page 1 of 2
Grandma offers Mrs. Barker a hint. About twenty years ago, a man very much like Daddy and a woman very much like Mommy lived in an apartment very much like theirs with an old woman very much like Grandma. They contacted an organization very much like the nearby Bye-Bye Adoption Service, requesting a blessing very much like the "bumble of joy" they could never have on their own. The couple very much like Mommy and Daddy revealed their intimate lives to the adoption agent who was very much like Mrs. Barker and had something very much like a penchant for pornography.
Ultimately they bought their bumble but quickly came upon trouble. Grandma hastens her tale as she is preparing to leave soon. First the bumble cried its heart out. Then, it only had eyes for Daddy. The woman like Mommy gouged its eyes out, but then it kept its nose up in the air. Next, it developed an interest in its "you-know-what"—its parents promptly cut it off. When the bumble continued to look for its you-know-what with its hands, they chopped those off as well. Its tongue went as well when it called its Mommy a dirty name. Then, as it aged, its parents discovered it had no head, guts, or spine and had feet of clay. Finally it died. Throughout the anecdote, Mrs. Barker coos in delight and titillation, cheering on the child's mutilation enthusiastically.
Wanting satisfaction, its parents called the adoption agent back to the apartment to demand their money back. Suddenly Daddy cries from off-stage that he cannot find television, Pekinese, or Grandma's room; Mommy cannot find the water. Grandma has hidden things well indeed. Mommy sticks her head into the room and threatens Grandma with the van man. How can she be so old and smug at once? She has no sense of proportion. Grandma is unmoved. Mommy insists that the resistant Mrs. Barker join her in the kitchen.
Grandma asks that Mrs. Barker not divulge the hint she has provided. Of course, Mrs. Barker has already forgotten it. Moreover, she cannot understand its relevance. Though she volunteers for the Bye-Bye Adoption Service and remembers Mommy and Daddy visiting her twenty years ago, she cannot recall anything like the Bye-Bye Adoption Service or a couple like Mommy and Daddy. Mulling the matter over, she leaves to fetch her glass of water.
Finally Grandma reveals the traumatic cause of Mrs. Barker's visit: the purchase of a botched child—indeed, a "bumble". Here the discipline and prohibition of the child—assumedly for the most part at the hands of Mommy—becomes its mutilation. The child acts out on its desires and suffers a progressive disfigurement as its punishment.
Such images of disfigurement occur throughout the play; indeed, Grandma declares the age as one of deformity. Mommy had a banana-shaped head at birth. Grandma imagines old people as twisted into the shape of a complaint. The accumulation of these monstrous births assumes almost prophetic dimensions, becoming omens in what Albee describes as the "slipping land" of America.
Take a Study Break!