American Dream Summary and Analysis

The American Dream, by Edward Albee

Setting

An apartment, set in the 1960’s. Multiple shops near by. The apartment is spacious enough for 3-4 people.

Author

Edward Albee  was adopted when he was very young by rich conservative parents, who he always felt apart from. His parents sent him to multiple boarding schools and academies, which he kept changing. He always felt like a poster child, a toy on display. He left his family in the 1940’s because he wanted to be a writer. He wrote mostly plays that critiqued American culture. He was also a homosexual man, and his parents still forced him into an engagement with a woman.

 

Characters

Grandma – A unique old woman who critiques Mommy, and tries to be caring to most others. She argues with Mommy at the beginning, then says that she is quitting her act and talks normally with Mrs. Barker. Later, she encounters the Young Man, and compliments him on being “The American Dream”. She looks around the house, missing it, before walking out with her boxes. The boxes contain her past 86 years of living, and her dog. She then leaves, escorted by the Young Man. At the end of the play, the audience can see her as an outsider, where she breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, closing out the play.

Daddy – A man who doesn’t feel right in his own gender. He doesn’t have much say in what goes on, and tends to simply accept what is happening. He shows suicidal thoughts, hoping he could just get it all over with. He is tired of what happens every day in his household. On the whole, he is a hollow character, unusual for the time period. We don’t know his job, but he recently had a gender change surgery.

Mommy – She has most of the lines in the play. As a child, she was a decietful little girl, tricking kids into giving her candy. As an adult, she argues frequently with her mother. She states that “the van man”  is coming to take Grandma away. When she doesn’t get something that she wants, she belligerently attacks the person who is denying her satisfaction. When Grandma leaves, she appears to show some remorse and misses her, however this quickly passes once the Young Man replaces Grandma.

Young Man –  He is in his twenties, and was an identical twin. He claims that he feels hollow inside, after incidents occurred to his twin.He seems  to represent a Gilded Age, where everyone just wants what they can buy with money. He is quite happy to comply with whatever if someone has money. Despite with the young man says, he is still quite caring towards others. At the end of the story when Grandma is walking out, he offers to escort her to the elevator.

Plot

The play starts with Mommy and Daddy complaining that some visitors are late. As they complain about how they can’t get satisfaction, Mommy recounts how she went to go buy a hat, and returns it after she feels the color was off. Daddy nods along and just goes with the flow.

Grandma enters the scene, carrying many nicely wrapped boxes. She complains about the bathroom which leads to Daddy insulting her. Grandma then goes off on a tangent, saying old people are always treated unfairly.  Mommy recounts her childhood remembering how nicely Grandma wrapped boxes for her during lunch. She talks about how she was able to convince her classmates to give her food everyday.

Grandma calls Mommy a tramp for marrying a rich husband, just for the money. Mommy seems proud of the fact that she was a able to marry him. The doorbell rings, and Mrs. Barker enters the scene. Mrs. Barker removes her dress, and asks Mommy and Daddy why they called her here. Grandma and Mommy get into a fight, with Mommy leaving to get Mrs. Barker some water. Daddy leaves to break Grandma’s television.

Grandma and Mrs. Barker talk about the “bumble”, Mommy and Daddy’s child from 20 years ago. They mutilated the child until it died because they were unhappy with how imperfect it was. Grandma leaves Mrs. Barker with this thought, not explaining much about it.

The Young Man enters the home, and immediately attracts the attention of Grandma. She describes him as the “American Dream”. The young man says that he will do anything for money, to which Grandma replies that there is plenty of money around here. the young man recounts his tale,  explaining how he felt being mutilated throughout his childhood. He says that he was born with a twin, and that they were separated at birth. He explains how as life went on, he started to lose the feelings that normal human beings are able to have. Grandma seems to realize that the “bumble” and the young man were twins.

Grandma decided to leave the house and replace herself with the Young Man.  Mrs. Barker explains to Mommy and Daddy how the van man came and took Grandma away. Mommy is emotional for a moment, but then Mommy and Daddy realize that the Young Man is there.  mommy directs the young man to get out some drinks, so he gets out 5 glasses. Mommy admonishes him for bringing out 5 instead of 4, signifying that she can no longer see Grandma while the Young Man still can.

The play ends with Mommy promising how she will tell the Young Man what happened to their previous child, and Grandma breaking the fourth wall, saying “Good night”.

 

Notes

There is no point of view, since this is a play. Albee is criticizing American culture and the path that we are on, and he longs for the true American past (Grandma).

The historical references here are quite important. This is a period right after WWII, with the baby boomers still growing up. Most of the people watching this play would have remembered some effects of the Depression. Grandma at one point says “150 years”, which in context means the start of the American way of life. Mrs. Barker may be related to Eleanor Roosevelt, as both have husbands that had wheelchairs, and both were women of power.

 

Quotes

“I no longer have the capacity to feel anything. I have no emotions.” – Young Man

This is showing the despair the Young Man feels inside, while looking fine on the exterior.

“She’d have you carted off too, if she thought she could get away with it” – Grandma

Grandma is pointing towards how conniving her daughter is, and how she would have Daddy removed if possible. Hints towards Mommy having power, rather than the patriarch.

“The truth is, there isn’t much you can say to old people that doesn’t sound just terrible” – Grandma

Grandma is criticizing the way the world is today, by saying how nothing that is said to her nowadays feels nice. She actively feels the passage of time.

Theme Statement

In Albee’s American Dream, he argues that modern American ideals are leading us to a path of destruction, and that our older American values are vanishing.

Grandma is an old lady who disappears with her values. The Young Man describes himself as a broken person, and laments the death of his twin. These two are important plot elements.

The way the Young Man describes his inner self being terrible, while Grandma simply says he looks nice, draws a contrast between new and old through diction. Albee is stressing that the Young Man lives a terrible existence, and just because he looks good doesn’t mean he feels good.