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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 736

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.

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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 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...

(The entire section contains 736 words.)

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Critical Essays