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American Dream

Edward Albee

Part two

Part one

Part three

Summary

Daddy reproaches Mommy for being such a deceitful girl. She protests that they were poor; now, having married Daddy, she is rich. Even Grandma feels rich, though she does not know Daddy wants her in a nursing home. Daddy protests that he would never send her away. Mommy would however: she cannot stand Grandma's constant housework. At the same time, one cannot simply live off of people.

She can, however, as she married Daddy and used to let him mount her and "bump [his] uglies"; she has earned the right to his money upon his death. Grandma enters with more boxes. When Daddy compliments her on the wrapping, she reproaches him anew for saying that she whimpered in the bathroom. Old people make all sorts of noises—whimpers, cries, belches, stomach rumblings, and so on. They wake up screaming in the middle of the night to discover they have not been sleeping and when asleep, they cannot wake for the longest time.

"Homilies!" Mommy cries. Grandma continues, calling Mommy a tramp, trollop, and trull. Even since she was a little girl, she schemed to marry a rich man: didn't she warn Daddy against marrying her? Mommy protests that Grandma is her mother, not Daddy's—Grandma has forgotten that detail. She complains that Mommy should have had Daddy set her up in the fur business or helped her become a singer. She has only kept her around to help protect herself whenever Daddy got fresh. But now Daddy would rather sleep with her than Mommy.

Daddy has been sick, however, and does not want anyone. "I just want to get everything over with" he sighs. Mommy agrees: why are they so late? "Who? Who?" hoots an owl-like Grandma. Mommy insists that Grandma knows who. She compliments the boxes again. Grandma replies that it hurt her fingers and frightened her to do it, but it had to be done. Mommy orders her to bed; Grandma responds that she wants to stay and watch.

The doorbell rings. Grandma asks who is it again: is it the "van people", finally come to take her away? Daddy assures her that it is not. The bell rings again, and Daddy wrings his hands in doubt—perhaps they should reconsider? Mommy insists that he made up his mind, that he was "masculine and decisive". At her prompting, he opens the door. "WHAT a masculine daddy! Isn't he a masculine Daddy?" Mommy explains. Grandma refuses to participate in the spectacle.

Mrs. Barker enters. Remarking on her lateness, Mommy reminds her that she was here once before. Grandma insists that she does not see "them". Barker assures her that they are here. Grandma does not remember her.

Analysis

Much like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this sequence continues to demonstrate the violence of the American Scene by airing what should remain unspoken in social intercourse—the "obscene". In particular, Mommy and Grandma make the mercenary underpinnings of Mommy's marriage known. Mommy claims her right to live off of Daddy because she used to provide him with sex. Grandma mimics Mommy as a gold digging little girl; on her own part, her demand for "allowance" from Mommy and Daddy becomes a demand for "an allowance".

With these mercenary underpinnings in mind, note again the debts and rivalries between Mommy and Grandma. Grandma feels Mommy has cheated her of a career she could have had Daddy fund; Mommy only brought her into the house to flee Daddy's advances. Now Daddy does not want her, she taunts; indeed, he would rather sleep with her. Intergenerational loyalties are quickly forgotten here: Grandma forgets Mommy is her daughter. Later, Grandma will be unable to recall whether she put her own mother away; Mommy will quickly forget Grandma's departure. Amidst Mommy and Grandma's wrangling, Daddy has been sick, not wanting to sleep in the apartment. "I just want to get everything over with" he remarks. A double entendre, this reference to "their" imminent visit is certainly a confession of suicidal yearnings as well.

As in the sequence previous, the household continues to wait for "them", a party that remains unidentified despite Grandma's comic hooting: "Who? Who?" These others for whom the household waits assume menacing proportions: perhaps they are the "van people", come to take Grandma away. "They" listen at the apartment door. Ultimately, when "they" arrive, however, Grandma insists that she cannot see them. Indeed, it would seem "they" are no one but Mrs. Barker. At times, it seems Mrs. Barker is their representative. At others, the inappropriate use of plural ("they", "them") despite Mrs. Barker's singularity proposes and makes their absence painfully obvious. Grandma does not recognize their guest-perhaps Mrs. Barker was younger when they had an occasion to meet. As we will see, the apparent uncertainty surrounding Mrs. Barker's and "their" identity lies in "their" relation to the household's most intimate trauma.

Grandma hooting ("Who? Who?") is also another elaboration of her "absurdism", Grandma appearing at once "senile", infantile, and owl-like nevertheless in her wisdom. Again prefiguring her ultimate move outside the action's frame, she establishes herself as a spectator, childishly insisting that Mommy and Daddy let her stay up and watch. Her insistence on watching notwithstanding, she will soon again appear in resistance to the violent spectacle before her. Thus she will refuse to watch Daddy's attempt, under Mommy's pointedly exaggerated encouragement, to open the door and demonstrate his masculinity, an attempt that only emasculates him further.

Grandma's ethical resistance to the spectacle's violence also includes her interruption of others' speech, speech that, as discussed earlier, torments her as an old person. Note here, for example, how Mommy and Daddy patronizingly compliment Grandma's boxes or how Mommy continually attempts to silence her. Thus old people find themselves reduced to noises, half of which are involuntary, even bestial-whimpers, cries, belches, and hollow rumblings, and screams, sounds that are largely "obscene". Indeed, Grandma insists that one cannot expect old people to speak precisely because they are obscene. Pitting her against what the Young Man will describe as the "syntax" of the American Scene, Grandma's obscenity (L. ob-scaenus, off-scene) also prefigures her break out of the action's frame.

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