10 March 2011
The Tainted American Dream
The American Dream, by Edward Albee, demonstrates that through generations the idea of the American dream has changed over time. Its center is not around family, but rather image and material objects. Although everyone has his or her own vision of the dream, it seems that money plays an important role in everyone’s dream. It seems that money has changed the dream and become the driving force behind the materialism and social status that many Americans strive for. The mommy in the play shows how the dream has become more self- centered and discusses how she just married daddy for his money. On the other hand, the grandmother exemplifies the older version of the dream when family was the primary focus. As modeled in the play, the American Dream, mommy portrays how the dream has changed over time and has become materialistic, indicating that American culture has become more superficial thus leading people to be more selfish.
Michael Schudson’s article, American Dreams, defines the American dream in a similar light as exemplified by the characters in Albee’s play. Schudson discusses how the dream has become materialized and strayed away from more important values such as family. He discusses how the dream is singular in its title but in reality we are a nation of American “dreams.” While Schudson argues there are many versions of the American dream, he states “each of the dreams is somehow about freedom and equally about the idea that individuals have control over the course of their lives “(Schudson, 567). Generally, the dream seems to have become materialistic and selfish because as a result people will have more freedom. In Albee’s play, Mommy is not satisfied with her child and decides that she wants a different one that will be more perfect. In this case, her child seems to be the material object that allows her to have control over the coarse of her life. The mommy does not care about the child, but it is merely having the freedom to be able to have the perfect child. In her mind having the perfect child indicates a greater social status in the society. It shows that mommy wants to show off her money by demonstrating she has the freedom and ability to have what ever she wants. By being so materialistic and obsessed with image, the mommy demonstrates how the dream has turned from being family oriented to being more superficial and selfish. Schudson argues that the American dream is still about freedom but has rather turned to be more selfish. The view now is that in order to have more freedom one must obtain more wealth and material objects. By having such material objects, the American dream is becoming more and more selfish in nature. Johnson 2
While the mommy portrays the selfish nature of the dream, the Grandma demonstrates the more important values of the dream that people like mommy have lost sight of. Within the first pages of the play, Grandma discusses the importance of dignity. She states, “ You got to have a sense of dignity, even if you don’t care, ‘cause, if you don’t have that, civilization’s doomed” (Albee, 64). Grandma understands the importance of maintaining dignity however mommy does not. It doesn’t seem that mommy can have dignity when she killed her own child because he was not up to her standards. The Grandma’s version of the American dream seems to uphold more character values than mommy’s version of the dream. Mommy just cares about her image and material objects. Grandma has true values about family and mommy just cares about the superficial image. Throughout the play, mommy speaks harshly to Grandma and does not give her the respect that one should give to an elderly person. She threatens “One of these days you’re going away in a van; that’s what’s going to happen to you” (Albee, 88)! Clearly, mommy looses sight of what is important about the dream and just wants to get rid of her own family. Obviously, mommy’s view of...