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Literature Study GuidesAmerican DreamSection 3 Family Secrets Revealed Summary

American Dream | Study Guide

Edward Albee

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American Dream | Section 3 (Family Secrets Revealed) | Summary



Grandma gives Mrs. Barker "a hint" about why she's been called to the apartment. A symbolic fairy-tale story is told: 20 years ago, a man "very much like Daddy, and a woman very much like Mommy" were unable to have children. They contacted the Bye-Bye Adoption Service so they could adopt "a bumble of joy" of their own, and a woman very much like Mrs. Barker came to visit them. They "bought" a bumble, but "things didn't work out very well." The bumble preferred Daddy to Mommy, so Mommy "gouged [its] eyes right out of its head." The bumble became interested in its "you-know-what" so they cut that off, followed by its hands. As the bumble got older it called Mommy names, so they cut out its tongue. The bumble eventually died. Mommy and Daddy were very upset because they had paid so much money for it. They wanted satisfaction. So they called the woman who sold them the bumble and demanded a refund.

Grandma and Mrs. Barker are then interrupted by Mommy and Daddy, who can't find Grandma's room, her belongings, or even the water. "I told them everything was hidden," Grandma says to Mrs. Barker. Mommy makes Mrs. Barker come into the kitchen to get the water herself.

A very muscular and attractive Young Man then rings the doorbell, and Grandma answers. He is looking for work, but he does not say what or why he has come to them. Grandma knows better: "You're the American Dream, that's what you are. All those other people, they don't know what they're talking about," Grandma says. The Young Man says he'll do "almost anything for money," and Grandma thinks it's possible he can help with the family's current problems. She has plenty of money with which to pay him—she recently cheated in an absurd fashion at a baking contest and won $25,000.

The Young Man admits he doesn't have many talents. His gorgeous exterior belies an interior completely devoid of feelings, which he believes is the result of being separated from his twin shortly after birth. Physical pains—burning in his eyes, the wrenching of his heart, agony in his groin—have separated him from his emotions. "I am incomplete ... I can feel nothing," he tells Grandma. She says she once knew someone very much like him and hires him on the spot. Mrs. Barker enters, and Grandma introduces the Young Man as "the van man." The Young Man carries the boxes outside while Grandma whispers the plan into Mrs. Barker's ear. Mrs. Barker leaves the room and the Young Man returns. Grandma tells him he'll soon understand what he's supposed to do. He escorts her to the elevator.


Section 3 gives a key to understanding the seemingly absurd words of Albee's The American Dream. Though it is not explicitly stated, the Young Man who shows up on Mommy and Daddy's doorstep is the twin of their former "bumble." He is that Dream.

The Young Man says that he felt physical pain every time Mommy and Daddy cut off another piece of his brother's body, which has left him feeling empty and soulless. He looks great on the outside—young, healthy, and very attractive—which is why Grandma says he's the embodiment of the American dream. But looking that part does nothing to bolster a person's inner self. Through the Young Man, Albee shows how American ideals of prosperity and success affect only one's exterior, leaving the interior to rot. People who focus on only material wealth are not, in fact, whole people.

The way Mommy and Daddy treated their adopted son speaks volumes about their values and their desire for instant gratification. They adopt a baby yet are surprised when he cries, touches himself, and says terrible things. That's exactly what babies and kids are supposed to do, but Mommy and Daddy punish him for it, cutting out his tongue and chopping off his hands. He isn't perfect, so they don't want him. Furthermore, they place the blame for their dissatisfaction on the adoption agency, not on themselves. Mommy and Daddy represent everything that is wrong with the modern interpretation of the American dream. They feel entitled to satisfaction and do nothing to earn it.

Grandma, on the other hand, feels entitled to nothing. When the Young Man notes how resourceful she is, Grandma boasts she's from "pioneer stock." She means she has worked hard for everything she has. If the Young Man is the example of the modern American dream, Grandma represents the American dream of the past wherein hard work and sacrifice were the keys to success. She is more of a complete person than her daughter or son-in-law, as evidenced by the contents of her boxes, which—television and dog aside—are filled with the memories of "eighty-six years of living."

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