Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Tiny Alice is a metaphysical dramatization of the nature and the function of truth and illusion in the individual’s search for God and for self-definition. To Edward Albee, it is essential that the seeker address the internal alienation as well as the social dysfunction apparently integral to the process. Julian, the seeker, cannot reconcile his abstract perception of God with humankind’s God-image—that is, a God in man’s likeness. Therefore, he first questions his own sanity and then the sanity of society.
Critical commentary on both the initial production and the playscript has been divided. Negative production reviews call Tiny Alice insignificant, adolescent, unresolved, and incoherent. Positive analyses, however, have been equally eloquent in describing the play as substantial, penetrating, perceptive, and terrifying. Dramatic criticism also reflects a broad range of thematic analyses. Tiny Alice has been reduced to a tale of homosexual suicide or of psychotic hallucination. Other critics emphasize its abstract spiritual symbolism as a dramatic consideration of human isolation, a search for salvation, or a confrontation with the reality of death. Albee himself has explained Tiny Alice as a simple morality play to be experienced by the unconscious rather than filtered through preconditioned, conscious beliefs. Nevertheless, the majority of published criticism concerns itself with unravelling the dramatic action.
Julian, the protagonist, embodies the fragmentation between the individual and society’s institutions as well as that within the individual self. The Cardinal, representative of organized religion, and the Lawyer, symbol of civil authority, sacrifice Julian to attain their ulterior goals. Both rationalize their culpability. Through these two characters, Albee indicts the destructive potential of institutionalized thought and action. Furthermore, as he seeks interaction with his God, Julian initially contributes to his own victimization by creating a delusive wall of religio-sexual hysteria. In the final minutes of Tiny Alice, however, Julian is able to relinquish his defense against what he has perceived as God’s abandonment. Albee graphically dramatizes that, despite prefabricated functions, each individual is an isolate existing among isolates, subject to self-delusion and the betrayal of others in his search for meaning. Nevertheless, moments of actual communication, person to person and person to God, must occur for the human spirit to survive. A moment of recognition, a rare culmination of an individual’s life focus—achieved only when one is willing to give his life for that single moment—is humanity’s redemption.