In this play, the educated and wealthy George Murchison represents the black person whose own self-hatred manifests itself as contempt for other blacks. George is pedantic — an academic show-off — constantly making literary allusions even when he knows that this information is lost upon his audience. When Ruth asks George what time the play begins that he’s taking Beneatha to see, he answers pompously, “It’s an eight-thirty curtain. That’s just Chicago, though. In New York, standard curtain time is eight-forty.” Such information is wasted on Ruth, who has probably never seen a play and certainly has never been to New York. Note here that Ruth asks, “What time is the show?” as if it is a movie or entertainment other than the legitimate theater.
George’s pomposity won’t even permit him to ignore Walter’s desperate lie that he knows what New York is like; “Oh, you’ve been?” George asks in order to further belittle a man whose self-esteem is already zero. When Beneatha mentions Africa, George begins immediately to recite everything he knows about African civilizations. Even though he clearly has no respect for any of the accomplishments of the black people, still George is compelled to match his knowledge against Beneatha’s.
When George and Beneatha argue just before their inevitable breakup, he warns Beneatha not to be such a serious intellectual and free-thinking “new woman.” But, when he says, “I don’t go out with you to discuss the nature of ‘quiet desperation,'” he is showing off his own accumulation of learning. The phrase “quiet desperation” comes from a line in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”