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American Dream

Edward Albee

Part six

Part five

Part seven

Summary

The doorbell rings, and the Young Man enters. Grandma looks him over approvingly and asks if he is the van man. He is not. Grandma compliments his looks—she could go for him if she was 150 years younger. He should go into the movies. The unenthused Young Man concurs and muses flatly on his face: "clean-cut, Midwest farm boy type, almost insultingly good-looking in a typically American way". Grandma announces the boy as the American Dream.

Still off-stage, Mommy and Daddy ask who has rung; Grandma informs them the American Dream has arrived. The Young Man explains that he has come for work. He will do anything for money. Nervously keeping him at bay—it would look awful if they got too close—Grandma wonders if he can help with the household's dilemma. Daddy has much money; she has put some away herself as well. This year Grandma won $25000 in a baking contest under the pseudonym Uncle Henry (after all, she looks as much the old man as the old woman) and a store- bought cake. She dubbed the recipe Uncle Henry's Day-Old Cake.

Suddenly Grandma notes that the Young Man looks familiar. He replies that he is a type. She then asks why he says he would do anything for money. The Young Man replies that as someone who is incomplete, he must compensate—he can explain his lack to Grandma partially because she is so old.

The Young Man's mother died at his birth; he never knew his father. However, though without parents, the Man was not alone in his womb, having an identical twin with whom he shared an unfathomable kinship. They felt each other's breath, heartbeat, and hunger. Tragically, they were separated in their youth. In the passing years, the Young Man suffered losses: "A fall from grace a departure of innocence loss loss". He lost his heart and became unable to love. He lost his eyes and the ability to see with pity and affection. An agony in his groin left him unable to love anyone with his body. He has been "drained, torn asunder, disemboweled", left without emotions or feeling. He lets others love him. As he confesses: "I accept the syntax around me, for while I know I cannot relate…I know I must be related to.

"Oh, my child", murmurs Grandma in pity. She remarks that she was mistaken when she thought she knew him: she once knew someone very much like him or perhaps like who he once was. The Young Man warns her that what he said may not be true. After all, in his profession—Grandma hushes him. The Young Man bows his head in acquiescence. To be more precise, Grandma notes that this someone she knew was one who might have become very much like him might have turned out to be. She suspects the Young Man has found himself as job.

The Young Man asks about his duties, and Mrs. Barker calls from off-stage. Grandma has to go into "her act" now—the Young Man will have to play it by ear unless they get a chance to speak again.

Analysis

Here the Young Man recounts the allegory of the American Dream. Certainly, facing characters named "Mommy" and "Daddy", the reader has been aware of the play's allegorical intentions from the outset. Here the play betrays a certain embarrassment around the potential heavy-handedness of allegory: note the Dream's self-conscious "joke" that he is a "type".

As Grandma notes, the Young Man is what his murdered double might have become—note the elegiac use of the conditional—had he been. Again, this double was a child who suffered progressive disfigurement under Mommy's discipline. A blond, iconic, Midwestern beauty, the Young Man's physiognomy stands in clear contrast with the bumble of joy, the spineless, clay-footed, and wholly disfigured specter of his twin brother. With the murder of his double, he is now nothing but a "type", externally perfect but disemboweled of his inner life. Note the homosociality of the Dream's tale: his first lost love is a male twin; that twin loses his heart upon the loss of this brother and his eyes when he proves to love Daddy alone. He does so of course at the hands of a terrorizing, phobic Mommy.

Robbed of his desire, the Young Man will do anything for money to compensate for his lack. Thus he becomes a serviceable object, unable to relate but necessarily related to. Certainly this adapts him to Mommy and Daddy's household, a place where children—and the dreams or fantasies they might embody for their parents—are utterly substitutable in the attempt to trade up and get "satisfaction". Tellingly, Mrs. Barker will even suggest that they name the Young Man whatever they named the bumble.

At the same time, of course, the Young Man is not simply a prospective son, but the personification of the American Dream. Albee's allegory of the American Dream is certainly strange. The American Dream does not appear as that which one lives out or even as ideology, but as a person and possession. One possible reading of this allegory involves the all-important theatrical concept of the mask. Linked indissolubly, the twins are in some sense figures for the actor and his mask. The Young Man as American Dream is a mask without a man behind it, a personification without a person. The murder of his double is the murder of the man behind the mask, the elimination of the unruly body—indeed, the "bumble"—that can only mould itself into the perfect form through its mutilation. Thus Albee offers a sinister account of the American Dream, imagining it as a mask disemboweled of man and his excesses.

This scene introduces a certain hiatus into the play, radically altering its tone, dialogue, and action. The Dream's lament is almost lyrical, its ellipses more elegiac than menacing. The scene of its narration evokes an almost sacred solemnity: the Dream must be sure—in a play structured by misapprehension and misunderstanding—that Grandma is old enough to understand. The acerbic Grandma drops her "act", prefiguring her imminent exit from the spectacle of the household. Reduced to pity, she can only murmur "Oh my child"—this marks the only gesture of familial affection in the play.

Notably Grandma hushes the Dream when he warns that he may be lying out of professional habit. Does Albee then exclude the Dream's tale from the rest of the dialogue's deceits and defenses? Perhaps Grandma's gesture is an overture to the audience, asking that they suspend their disbelief before the allegory? Or does she warn the Dream that such an admission of artifice might threaten the allegory's credibility?

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