Analysis

Here the Young Man recounts the allegory of the American Dream. Certainly, facing characters named "Mommy" and "Daddy", the reader has been aware of the play's allegorical intentions from the outset. Here the play betrays a certain embarrassment around the potential heavy-handedness of allegory: note the Dream's self-conscious "joke" that he is a "type".

As Grandma notes, the Young Man is what his murdered double might have become—note the elegiac use of the conditional—had he been. Again, this double was a child who suffered progressive disfigurement under Mommy's discipline. A blond, iconic, Midwestern beauty, the Young Man's physiognomy stands in clear contrast with the bumble of joy, the spineless, clay-footed, and wholly disfigured specter of his twin brother. With the murder of his double, he is now nothing but a "type", externally perfect but disemboweled of his inner life. Note the homosociality of the Dream's tale: his first lost love is a male twin; that twin loses his heart upon the loss of this brother and his eyes when he proves to love Daddy alone. He does so of course at the hands of a terrorizing, phobic Mommy.

Robbed of his desire, the Young Man will do anything for money to compensate for his lack. Thus he becomes a serviceable object, unable to relate but necessarily related to. Certainly this adapts him to Mommy and Daddy's household, a place where children—and the dreams or fantasies they might embody for their parents—are utterly substitutable in the attempt to trade up and get "satisfaction". Tellingly, Mrs. Barker will even suggest that they name the Young Man whatever they named the bumble.

At the same time, of course, the Young Man is not simply a prospective son, but the personification of the American Dream. Albee's allegory of the American Dream is certainly strange. The American Dream does not appear as that which one lives out or even as ideology, but as a person and possession. One possible reading of this allegory involves the all-important theatrical concept of the mask. Linked indissolubly, the twins are in some sense figures for the actor and his mask. The Young Man as American Dream is a mask without a man behind it, a personification without a person. The murder of his double is the murder of the man behind the mask, the elimination of the unruly body—indeed, the "bumble"—that can only mould itself into the perfect form through its mutilation. Thus Albee offers a sinister account of the American Dream, imagining it as a mask disemboweled of man and his excesses.

This scene introduces a certain hiatus into the play, radically altering its tone, dialogue, and action. The Dream's lament is almost lyrical, its ellipses more elegiac than menacing. The scene of its narration evokes an almost sacred solemnity: the Dream must be sure—in a play structured by misapprehension and misunderstanding—that Grandma is old enough to understand. The acerbic Grandma drops her "act", prefiguring her imminent exit from the spectacle of the household. Reduced to pity, she can only murmur "Oh my child"—this marks the only gesture of familial affection in the play.

Notably Grandma hushes the Dream when he warns that he may be lying out of professional habit. Does Albee then exclude the Dream's tale from the rest of the dialogue's deceits and defenses? Perhaps Grandma's gesture is an overture to the audience, asking that they suspend their disbelief before the allegory? Or does she warn the Dream that such an admission of artifice might threaten the allegory's credibility?