Allegory Of Albee — страница 4

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departure. After all, the apartment is too small to hold all four people, and crass, shallow Mommy has definitely rejected Grandma (and her humanistic American Dream) and chosen the Young Man (and his materialistic American Dream). This realization fills Grandma with anger and inspires her greatest emotional outburst in the play. In reply to Mommy’s query, “Who rang the doorbell?” Grandma responds, “The American Dream! . . . (Shouting) The American Dream! The American Dream! Damn it!” (p. 108). On the surface level Grandma’s “Damn it!” merely reflects annoyance at Mommy’s deafness. On the other hand, her three–fold repetition of “The American Dream!” constitutes a rhetorical excess that suggests Grandma’s deeper emotional and intellectual response. Her

“Damn it!” may constitute Grandma’s great recognition that she has been displaced. In effect, she also means, “Damn it! This is the American Dream that has come to displace me.” Mommy’s choice of the Young Man and her rejection of Grandma are at the heart of the plot of the play. Albee’s own comments on the play make this clear. In describing The American Dream Albee renders Mommy’s exchange of characters abstract, even allegorical: “The play is an . . . attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society.”19 Read “Young Man” for “artificial values” and “Grandma” for “real values” and the heart of the play becomes clear. Is The American Dream “nihilist, immoral, defeatist?” Albee asks rhetorically.20 If it had been

written fully in the absurdist mode, it might suggest nihilism. If it lacked value-laden Grandma, it might be amoral. And if it showed Grandma killed, it might be defeatist. But it is none of these. For Grandma’s manipulation of the plot, moving it as she does to resolution and “satisfaction” (p. 126), shows that life does have meaning and order and that human experience is to some degree within our rational control. And the fact that Grandma does not die suggests that the old American Dream lives on somehow, somewhere. Indeed, Albee’s final disposition of Grandma is optimistic in a rather extreme way, for this play. For although Grandma leaves the stage with her boxes,21 she does not leave the theater. In fact, she moves front stage, close to the audience, from which

position she is able to communicate directly with both the Young Man, who remains inside the staged action, and the audience watching the play. At one point she signals to the Young Man that “she is not there” (p. 126) and at the very end she speaks directly to the audience: “Well, I guess that just about wraps it up. I mean, for better or worse, this is a comedy, and I don’t think we’d better go any further. No, definitely not. So, let’s leave things as they are right now. . . . while everybody’s happy . . . while everybody’s got what he wants . . . or everybody’s got what he thinks he wants. Good night, dears” (p. 127). Although her final lines are rather innocuous, the stance from which she speaks them is laden with significance. Grandma–the old American

Dream, as this essay has claimed–is not dead. Albee has not been able to bring himself to have her carted off by the “van man.” She may have been expelled from Mommy and Daddy’s apartment, but she has found a new home–and a new set of friends–in the audience of the play. Albee has passed the dream on to us. Properly perceiving the norm upon which his satire is based, we are now responsible for nurturing it in our lives in real life. The play has moved through three theatrical modes. In the opening dispute over the beige-cream-wheat colored hat, Albee establishes an absurd-seeming style and metaphysic, in which everything is relative and nothing can be known for certain. As soon as Grandma enters the scene, Albee tempers his absurdism with expressionism, the dominant

mode of the play, as Grandma and the Young Man interact and their meanings are clarified. And when Grandma finally leaves the stage Albee even moves into theatricalism, creating the alienation effect of Brechtian drama to help us see and accept what his didactic drama has been aiming at.22 Seen in these terms, The American Dream fits squarely within the American tradition of thought and theater. And Albee shows that his inspiration is less the Theatre of the Absurd of the Old World cynic Eugene Ionesco and more the theatrical expressionism of the New World optimist Thornton Wilder–who, we might recall, told Albee in 1953, “Why don’t you try writing plays?”23 Of course, the allegorical interpretation offered here errs in straight jacketing and rendering abstract a play