Telling the story of a lower-class African-American family set in 1950s Chicago, this play explores themes of racial prejudice, the fulfillment and compromise of dreams, identity, family, and assimilation.
The play begins as Beneatha and Walter discuss with their mother what to do with the money they received after their father died. Beneatha, who dreams of becoming a doctor, wishes to use it for medical school, while Walter wants to invest it into a liquor store. Wishing to keep her family together, Mama doesn’t agree with either of her children and wants to buy a home.
Walter and his friend Willy Harris discuss plans for the liquor store. Joseph Asagai and Beneatha flirt, although George is courting Beneatha. Ruth reveals to Walter that she is pregnant and wants an abortion, which devastates Mama, although Ruth later daydreams or what it would be like to have another child.
Influenced by Joseph, Beneatha tries to tap into her African identity and is ridiculed by Walter. Walter and George get into an argument, and Beneatha later kicks George out.
To Walter’s dismay, he discovers his mother has put a down payment on a house in an all-White neighborhood. Visited by their neighbor Mrs. Johnson, the Youngers are warned of their plan to move into the neighborhood, and Karl Lindner also dissuades the family from moving, offering a buyout.
After Beneatha confronts Walter for missing work and discovers he feels a failure as the “man of the house,” their mother encourages Walter to invest the rest of the money into the liquor store. Mama is furious after Bobo says that Willy ran off with Walter’s investment, and the family is near financial ruin.
Joseph tries to convince Beneatha to move to Africa with him, and she contemplates practicing medicine there, although Beneatha’s story is left unfinished.
Lindner tries to convince Walter to accept his offer, but to Mama’s delight, he doesn’t take the money and becomes a man in her eyes, and the family decides to continue with the plan to move into the white neighborhood. Ruth, inspired by a bigger house and a fresh start, decides to keep the baby. Ultimately, Mama’s dream of keeping her family together prevails.