The American Dream

by

Edward Albee

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Mrs. Barker Character Analysis

Mrs. Barker is the chairman of the local woman’s club, and a friend and neighbor of Mommy and Daddy. When she shows up to the house, neither they—nor she—seem to really know what her purpose there is, and the play veers into absurdist, dreamlike territory as they all struggle to figure out how they relate to one another, and why they can’t seem to remember the history of their friendship. Grandma is the one to eventually reveal that Mrs. Barker was, many years ago, the one to deliver a “bumble of joy” to Mommy and Daddy—as a volunteer at a local adoption agency, she helped them facilitate the adoption of a baby whom they later mutilated and murdered. Mrs. Barker seems to slowly remember pieces of her past after Grandma’s intervention, but she moves through much of the play unsteadily; she is often uncertain and takes her cues from others. For example, when Mommy suggests Mrs. Barker make herself more comfortable by taking off her dress, Mrs. Barker does so, and spends the rest of the play in only her slip. A changeable, often airheaded cipher, Mrs. Barker seems to represent the directionless, toothless mutability of an American society which seeks to abandon its past and succumb to the empty promises of an American dream that doesn’t really exist.

Mrs. Barker Quotes in The American Dream

The The American Dream quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Barker or refer to Mrs. Barker. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of The American Dream published in 1997.
The American Dream Quotes

MRS. BARKER: Can we assume that the boxes are for us? I mean, can we assume that you had us come here for the boxes?

MOMMY: Are you in the habit of receiving boxes?

DADDY: A very good question.

MRS. BARKER: Well, that would depend on the reason we’re here. I’ve got my fingers in so many little pies, you know.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Grandma
Related Symbols: Grandma’s Boxes
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

MOMMY: All his life, Daddy has wanted to be a United States Senator; but now…why now he’s changed his mind, and for the rest of his life he’s going to want to be Governor…it would be nearer the apartment, you know.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy, Mrs. Barker
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

MOMMY: Oh, I’m so fortunate to have such a husband. Just think; I could have a husband who was poor, or argumentative, or a husband who sat in a wheel chair all day… OOOOHHHH! What have I said? What have I said?

GRANDMA: You said you could have a husband who sat in a wheel…

MOMMY: I’m mortified! I could die! I could cut my tongue out! I could…

MRS. BARKER (forcing a smile): Oh, now… now… don’t think about it…

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Daddy
Page Number: 92-93
Explanation and Analysis:

MRS. BARKER: Please tell me why they called and asked us to come. I implore you!

GRANDMA: Oh my; that feels good. It’s been so long since anybody implored me. Do it again. Implore me some more.

MRS. BARKER: You’re your daughter’s mother, all right!

GRANDMA: Oh, I don’t mean to be hard. If you won’t implore me, then beg me, or ask me, or entreat me… just anything like that.

MRS. BARKER: You’re a dreadful old woman!

GRANDMA: You’ll understand some day. Please!

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Mommy
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

GRANDMA: Weeeeellll . . . in the first place, it turned out the bumble didn’t look like either one of its parents. That was enough of a blow, but things got worse. One night, it cried its heart out, if you can imagine such a thing.

MRS. BARKER: Cried its heart out! Well!

GRANDMA: But that was only the beginning. Then it turned out it only had eyes for its Daddy.

MRS. BARKER: For its Daddy! Why, any self-respecting woman would have gouged those eyes right out of its head.

GRANDMA: Well, she did. That’s exactly what she did. But then, it kept its nose up in the air.

MRS. BARKER: Ufggh! How disgusting!

GRANDMA: That’s what they thought. But then, it began to develop an interest in its you-know-what.

MRS. BARKER: In its you-know-what! Well! I hope they cut its hands off at the wrists!

GRANDMA: Well, yes, they did that eventually. But first, they cut off its you-know-what.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker), Mommy, Daddy
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:

MOMMY: Why… where’s Grandma? Grandma’s not here! Where’s Grandma? And look! The boxes are gone, too. […]

MRS. BARKER: Why, Mommy, the van man was here. […]

MOMMY (Near tears): No, no, that’s impossible. No. There’s no such thing as the van man. […] We… we made him up. Grandma? Grandma?

DADDY (Moving to MOMMY): There, there, now. […]

(While DADDY is comforting MOMMY, GRANDMA comes out, stage right, near the footlights)

GRANDMA (To the audience): Shhhhhh! I want to watch this.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy (speaker), Grandma (speaker), Mrs. Barker (speaker)
Related Symbols: Grandma’s Boxes
Page Number: 121-122
Explanation and Analysis:

MOMMY (Herself again, circling THE YOUNG MAN, feeling his arm, poking him): Yes, sir! Yes, sirree! Now this is more like it. Now this is a great deal more like it! Daddy! Come see. Come see if this isn’t a great deal more like it.

Related Characters: Mommy (speaker), Daddy, Grandma, Mrs. Barker, The Young Man
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

GRANDMA (Interrupting… to audience): Well, I guess that just about wraps it up. I mean, for better or worse, this is a comedy, and I don’t think we’d better go any further. No, definitely not. So, let’s leave things as they are right now . . . while everybody’s happy . . . while everybody’s got what he wants. . . or everybody’s got what he thinks he wants. Good night, dears.

Related Characters: Grandma (speaker), Mommy, Daddy, Mrs. Barker, The Young Man
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The American Dream LitChart as a printable PDF.

Mrs. Barker Character Timeline in The American Dream

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Barker appears in The American Dream. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The American Dream
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...then walked out of the store wearing the hat on her head, and ran into the chairman of the woman’s club on the street—the woman whose husband is in a wheelchair. The... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...they’re watching, but Grandma says she isn’t, and looks away. Daddy opens the door, and Mrs. Barker walks into the living room. “Here they are,” Daddy announces triumphantly. (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Daddy urges Mrs. Barker to come in and make herself comfortable—though she’s late, he says, they were expecting her... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Daddy asks Mrs. Barker if she could perhaps go away and “come back some other time,” but Mrs. Barker... (full context)
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Daddy asks Mrs. Barker to sit down, and she does. Mommy offers her a cigarette and a drink, and... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mommy and Daddy ask Mrs. Barker what she does, and she replies that she is, obviously, the chairman of Mommy’s woman’s... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Daddy says that he’s blushing and going “sticky wet.” Mrs. Barker says she wants to light up a cigarette, but Mommy says firmly that there’s no... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker asks if she can assume that the family “had us come here for the boxes.”... (full context)
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...and he says he’s feeling them around where the stitches from a recent operation were. Mrs. Barker apologizes for not having been more sensitive towards Daddy. Grandma mutters that Mrs. Barker could... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker asks Daddy what was wrong, but Daddy insists he just had a regular operation. Mrs.... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker says she has a younger brother who’s ambitious, just like Daddy. He runs a newspaper... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...to speak up and say something, but Mommy urges her to be quiet, and tells Mrs. Barker to ignore Grandma because she is “rural.” Daddy suggests Mommy let Grandma speak up, but... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Daddy says he wishes he weren’t surrounded by women. Mrs. Barker seconds his opinion. Grandma speaks up and asks if, since she “hardly count[s] as a... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...being ungrateful for all the things she and Daddy have done for her. Mommy tells Mrs. Barker that just the other night, Grandma called Daddy a “hedgehog.” Daddy urges Mommy to leave... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma says she knows why Mrs. Barker has come. Mrs. Barker says she wishes Grandma would tell her. Daddy says Mrs. Barker... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker calls Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma a “jolly” family. She says she’s been “knee-deep” in work... (full context)
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
...in a wheelchair. Mommy is instantly mortified by what she’s said and apologizes profusely, but Mrs. Barker forces a smile and tells Mommy not to worry about what she’s said. Mommy asks... (full context)
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker and Grandma are alone in the living room. Mrs. Barker says she feels “lost” and... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma tells Mrs. Barker that the most she can do for her is give her a “hint.” She begins... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
The woman who was “very much like” Mrs. Barker , Grandma says, sold the married couple a “bumble” of their own—but things didn’t work... (full context)
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...warn them that everything was hidden. Daddy shouts that he can’t even find Grandma’s room. Mrs. Barker admires Grandma’s ability to hide things. Mommy comes back into the room and chides Grandma... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mommy tells Mrs. Barker to follow her into the kitchen to find a glass of water and get away... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
...to pay Grandma no mind. Daddy shouts that he still can’t find Grandma’s room, or Mrs. Barker . (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...a job. He asks her what his duties will be, but before she can answer, Mrs. Barker comes back into the living room. Grandma tells The Young Man that he'll have to... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker walks into the living room, lamenting that she can’t find Mommy or Daddy anywhere. She... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...begins scooping them up. He takes them out the front door, and as he does, Mrs. Barker remarks that the van man who took her own mother away years ago “wasn’t anything... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Grandma tells Mrs. Barker she needs to talk to her about the “dilemma” with Mommy and Daddy—Grandma believes she... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
Mrs. Barker , Mommy, and Daddy reenter the living room. Mrs. Barker tells them that “the whole... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
The Young Man enters the room, and Mrs. Barker welcomes him in, declaring him a “surprise” for Mommy and Daddy. Mommy is confused, but... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mommy thanks Mrs. Barker profusely, and Mrs. Barker says she’ll send a bill in the mail. Mommy suggests they... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Mommy asks what The Young Man’s name is, but Mrs. Barker tells her to call him whatever she likes—maybe even “what [she] called the other one.”... (full context)
The Fallacy of The American Dream Theme Icon
The Breakdown of the Family Theme Icon
Cruelty and Complacency Theme Icon
Entertainment and Artifice Theme Icon
...time she’ll tell him about all the trouble they had with “the other one,” once Mrs. Barker —who’s responsible for the trouble—has left. Mommy sidles up to The Young Man and tells... (full context)