The inability of people to communicate and loss of personal values can lead to dramatic effects. Edward Albee’s play “The Sandbox” is an example of modern American drama in which he demonstrates cruel relations in a middle class family, criticizing modern society’s decay. Within the story we see the dialogue between family members, a husband and his wife, who are awaiting the death of her mother. As the names of characters suggest (Mommy, Daddy, Grandma), the action takes place within the family unit.
Notice that the names of characters are generic. In doing this, the author is trying to show that it can be any family members.
The story shows their cold relations with and disrespect for their old grandmother. We see the money over the family values, so much in common with American society today. The story reflects the reality of the contemporary American family. This is often a common situation today: the children bring their old mother from her country farm to their big beautiful house in the city.
They do it not for her pleasure, but for their own convenience. They care neither for what she thinks, nor her interests or values. Money is the most important thing to them. They think she does not understand things very well anymore because she is old, and old-fashioned. In reality she understands more than anyone can imagine. Finally, when the children tire of her, they take her to a nursing home, where she can wait for the end alone.
In the story “The Sandbox”, the author makes a judgment about the younger generation’s attitude towards the older generation. The main theme of the story is the inability of people to communicate with each other, the emptiness of contemporary family life, and the meaninglessness of modern existence. The main characters play an important role in supporting the theme. As we see throughout the story, Mommy and Daddy are ignorant people. Mommy is domineering and cruel, while Daddy is passive and emasculated. He does what she says, followed by “Whatever you say, Mommy.” She shows no respect towards anyone, including her mother and husband.
We notice when Mommy and Daddy speak to one another, that there is no warm and sincere relationship between them; she only married him for the money. They treat Grandma with politeness, yet at the same time with merciless detachment. They talk about her, but hardly to her. Mommy reveals no emotional attachment to her own mother. Daddy at least worries that Grandma is uncomfortable, but Mommy shuts him up. The emotion of concern they display is more hypocritical than sincere. On the other hand, Grandma is sincere and even child-like, making her character admirable. All the same she is sharp-tongued and shrewd. This only adds to the complexity of her personality.
From the beginning of the play, we see that the plot of the story is evident, due to the way Mommy and Daddy talk about Grandma, and how they treat her. However there is no clear climax or resolution to the story.
Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma are symbols of poor relationships in the contemporary family unit. Mommy, Daddy and symbolize the future generation, while Grandma is an icon of the past. She tries to fit into and relate to the fashion of the new generation but at her age, she no longer commands the social weight. The new generation (Mommy and Daddy) do not want to accept her values and do not want her to be involved in their lives. The Young Man is presented in the story as the Angel of Death. He symbolizes today’s personal values, emptiness and lack of culture of the new generation. When he kisses Grandma, it symbolizes that the end is near.
When she dies, she is going to take her values and traditions to the grave. The bareness of the stage suggests the society in which we live today. When Grandma buries herself using the pail and shovel, she represent one of the millions of people with values and traditions, who is tired of living in a society that is so empty of emotions. When she dies, it represents the passing of an age, one in which value and hard work were important. Mommy and Daddy represent the decadent way of life that replaces it.
In this play, Albee tries to show the reality of today’s society, with its lack of compassion for individuals, regardless of age and the decline of culture and traditions that support it.