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American Dream

Edward Albee

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

Grandma -  The ironic commentator of the play, Grandma stands in for the figure of the "absurdist" dramaturge: indeed she even ultimately exits the frame of the action to become its director. Her crossing between the spaces of the action and theater is prefigured by her marginal position in what Albee describes as the "American Scene". In her many sardonic epigrams, she will position herself—as an "old person"—at the margins of social intercourse. Grandma's marginality sets her apart from the spectacle before her. Notably, she is the only character to underline the fact that she is staging a masquerade, what she describes as her "act". Grandma also defends herself against the violence of social intercourse include through "absurdist" devices—for example: her apparent deafness, senility, memory lapses, epigrammatic wit, and general obscenity. This decidedly anti-social obscenity (L. ob-scaenus, off- scene) prefigures her departure from the household, Grandma literally becoming a commentator on the action from the outside who pointedly delivers the party up to the audience's judgment.

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Mommy -  An archetypal "bad mother", Mommy is the household's sadistic disciplinarian, dismissing Grandma and infantilizing Daddy. 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. Her sadism runs almost entirely unchecked—certainly one of the most disturbing aspects of Albee's theater is its characters' violently infantile behavior. Thus she emasculates Daddy at every turn and of course also mutilates the couple's first child—the so- called "bumble of joy"—in the course of disciplining him.

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Daddy -  Under Mommy's reign of terror, Daddy is a negative entity—indeed, early in the play Mommy reduces his speech to the echo of hers. Bent to Mommy's will, he relies on her entirely for the confirmation of his masculinity. Like Mommy, Daddy also displays a disturbing propensity for infantile behavior. Whereas Mommy becomes the tyrannical sadist in her regression, however, Daddy characteristically becomes the child needing punishment.

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The Young Man  -  A blond, Midwestern beauty, the Young Man describes himself as a "type"; upon their introduction, Grandma dubs him the "American Dream". He is the product of the murder of his lost identical twin who stands against him in his physical deformity—as Grandma notes, the party knows him as the "bumble". As he tells Grandma, he has suffered the progressive loss of all feeling and desire, losses that, unbeknownst to him, correspond to the mutilations Mommy inflicted on his brother to punish his bodily excesses. These losses have left him a shell, physically perfect but a void within. Ironically, he ultimately becomes the child that Mommy believes will provide her with satisfaction, replacing the murdered bumble.

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Mrs. Barker  -  A caricature of the socially responsible American housewife, Mrs. Barker is the flighty and ingenuous volunteer from the Bye-Bye Adoption Service who delivered the "bumble" to Mommy and Daddy twenty years ago and has returned, upon their request, to provide them with the "satisfaction" they deserve. Of course, she remains steadfastly ignorant of the purpose of her visit even as she remains fully aware of her shared history with the household, thereby underscoring that history's traumatic nature. In many respects she plays a role similar to Honey's in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf—that of an outsider who cannot easily always follow the household's conversational games. Indeed, she almost faints as a result.

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