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American Dream

Edward Albee




An archetypal "bad mother", Mommy is the household's sadistic disciplinarian, dismissing Grandma and infantilizing Daddy at every turn. She recalls a number of other of Albee's female characters, most notably Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Like Martha, Mommy's speech distinguishes itself as the most violent in the household in its strident tone, its exaggerated sarcasm, its shrillness, its scorn and derision. As Grandma makes clear, Mommy is a deceitful gold-digger who has married Daddy for his money. Her sadism runs almost entirely unchecked—certainly one of the most disturbing aspects of Albee's theater is its characters' violently infantile behavior. At some level, the play leaves the spectator enthralled with Mommy's violence; the effect is generates is a masochistic submission to her rage.

As household disciplinarian, Mommy emasculates Daddy relentlessly, mocking his aspirations, ridiculing his manliness with her encouragement, prompting and repeating his speech in a patronizing fashion, terrorizing him into obedience, and onward. She also of course mutilates the couple's first child—the so- called "bumble of joy"—in the course of disciplining him.

In his preface, Albee poses The American Dream as a critique of emasculation on the "American Scene". With this critique in mind, the potential misogyny in the figure of Mommy and Albee's theater in general becomes clear. As Mrs. Barker unwittingly notes, the "village idiot" is the proponent of Woman Love. Neither Mommy nor Grandma appear to think highly of Woman Love either; notably Mommy's own relationship with Grandma is defined by bitter debts, rivalries, and resentment.

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