Study Guide

The American Dream

by Edward Albee

The American Dream Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The American Dream was the fourth play written by Albee. It received its American premiere at the York Playhouse on January 24, 1961, and ran for 370 performances. Four of the five characters in the play—Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, and Young Man—also appeared in an earlier Albee work, The Sandbox. Unlike The Zoo Story, The American Dream is an absurdist play.

The long one-act is structured into three major sections and eleven groupings of the five characters. The first part deals with the family unit itself—Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma—and the decision of whether Grandma should be put into a nursing home. The second section involves the introduction of Mrs. Barker, a social chum of Mommy, who once worked for the Bye-Bye Adoption Service. The final part begins with the arrival of the Young Man and Grandma’s attempt to keep from being institutionalized.

In The American Dream, Albee attempts to show that the much-vaunted American Way of Life is absurd. The playwright seeks to show how deprived of meaning Americans’ normal human feelings and relationships have become. He points out that people go through the ritualistic motions of loving and caring for one another, and respond to sexual attractiveness or neighborly concerns, but no feelings are engaged. All five characters may speak to each other, but they live in their own worlds, isolated from one another. Their repetitive language of endearments to each other is deflated and hollow.

The play opens with Mommy and Daddy waiting for someone to come and fix the toilet. Mommy tells a story about buying a beige-colored hat, but she exchanges it when her club chairwoman, Mrs. Barker,...

(The entire section is 699 words.)