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Social Criticism in Edward Albee's Radical Plays The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 14 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography

Excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS

TOPIC: Social Criticism in Edward Albee’s Radical Plays The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream

1. Introduction

2. Social Criticism in Edward Albee’s Radical Plays
2.1. Establishment vs. Outcasts of the Society
2.2. Lack of Communication and Violence in the Modern Society
2.3. Hypocrisy and the Pursuit of Artificial Values

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

TOPIC: Social Criticism in Edward Albee’s Radical Plays The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream

1. Introduction

All three plays The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream are Edward Albee’s early plays in which he points out the deplorable state of the American society.

Albee’s way of writing is provocative because his ultimate goal is to shock his audience. At the same time he wants to amuse the viewers with dialogues that are governed by sarcasm and irony. He writes in the preface of the play The American Dream: “Is the play offensive? I certainly hope so; it was my intention to offend- as well as amuse and entertain.” (p.14)[1]

Thus his plays manages to confront the audience with the harsh reality of life and the problems of modern society.

In The Zoo Story a clash of two different representatives of the modern American society takes place and ends up in an accidental manslaughter. In The Death of Bessie Smith the audience faces a society ruled by hatred, racism and frustration. The third play which is going to be examined closely in this paper is The American Dream, a sad portrait of an American family craving for something to replace the emptiness they find themselves in.

This paper will examine the social criticism in these three plays which were written between 1958 and 1960 in order to find common topics and critical issues which were present at that particular time, and are still relevant today. The topics that are going to be analyzed are the outcasts of the society and their treatment by the members of the establishment, the lack of communication and growing violence as a result of it and finally the artificial values of the modern society and the constantly present hypocrisy and double standard.

As Edward Albee sums it up:

The play [ The American Dream ] is an examination of the American scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen. (p. 13-14)

2. Social Criticism in Edward Albee’s Radical Plays

2.1. Establishment vs. Outcasts of the Society

In all three plays the reader is faced with representatives of different groups of society. In The Zoo Story it is Jerry who is a perfect type of a man struggling for understanding and acceptance. He wants to be respected and loved by others. Jerry is looking for compassion and for somebody who can understand and relate to his problems and thoughts. When he meets Peter who is a representative of the establishment Jerry believes that it is his last chance to find somebody who can understand his point of view.

Peter is married with two daughters. His represents the average middle-class American citizen who has a not too challenging job, a family, and hobbies, for example reading in the Central Park every Sunday. He follows a certain order and never gets out of line. Peter is happy and satisfied with his way of life, at least before he meets Jerry. A. Lewis observes the clash of these two characters as “the meeting between two separate worlds in the heart of a modern city“.[2]

Jerry is not the only one who seems to be cast out of the society. The whole building where he lives is full with people living on the very edge of the society. There, one can find a homosexual black man who never gets visitors, just like Jerry. He does not have anybody who is interested in him. As Jerry states ”He never bothers me, and never brings anyone up to his room.” (p.119)

Then, there is a Puerto-Rican family who represents the miserable life of immigrants who initially came to the USA in order to find a better life. Instead of finding the ultimate satisfaction they have to suffer from social isolation and poverty in the middle of New York. Another person living in Jerry’s building is a woman who stays faceless and nameless because she can only be heard and is never seen by Jerry. He only hears her desperate crying. He never approaches her in order to offer her assistance.

This episode, describing Jerry’s building and people who live next to him, is just one more proof of the alienation and social isolation of the people. A feeling of anonymity and indifference dominates here. Nobody cares about other people. What is really surprizing is the fact that even the people from the same building who are experiencing more or less similar fates do not care and are not interested in their neighbors. Apparently there is no need nor desire for personal contacts. Just like Jerry who on the one hand acknowledges the cries of the mysterious woman next door but on the other hand is not willing to find out more about her. He does not want to get involved. Indifference and apathy are predominant in this building where different types of social outcasts are brought together. These people are presented as the second-class citizens who are forced to live in a zoo-like building separated by thin walls.

[...]


[1] ALBEE, Edward, The Zoo Story and Other Plays. Cardiff:William Lewis (Printers) LTD. 1962. All quotations from the three plays analyzed in this paper come from this edition.

[2] LEWIS, Alan, “The Fun and Games of Edward Albee”. American Plays and Playwrights of the Contemporary Theater, p.83.

Details

Pages
14
Year
2004
ISBN (eBook)
9783638296670
File size
540 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v27689
Institution / College
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen – Anglistics
Grade
1 (A)
Tags
Social Criticism Edward Albee Radical Plays Story Death Bessie Smith American Dream Theater Culture

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Title: Social Criticism in Edward Albee's Radical Plays The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream