Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The American Dream is about the absurdity of late twentieth century America. It is a comedy in the sense that it points out the huge discrepancy between what Americans want and what they get. Mommy’s hat is an exaggerated example of frustrated expectations; she behaves as though she knows what she wants, yet she is easily swayed by the opinions of others, by the “authority” who tells her the true color of her hat. She realizes there is something “artificial” about her choices and about her environment, but she seems powerless to act as an individual. She can only act as a “Mommy.”

The American Dream was written at the very end of the 1950’s, at the end of America’s first great period of mass consumerism, convenience foods, and so on. Social critics tend to refer to the 1950’s as a great era of conformity in which American values seemed processed, mass produced, and less individualized. In his play, Albee is suggesting the ultimate consequences of this urge toward uniformity. Thus Mommy must try to convince Daddy of his masculinity, telling him that he indeed has the ability to act on his own.

Grandma is clearly a holdover from an earlier generation who knows how to speak her mind. She is the only character who does not rely on euphemisms—society’s expressions that cover up reality. She actually wants to talk about aging and about her infirmities. Mommy and Daddy, on the other hand, simply want a new...

(The entire section is 443 words.)