The meaning of the American Dream has changed numerous times since the phrase was coined in 1931. During that time period, the American Dream constituted a way of life that through hard work an individual could achieve personal and familial success regardless of their background. The generation living under this mentality had quite a lot of success, monetarily. Thus, the goal of social mobility had been reached and this success was used not only for their generation but also for the generation after them. This induced a society where status was reached without hard work. At this moment, the impression of “The American Dream” started to transform itself. Quickly, Americans found themselves faced up against another goal of contrasting their success with their peers’. Consumerism, allowed the people to do this. Many authors, during the 1920s – 60s, attempted to depict this through their work including Scott Fitzgerald and Edward Albee. However, besides authors, artists also displayed this transformation. During the 1950s, Pop – Art became known as a way to challenge societal views through expressive artwork. Andy Warhol was one of the most well-known artists in the 1960s, and his work similarly reflected the change in the American Dream because of the influx of consumerism. Edward Albee, in The American Dream, utilizes Mommy’s actions and character relations to critique Consumerism; whereas, Andy Warhol’s use of everyday objects, such as a Coke Bottle, celebrates the applicability of consumerism to everyone showing the various viewpoints on consumerism in the 1960s.
The motif of consumerism in The American Dream is utilized to mock the changing Ideology of the American Dream and to explain its grasp on the American People. Albee utilizes Mommy to symbolize this change. Mommy and Daddy, are both characters in The American Dream who are utilized to represent their satisfaction. Along with these two characters he uses the hat, and the bumble to help enforce this theme of satisfaction. When Mommy went to buy a hat, she was confronted with another woman who claimed that her hat wheat rather than beige. She immediately went inside and stated, “ ‘ The minute I got outside I could tell that it wasn’t a beige hat at all; it was a wheat hat.’ ” When the store-keeper tried to argue his point this angered Mommy and she, “ made a terrible scene,” and continued till he claimed that, “ they might have made a mistake.” Through this interaction, it is clearly seen that the color of the hat is not the main concern which causes the argument. Mommy found herself in a situation in which she was not satisfied with her transaction and she fights her way to satisfaction. This example of consumerism is very practical as she fights for her satisfaction with her hat.
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However, Albee also demonstrates consumerism using abstract methods. Mommy is very transactional in her relationships. Her value to other characters depends on how much value they offer to her. For example, when Grandma is trying to explain to the characters the reason why the boxes were significant Mommy responds with, “ Well nobody is interested!” followed by, “ Well, why don’t you call a van and have her taken away?” This remark is symbolic of the consumerism grasping over the characters. Grandma used to serve a purpose when Mommy was young, “ Grandma used to wrap a box for me[Mommy];” however, as she has aged she had brought less value to Mommy and her appreciation for her has decreased which can be seen through the previous remark. However, this transactional relationship also applies to Daddy. Mommy was very poor when she was young, “ But then I[Mommy] married you, Daddy, and now we’re very rich.” Thus Daddy serves as monetary value, showing how monetary value exists not only in hats but also relationships. The last character which Albee uses to demonstrate the consumerism aspect in relationships is the Bumble. The Bumble was Mommy and Daddy’s way of ‘buying’ their way into the complete American Dream. However, the Bumble represented reality rather than their expectations, thus it was no value to the parents leading to its mutilation. Thus this called for the removal of non-valuable characters which did not play a role in the ‘perfect family’ of the American Dream. Hence, Albee utilizes concrete objects such as the hat and abstract ideas such as relationships to emphasize the change in the focus of the American Dream.
Similarly, Pop – Art was used by artists to express their views on the changing mindsets of Americans. Andy Warhol was one of the most famous artists who used his works which influenced the perception of people at that time. Many of his artworks were made to indirectly critique the standing perception of “good art” at that time. For example, Coca-Cola, at a quick glance appear printed. Although the painting is made handmade by Warhol, the specific strokes that Warhol took imitated the style and technique of the mass advertising printing companies. It enforced the idea of uniformity through removing removing the hand of the Artist. Despite, Art always being about the uniqueness, Warhol reversis this concept as he paints the ordinary. Thus, it promotes the idea that the ordinary is exceptional. It projects the idea that no matter a person is, he or she can buy a more expensive coke bottle than another person. For example, a homeless person can buy the same Coke bottle as a businessman. Thus, we can see that Albee was not criticizing consumerism through his art, but celebrating it because of its applicability to everyone.
During this time period, there were varying viewpoints on the up and coming theme of consumerism. Edward Albee and Andy Warhol both conflicted in their views on consumerism. Although many people might have wanted Warhol’s work to be a critique, he himself said that he was not critiquing but just relaying what he saw in the everyday world. So, while Warhol celebrates this theme of consumerism through its applicability to everyone, Albee criticizes it due to its alteration of the original American Dream characteristics. Edward Albee uses his writing to establish the idea that consumerism is a negative aspect in our society, through characters such as Mommy who represents people who are always looking for satisfaction, whether it be through buying manufactured products, or seeking it through their relationships. On the other hand, Warhol appreciates Consumerism because of its ability to democratize common day products to everyone. Consumerism, during that time period, was depicted both negatively and positively. Despite using different types of expression, Chekhov and Albee effectively express these conflicting viewpoints by utilizing different technical aspects unique to their style.