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American Dream

Edward Albee

Part seven

Part six

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Mrs. Barker emerges and, stunned by the new arrival, asks who the Young Man is. Grandma announces him as the van man; after a glance at Grandma, the Young Man plays along. Upon her request, he takes her boxes out to the "van". Mrs. Barker consoles Grandma: the man who carted off her own mother was not half as nice. When Grandma appears surprised that Mrs. Barker sent her mother away, Mrs. Barker cheerfully confesses she assumed she did as well. Grandma cannot recall.

Forcefully taking Mrs. Barker aside, Grandma whispers a solution to Mommy and Daddy's dilemma into her ear. Mrs. Barker exits to find them. Now alone, Grandma looks about and sighs "Goodbye". The Young Man returns and reports that all the boxes are outside. Sadly, Grandma wonders why she takes them with her. They contain little more than the "things one accumulates"—old letters, a blind Pekinese, regrets, eighty-six years of living, sounds, her Sunday teeth, and so on.

She instructs the Young Man to stay, and they slowly exit to the elevator. Mrs. Barker, Mommy, and Daddy return, celebrating the resolution of their dilemma: they will get their satisfaction after all. Suddenly Mommy exclaims that Grandma and her boxes are missing: she has left and stolen something no less. Mrs. Barker informs her that the van man claimed her. Near tears, Mommy replies that this is impossible: the van man is their invention. She calls to Grandma.

While Daddy comforts Mommy, Grandma emerges at stage right, near the footlights. She hushes the audience, declaring that she wants to watch the events to ensue. Motioning to Mrs. Barker, she tiptoes to the front door: the Young Man appears framed within. Mrs. Barker joyfully announces Mommy and Daddy's surprise.

They introduce themselves. Truly pleased with her replacement, Mommy calls for a celebration. Now at least they know why they sent for Mrs. Barker. She asks Mrs. Barker the Young Man's name; Mrs. Barker invites her to name him as she will—perhaps he can have the name of the other one. Mommy and Daddy cannot remember his name, however. The Young Man appears with a tray, a bottle of sauterne, and five glasses. Mommy chastises him: there are only four present. Grandma indicates to the Young Man that she is absent, and he apologizes. Mommy notes he will have to learn to count: they are a rich family. They toast satisfaction. Her voice a little fuzzy from the wine, Mommy promises to tell the Young Man of the disaster they had with the last one. She muses that there is something familiar about him.

Grandma interrupts and addresses the audience. We should leave things as they are and go no further while everyone is happy or has what they want or has what they think they want. She bids the audience good night.

Analysis

Grandma makes her exit. First, however, she waxes nostalgic over her departure, finally revealing the contents of the ubiquitous wrapped boxes. To this point, the audience has only heard that these boxes are nicely wrapped, that they had to be wrapped even though wrapping frightened Grandma and hurt her fingers. Though Grandma almost reveals the boxes' purpose—and perhaps then her intention to escape—halfway through the play, Mommy quickly silences her. Perhaps Mommy and Daddy's insistence on their wrapping metaphorizes their negligence toward Grandma. In a play where an outwardly perfect Young Man becomes the son who provides satisfaction, it is probably easiest to consider Mommy and Daddy's patronizing emphasis on the boxes' wrapping as indicative of their satisfaction with surfaces. The boxes of course also serve as a diversion when the household attempts to ascertain the purpose of Mrs. Barker's visit. They perhaps then also allegorize the composition of the play, which largely consists of apparent and perpetually surprising diversions that keep the audience from the heart of the matter. In any case, it appears that Grandma has prepared for her flight from her entrance directly under the noses of Mommy and Daddy. She has eluded them through her obviousness. Perversely, she covers her last tracks by turning one of their fictions against them. With Grandma's ostensible exit with the "van man", a fiction revenges itself against the household, intruding—like the death of Martha and Georgia's child in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf—into the action. Notably, the fiction does not invade the "real" but into the equally fictional spectacle on-stage: instead, a subterfuge, a "second-order" fiction so to speak, breaks in. This fiction conceals Grandma's exit from this spectacle's frame, her exit into the "outside", the reality of the audience. This crossing back and forth—like the Grandma's crossing between first and second order fictions—only functions to contaminate that reality with the "absurdity" of the scene on-stage.

In crossing between the spaces of the action and theater, Grandma literally becomes a commentator on the spectacle from the outside. Thus the reader should note how Mommy is quick to forget Grandma's absence upon the unveiling of the American Dream; the spectator perhaps wonders why she and Daddy do not perceive her by the footlights even as Mrs. Barker and the Young Man do. Certainly throughout the play Mommy wishes for Grandma's departure. Here their blindness to Grandma's presence—exaggerated by the Young Man's error over the glasses—is also a blindness to the staged nature of the denouement and Grandma's ensuing criticism, a shared denial that aims at preserving the hope that satisfaction will be theirs.

The celebration of the Young Man's arrival, however, is certainly a joke. His unveiling is less a miracle than a vulgar transaction; note his stilted introduction to and Mommy's gratuitous reference to the family's prosperity. Mommy's intimate aside with the Young Man and Daddy's sudden sullenness conceivable suggests an attempt at seduction as well, an attempt wholly consistent with the play's fantasy of the bad mother. Thus Grandma looks on ironically; her abrupt interruption and glib farewell clearly offer up the household to the audience's judgment.

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