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American Dream

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Summary

Part five

Summary Part five

In this case, however, corporeal disfigurements involve a disfigurement of language as well. Indeed, the violence perpetrated on the child follows a set of figures of speech. The child cries its heart out; it only has eyes for Daddy, and so Mommy gouges them. The child's dismemberment recalls Freud's notion of the hypochondriac's "organ speech", in which certain particularly vexing ideas are translated into bodily effects. However, Mommy does not only violate the bumble's body. She disfigures language as well, violently literalizing a figure of speech and collapsing it onto the body. Importantly, the violence on the body follows this first disfigurement. Disfigurement in the rhetorical sense becomes the occasion for disfigurement corporeally. The play disfigures language and the body in the same gesture. Such disfigurements are further examples of how the play explores the relationship between language and violence.

Though more a revelation than a hint, Grandma's story fails to produce any effect on its listener. Mrs. Barker provides the play's most explicit example of defense in her failure to apprehend Grandma's thinly veiled and brutally sarcastic chronicle. This defense involves another failed trope, one which Mrs. Barker confessed not particularly liking earlier: the simile. Here Mrs. Barker in a sense takes the trope too literally, emphasizing the difference established by the "very much like"—a modifier that in large part only refers to the fact that the characters have aged. She denies Grandma's "very much like" and thus obliterates any similarity between the figures of Grandma's story and the players on-stage. The Bye-Bye Adoption Service is the Bye-Bye Adoption Service; anything "like" it is not it. She cannot relate Grandma's hint to her visit; for her, the simile fails. Nevertheless, she clearly knows the traumatic occasion for her visit: her attempt at defense is decidedly absurd.

As we will see, the story of the dismembered child sets up the central allegory of the play. In the sequence to come, the bumble's lost twin, the Young Man, will appear to replace him as the new son of the household. He will rehearse the trajectory of Grandma's tale, recounting how he suffers losses parallel to the punishments meted out to his brother. His brother's disfigurement will leave him a perfect "type", a clean-cut and handsome icon who has been disemboweled, robbed of emotion and feeling, incomplete in spite of its beauty, its ideal form. As such a type, voided of interiority, the Young Man becomes the commodity that the "bumble of joy" could not in its unruliness, finally giving Mommy and Daddy the "satisfaction" that they paid for.