- vol.50, pp.61-78, 2006-03
The central subject of American drama is the American family. From Royall Tyler’s colonial comedy The Contrast (1787) to August Wilson’s King Hedley II (2000), relationships between husbands, wives, and their children have consistently been used by American playwrights to explore and illuminate the American experience. American drama, especially in the twentieth century has been strikingly preoccupied with problems of family life. Its most characteristic moments are realistic scenes of family strife and squabble and bliss.
This article firstly addresses the questions of why American drama is so overwhelmingly concerned with families, why American playwrights have been zealously devoted to the problems of family life, why American drama is, in a fundamental way, domestic drama, and why best American playwrights are best remembered for their family-centered plays. After that, I will analyze the two plays representing modern American drama, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) and Sam Shepard’s Buried Child (1978), by focusing on the American family, and will explore how the American family is portrayed in each play, what significance these portraits of families have on us, and what kind of differences in the family images there are between these plays.
The reason why I have chosen these two plays as my medium for analysis is not simply because there appears a child in each play (a son who seems to be real but proves to be imaginary in the former; a son who seems to be imaginary but proves to be real in the latter), but because both of them represent the American family. By looking at how the family is portrayed in each play, perhaps we can look into the ways in which the American dream associated with the American family is disintegrated, deteriorated, and decayed, and we can also probe deeply into the meaning of family itself.