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.