Our class conversations always steer towards the relationship between Mama, Walter, and Beneatha, and because perspective is key, analyzing Ruth’s character will most certainly shed some new light on the personality of each of her family members. Ruth offers an interesting perspective of Walter, Mama, and Beneatha because she has married into the family, and was not raised by Mama and Big Walter. Ruth’s outsider opinions and actions towards each member for the family are different because of the unique relationships she has with each of the characters.
Starting with the matriarch of the family, the first scene of Mama and Ruth together really highlights some tensions in their relationship. Like when we meet all people for the first time, we make first impressions; our first impression of Ruth was a weary wife and mother that had little to hope for. Our first impression of Mama is a strong substantial woman who has defiantly stood the test of time. With this perspective of Ruth and Mama, it clearly puts Mama higher in the pecking order than Ruth, and it is even more evident in scene I; “Ruth: (Angrily) I feed My son Lena! Mama: I ain’t meddling…” (38) Mama continues to alienate Ruth for a few more lines after this one; she judges Ruth for the way she cares for her son and husband throughout out the play. What this scene shows about Mama, from Ruth’s perspective, is that she can be overbearing and righteous at times. Ruth is the only one who can give this unique perspective because Beneatha and Walter haven’t been undermined by Mama in the way Ruth has. Mama approaches Ruth differently than Walter and Beneatha. Mama sees their relationship as a mentorship, and becomes offended when Ruth doesn’t follow in her footsteps. This comes to a climax when Mama is telling her to keep her child. When Ruth subtly admits that she does not want to keep the child, Mama disregards it hastily with confidence that Ruth will eventually come around. When Ruth admits to Walter that she put down a deposit and intends to get rid of the baby, Mama doesn’t even look at Ruth; she, in a way, attempts to show Ruth how good of a Mother she is by just letting Walter put his own foot down. When that doesn’t happen and he walks out the door we see Mama’s character crack a little bit; we see how she realizes she may have not done such a good job at raising her children after all. Mama is a very complex character and her relationship with Ruth is imperative to see all of the important aspects of her personality.
Ruth’s relationship with, and opinions of Walter and Beneatha also prove to be fruitful. At so many points during the play, when Beneatha has done something silly or obtrusive, she commentates of the rudeness or fault of her actions in a way Mama wouldn’t. When Beneatha finds out Ruth is pregnant, Beneatha’s; reaction is less than polite; “Beneatha: Did you plan it, Ruth? Ruth: Mind your own business. Beneatha: It is my business- where is he going to live, on the roof?” (56). This reveals that Beneatha is quite self-absorbed at times, and despite her education, blind to everyone’s feelings and opinions. When Mama or Walter interact with Beneatha it doesn’t stand out as much because they are a family, and families fight and say things they don’t mean all the time. When it comes to Walter, Ruth’s relationship with Walter almost reveals more about Mama and Big Walter than Walter himself. The way that Walter treats Ruth at times reflects badly on Mama and Big Walter for raising him to be this way. What Ruth reveals about Walters character is his inability think more of others than himself; When Walter finds out that Ruth is having a baby and intends to get rid of it, it takes him days to come around and be there for Ruth because he is too wrapped up in his own life to consider that his problems might not be as important as someone else’s. The stages Walter is at in Growing up is also clearly measured within his marriage to Ruth. Ruth can only offer this perspective because the majority of way Mama treated Walter throughout the play only allowed him to act like a child; and as a result, the way he treated Ruth became a marker for the ways in which he had grown at every stage of the play.
Ruth is arguably the character with the most incite in the play as to who each of the characters are. Looking through her perspective at each of the characters will reveal more aspects of their personalities than we would find by just analyzing each characters’ own visions of themselves.
- What other personality traits do you think Ruth brings out in each of the characters?
- What about Ruth’s Personality brings out these unique personality traits in the other characters?
- How would you describe Ruth’s character through the eyes of Mama, Beneatha, Travis, or Beneatha? (chose one)