The background of the story is the rising aspirations among the African Americans who wanted to have a social transformation. There was an increasing awareness among these groups to take part in the economic activities and reap the same benefits as the other races and people. The desire for a big house, better car and rest of the material riches became a staple for these families that wanted to rise up the ladder of social hierarchy.
The story is set in an impoverished black ghetto where the Youngers are crammed in a small apartment. The house has a living room, kitchen and couple of bedrooms. The neighbor is located in the American city of Chicago in the middle of twentieth century which became a crucible for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 70s.
IMAGERY AND SYMBOLS
The text is replete with use of imagery to evoke a response form the readers. Mama Lena’s plants are used to represent her roots and family which are the markers of her identity. Insects and pests are used as a symbol of the decrepit nature of their household. New house and its well lit windows are a symbol of a fresh start with rays of hope. There are other symbols as well like Benethea’s naturally curly hairs which is a representation of her ethnicity and identity. The insurance money symbolizes the sacrifices Lena and her husband made to help construct a life for their kids. It also represents the dangers and pitfalls of greed and material persuasions.
The story has several moments of dramatic and situational irony. Walter is ready to pay bribe to the officer in order to start his business however it is his friend that actually robs him of his money. The Youngers are concerned with Walter’s alcoholism but ironically he is planning on using liquor (selling) to find out a way of his poverty. Mr. Lindner claims that he has come to welcome the Youngers to the neighborhood whereas he is there to bribe them into leaving the neighborhood. Walter welcomes his friend Bobo and inquires about the business. However, his friend is there to inform him that they have no business as they have been robed buy their trusted friend. Walter stands up and leaves after hearing about Ruth’s abortion plans. However, ironically Mama Lena asks him when he would stand up and be a man and asks Ruth to stop going ahead with her abortion.
There are several motifs in the story. Home is the central motif in the story around which the whole action revolves, be it the apartment or the new house. Sibling rivalry is another motif that is repeated and expressed to show distinctive and differing views of Benethea and her brother Walter. Another motif is alcohol as even though the family is concerned with Walter’s drinking habits, he is determined to open a liquor business.
The insurance money is a motif that is repeated through the text both a chance of redemption but also as a possible pitfall.