to her young boy sleeping on the sofa in the living room. She must have been beautiful in her youth, but is now settled with her husband Walter Lee and his family in the small Chicago house. She calls to her son and husband to get ready, but before any normal, daily conversation can begin, Walter asks about the mail. "Check coming today?" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 6. This phrase is perpetually repeated as a chorus throughout the rest of the play. Walter and Ruth continue bickering over the morning paper and breakfast.
Their son Travis is taking time in the bathroom getting ready in the morning, causing Ruth to be late for work and causing another argument between Walter Lee and Ruth over his late night chattering in the living room. Because they are poor, Travis must sleep on the couch, and consequently, is kept awake by Walter Lee's acquaintances discussing current events and poker all night in the same room, much to Ruth's dismay.
Walter Lee puts down his wife, as Travis is ready to go to school. He remembers that the day is Friday and that the check should be coming in the mail the next day. He also reminds his parents that he must bring fifty cents to school. Ruth tells him that they have no money and that he should not ask his grandmamma for it.
As Travis leaves on errands for Ruth and for school, the two share a special mother-son moment. They enact the same routine each morning, it seems, and as Ruth kisses him goodbye, she says, "Now - whose little old angry man are you?" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 11. They mimic one another and Walter Lee enters. Travis wants to work at the grocery store after school bagging food so that he can make money. Walter Lee playfully gives him the fifty cents he needs plus fifty more for fun, obviously taking the upper hand on Ruth's downright denial.
Walter attempts to explain to Ruth about the necessity for a woman to back up her man. He also complains that Ruth listens only to his mama, instead of himself or his sister Beneatha. Walter tells Ruth about his proposition to make a lot of money with his friends, Willy and Bobo.
"Yeah. You see, this little liquor store we got in mind cost seventy-five thousand and we figured the initial investment on the place be 'bout thirty thousand, see. That be ten thousand each... Baby, don't nothing happen for you in this world 'less you pay somebody off!" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 14-15.
Ruth is reluctant to buy into Walter Lee's ideas and tells him to eat his eggs. Walter argues, saying he doesn't want to eat any more. Walter Lee looks at his life and thinks of nothing but failure. He attributes his poor lifestyle to his color and his nonsupportive wife. Ruth tells him that his current status has less to do with his color than with his ambition, or lack thereof. "We one group of men tied to a race of women with small minds" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 17.
Walter Lee's 20-year-old sister, Beneatha (called Bennie) walks into the living room, exhausted from lack of sleep, and waiting to use the bathroom. Ruth and Walter question her with pride as to which medical school she plans to attend. However, as soon as the check is mentioned, arguments reenter the Younger household. Bennie reminds Walter Lee that the check belongs to Mama, despite Walter Lee's frustration that it may be used to help Bennie through school. He thinks that she should give something back to the family. Bennie and Walter Lee bicker as the sibling rivalry crescendos. Bennie continues to tell him that she doesn't care about the money and that it belongs to Mama, while Walter Lee insists that Bennie is selfish and shouldn't try to become something so great. Walter Lee storms out of the house to go to work.
Mama enters the living room with regal steps. She is "a woman who has adjusted to many things in life and overcome many more, her face is full of strength. She has, we can see, wit and faith of a kind that keep her eyes lit and full of interest and expectancy. She is, in a word, a beautiful woman. Her bearing is perhaps most like the noble bearing of the women of the Hereros of Southwest Africa - rather as if she imagines that as she walks she still bears a basket or a vessel upon her head" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 22.
Lena (who is called Mama throughout the play) discusses Travis's upbringing with Ruth and Bennie, whom she believes to be too thin. Every word out of her mouth sounds like it's coming from the protective, loving matriarch, who cares about her argumentative struggling family. Mama can tell that her that her children have been doing nothing but fighting about money and is angry, because she doesn't like money destroying a family's happiness. She thinks it is not Christian to do so.
Ruth tries to convince Mama that Walter Lee needs the money from the check to invest in a liquor store. "Mama, something is happening between Walter and me. I don't know what it is - but he needs something - something I can't give him any more. He needs this chance, Lena" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 25. Mama is still upset that money is causing such strife around the house, but refuses to give any money or blessings to anything supporting alcohol.
Ruth tells Mama that she must rush to work. Mama tells her to stay in because she looks ill, however, Ruth reminds her that she needs to make money, despite her weaknesses. Ruth also attempts to convince Mama that the check coming is her money and that she should do something unique with it, like travel to Europe like white women. She tells Ruth that she may put some of the money away for Beneatha's schooling, or rather a down payment on a new home for everyone, where Travis can grow up more comfortably and they can all share together. Mama gets lost in thought while thinking of her late husband, Big Walter, and the dreams they used to have years ago when they moved into the house in which everyone still lives. She remembers how hard he worked and how much he loved his children. He was never the same after Lena lost their first child, Claude. Mama compares Walter Lee to Big Walter and remembers:
"Big Walter used to say, he'd get right wet in the eyes sometimes, lean his head back with the water standing in his eyes and say, 'Seem like God didn't see fit to give the black man nothing but dreams - but He did give us children to make them dreams seem worth while'" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 29.
Beneatha enters the room, enraged that the woman above has been vacuuming all morning, making a raucous. Bennie bickers with both Ruth and Mama about her life, her choices to change her interests and forms of personal self-expression, and the men in her life. She divulges information that she plans to learn guitar and that she doesn't truly like the boy she is dating, George Murchison, because he is rich and pompous. Ruth doesn't understand why Bennie puts down someone with money, because money is obviously the center of their problems and world. Bennie responds to these claims with anger. She insults her brother Walter Lee and Ruth in front of the family and claims that she would not marry George Murchison to save her own family. "The Murchisons are honest-to-God-real-live-rich-colored people, and the only people in the world who are more snobbish than rich white people are rich colored people. I thought everybody knew that" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 34. Bennie insists upon her becoming a doctor on her own and living as an independent woman, shocking both Ruth and Mama. Mama is appalled that Bennie continues to take God's name in vain. Bennie yells at Mama for her views on religion, and states that she doesn't believe there is a God. She believes that people make the changes in the world. As soon as she utters these words, Mama walks over to her and slaps her across the face. She tells her to repeat the words, "In my mother's house there is still God" Act 1, Scene 1, pg. 37. Bennie thinks that Mama is tyrannical and leaves.
Ruth and Lena discuss the changes in time and the changes in her relationship with her children, Walter and Beneatha. She worries that Walter is obsessed with money and Bennie with things she cannot understand in any fashion. Ruth tries to comfort her, by telling her that she raised two strong willed children because she is strong willed. As Mama is looking at an old plant and picturing in her head the garden she always desired, Ruth faints into a chair.