A A is the ‘‘tall woman’’ of the play’s title. As the elder version of B and C, A is an intriguing blend of contradictions. In the first act, while she is being cared for by B and C, she is alternately childish and dignified, panic-stricken and stoic.
A’s narrative is punctuated by crude, bigoted comments. The Italian man her sister married was ‘‘a wop.’’ The domestic servants she knew as a girl ‘‘knew their place; they were polite, and wellbehaved; none of those uppity niggers, the city ones.’’
A’s intolerance has proven especially harmful in her relationship with her homosexual son. She found his lifestyle and sexual preferences abhorrent, and he left home because of her attitude. For twenty years they did not see one another, and she ultimately regrets it.
In the second act, Albee provides sympathetic glimpses of A. As she watches herself dying, she interacts with her two younger selves and earns at least grudging respect and admiration for her long life. Through her character, Albee seems to suggest that old age provides unique insight into the human condition, and prepares us for death. ‘‘That’s the happiest moment,’’ says A in the final words of the play. ‘‘When it’s all done. When we can stop. When we can stop.’’
B B turns out to be two different characters. During the first act, she is A’s live-in caretaker. In this role, she is a servant to the older woman, helping her eat, dress, move around, and go to the bathroom. She also functions as a buffer between A and C, the youngest of the women. While C finds A’s antics pathetic and ridiculous, B is more sympathetic.
In the second act, B is the ‘‘tall woman’’ at fifty-two years old. She is able to reflect on the first half of her life with some measure of objectivity. She urges C to accept life’s vicissitudes and unfairness. While C is idealistic and A is resigned, B is cynical. For instance, although her marriage is an unhappy one, she is pragmatic; she settles for the financial security in lieu of sexual fidelity.
In spite of her problems, however, she insists middle-age is the best age to be. ‘‘This must be the happiest time,’’ she tells A, C and the audience, ‘‘half of being adult done, the rest ahead of me. Old enough to be a little wise, past being really dumb.’’
The Boy The Boy is the ‘‘tall woman’s’’ estranged son. He is discussed during the first act, but doesn’t appear until the second act. Even then, it is only for a short time; he sits at her bedside after her stroke and never says a word. From A and B, the audience learns that the boy is gay, and his mother did not approve of his sexuality or his lifestyle. During an argument while he was still a teenager, his mother threatened to throw him out of the house. Feeling rejected and betrayed, he left on his own accord. The two were estranged for twenty years.
C In the first act, C functions as a representative of A’s lawyer, visiting on business. It seems that A has not been signing all her checks and paying all her bills, and C has come to put her accounts in proper order.
Despite her professional role, she is harshly critical of A’s personality. She argues with A about her real age, mocks her for her faulty memory, and is offended by her bigoted remarks.
By the end of the first act, though, she begins to change her tone. Watching A struggle...
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with simple tasks, such as going to the bathroom, inspires sympathy for her situation. When A has her stroke, C seems genuinely concerned for her.
In the second act, C is the ‘‘tall woman’’ in the prime of her youth. She is young and quite idealistic. She does not want to accept her future as told by A and B; she cannot believe she would marry a man she does not love and drive away her son.
While A is the voice of experience and B is a cynic, C is Hope personified. Despite all she is told about the dangers that lie ahead for her, she insists, ‘‘I know my best times ... haven’t happened yet. They’re to come. Aren’t they?’