English 2 H
Psychoanalytical Criticism in ‘The American Dream’
The critical theory of psychoanalytical criticism can be applied to Albee’s ‘The American Dream’ by the three terms; trauma, family, and oedipal conflict. Each of these terms show influence on the way the play is written and understood using this theory.
Trauma can be closely related to the baby and the young man. Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. In the play, Grandma is telling Ms. Barker about Mommy and Daddy’s baby. “'But then, it began to develop interest in its you-know what.' 'Well! I hope they cut it's hand off at the wrists' 'But first, they cut off its you-know what'” (Albee 99). When this is told, you may believe this has actually happened, but they really didn't cut off the boys genitalia, it was metaphorical. Because Mommy and Daddy were very hard on the young man, he is mentally traumatized and is now even more afraid of being emasculated once again by someone who means even more to him. After Grandma tells the story of the baby, a young man comes to the apartment and tells Grandma his story of everything that's happened to him. One specific thing that he says points directly to trauma and you can see how much what happened in the past has hurt him by how he talks. “And my groin... even there... since one time... one specific agony... since then I have not been able to love anyone with my body.” (Albee 114). When the young man tells this to Grandma, you realize that the trauma is so deep that he is not only afraid to love people because of what happened before when he was a younger child, but he is afraid to love with his body as well. He doesn't want people to keep on telling him he is doing wrong like Mommy and Daddy did. Another example of this is when Grandma tells Ms. Barker that the boy only had eyes for his father. “'It only had eyes for its daddy.' '...any self-respecting woman would have gouged those eyes right out of its head'' (Albee 99). At this point, using the theory, we can see that this is a metaphorical action but the child really feels as if his eyes were gouged out and the young man describes this when he is talking to Grandma. He says that one time he awoke and his eyes were burning and since that day he had been unable to see anything (Albee 114). The young man is not physically blind, he is just very disturbed and distressed because of what happened when he was younger. As a result, trauma can be connected to the young man in Albee's play of 'The American Dream'.
Secondly, Family is very important in the development of a child and you can directly see this in 'The American Dream'. In the play, Mommy and Daddy were supposed to be parents towards the young man when he was a child. But they traumatized him and his self-definition is very low because of how his family treated him at a very young age. For example, the young man is telling Grandma about his life earlier when he was younger, “I have been unable to love...” (Albee 114), “Since then, I have not been able to love anyone with my body” (Albee 115). Every reason that the young man cannot love, feel, touch or see is because of what happened in the past. He is mentally traumatized because of his experiences with family. They greatly decreased his self-definition and his self-worth to himself. According to Freudian Theory, “Family is very important in psychoanalytic theory because we are each a product of the role we are given in the family-complex...the 'birth' of the unconscious lies in the way we perceive our place in the family and how we react to self definition” (Tyson 16). When you look at Albee's play in this way, the young man is the product of the family he was with when he was younger. His self-definition and how he sees himself is bad and low. This is because of how the family he