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American Dream

Edward Albee

Plot Overview

Context

Character List

Mommy and Daddy sit in armchairs on either side of their living room. They complain that "they"—that is, their visitors—are late. People can get away with anything these days.

Mommy recounts her purchase of a hat. She was quite happy with her new beige hat until meeting the chairwoman of her woman's club, who insisted her hat was wheat. Mommy returned to the store and made a scene until given a new hat. She got "satisfaction".

Grandma then enters with a load of neatly wrapped boxes. She dumps them at Daddy's feet and laments that the old cannot talk with anyone because they snap at them. They go deaf to avoid people talking to them in that way; ultimately, the way people talk to them causes their death. Mommy recalls that Grandma has always wrapped boxes nicely. When she was a child and poor, Grandma used to wrap her a lunchbox every day for school, and Mommy would never have the heart to rip into it. Grandma always filled it the night before with her own un-eaten dinner. After school, Mommy would bring back her lunch for Grandma to eat.

Now, having married Daddy, Mommy is rich. She has earned the right to live off his money as she used to let him mount her and "bump [his] uglies". Grandma brings in more boxes. She calls Mommy a tramp: even when she was a girl, she schemed to marry a rich man.

The doorbell rings. Grandma asks who has come: is it the "van people"? The bell rings again, and Daddy wrings his hands in doubt—perhaps they should reconsider? Mommy insists that he made up his mind. At her prompting, he opens the door. "WHAT a masculine daddy! Isn't he a masculine Daddy?" Mommy jeers.

Mrs. Barker now enters. Daddy invites Mrs. Barker to sit; Mommy offers her a cigarette, a drink, and the opportunity to cross her legs. Being a professional woman, Mrs. Barker opts for the latter. Mommy invites her to remove her dress; she readily follows. Mrs. Barker asks if "they" can assume Mommy and Daddy have invited them over the boxes.

Silenced throughout the conversation, Grandma finally says her piece: the boxes have nothing to do with Mrs. Barker's visit. Mommy threatens to have Grandma taken away. The apartment has become over-crowded with her boxes. Grandma announces that she knows why Mrs. Barker has come to visit. Mommy calls her a liar and commands Daddy to break her television.

Mommy exits to fetch Mrs. Barker some water. Mrs. Barker implores Grandma to explain her visit. 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 and an adoption agent very much like Mrs. Barker, purchasing a "bumble" of joy. Quickly they came upon trouble. The bumble cried its heart out. Then, it only had eyes for Daddy. 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 cut it off. When the bumble continued to look for its you-know-what, they chopped those off as well. Its tongue went when it called its Mommy a dirty name. Finally it died. Wanting satisfaction, its parents called the adoption agent back to the apartment to demand their money back. Mrs. Barker does not understand the relevance of Grandma's tale. Mulling the matter over, she leaves to fetch her water.

The doorbell rings, and the Young Man enters. Grandma looks him over approvingly and compliments his looks: his face is "almost insultingly good- looking in a typically American way". Indeed, as he himself notes, he his a "type". Grandma announces the boy as the American Dream. The Young Man reveals that he has come for work; he will do anything for money. Grandma reveals that she has put some money away herself. This year Grandma won $25000 in a baking contest under the pseudonym Uncle Henry and a store-bought cake. She dubbed the recipe Uncle Henry's Day-Old Cake.

Grandma asks why he says he would do anything for money. The Young Man replies that as someone who is incomplete, he must compensate. His 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 from whom he was separated from in their youth. In the passing years, he suffered countless losses: 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 left without feeling.

"Oh, my child", murmurs Grandma in pity. She suspects the Young Man is the solution of Mommy and Daddy's dilemma. Mrs. Barker emerges and, Grandma announces the Young Man as the van man. Upon her request, the Young Man takes her boxes outside. Grandma proposes the solution she has devised into Mrs. Barker's ear. The Young Man returns and reports that all the boxes are outside. Sadly, Grandma wonders why she bothers to take all the things she has accumulated over the years with her. They exit to the elevator.

Mrs. Barker, Mommy, and Daddy return, celebrating the resolution of their dilemma: they will get satisfaction after all. Suddenly Mommy exclaims that Grandma is missing. Mrs. Barker informs her that the van man claimed her. Near tears, Mommy replies that this is impossible: the van man is their invention. While Daddy comforts Mommy, Grandma emerges near the footlights. She hushes the audience, declaring that she wants to watch the events to ensue. Motioning to Mrs. Barker, she tiptoes to and opens the front door: the Young Man appears framed within. Pleased with her replacement, Mommy calls for a celebration.

Grandma then interrupts the celebration and addresses the audience: we should leave things as they are while everyone has what they think they want. She bids the audience good night.

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