Explanatory notes on The Sandbox

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Explanatory notes on The Sandbox

Post by Rachid Amri on Sat Mar 08, 2008 3:00 pm

(Barnet, Sylvan, et al., eds. Types of Drama: Plays and Essays. 5th ed. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman, 1989. 146-47.)

In Albee's "The Sandbox," the scene is a bare stage on which the stage-center is "a large child's sandbox with a toy pail and shovel."

a strong connection between the very old and infant, both are unable to care for themselves, both require an inordinate amount of patience from whoever is responsible.

Obvious symbolic meaning is that the sandbox which is square and full of sand is made to keep in whoever is placed there much like a coffin.

Using a toy shovel busily covering herself with sand, the grandma is symbolically digging her own grave.

Grandma’s dilemma is prevalent throughout the US—the spiritual sterility of life in a highly materialized society in the second half of the twentieth century.

Generally speaking, the theater of writers as Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, and Albee is called the theatre of the absurd. Here we can briefly list the characteristics usually found in the works of these playwrights. We do not mean, of course, that all of these qualities are found in all of their works. In fact, we urge you, after reading the list, to think about the ways in which Albee’s The Sandbox does NOT quite fit the list.

In the theatre of the absurd:
1. The plays are “theatrical” rather than realistic, often setting forth obviously impossible situations with obviously unreal characters.

2. The plays are serious but often (or at least intermittently) comic, especially satiric.

3. The basic themes are

a) human loneliness in a world without God,

b) the inability to communicate,

c) the dehumanization and impotence of individuals in a bourgeois society, and

d) the meaninglessness of life.

4. Characters behave illogically, speak in clichés, rarely if ever communicate with each other, and seem to have no clearly defined coherent characters.

5. The plays are relatively plotless (nothing much seems to happen).

In thinking about (and in reading) The Sandbox, you may find that it does indeed embody some of these characteristics, but of course it may embody other qualities, too, and some of the points listed may not be relevant. In fact, the most useful function of this list may be that it will stimulate you to think about ways in which the play departs from it.


 



 

Questions for Discussion :
 

1. In a sentence, characterize mommy, and in another sentence characterize Daddy. By the way, why doesn’t Albee give them names?

2. Of the four characters in the play, which do you find the most sympathetic? Exactly why? Set forth your answer, with supporting evidence, in a paragraph, or perhaps in two paragraphs—the first devoted to the three less sympathetic characters, and the second devoted to the most sympathetic character.

3. Why, in your opinion, does Albee insist in the first stage direction that the scene be "a bare stage"? Do you think a naturalistic setting would in some way diminish the play? Explain.

4. What do you make of the sandbox? Is it an image of the grave, with suggestions that life is meaningless and sterile? Or is it an image only of the sterility of life in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century? Does the fact that Grandma was married to a farmer suggest an alternative way of life? Explain.

5. In a longer play, The American Dream, Albee uses the same four characters that he uses in The Sandbox. Of The American Dream he wrote:

The play … is a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen.

To what extent does this statement help you to understand (and to enjoy) The Sandbox?

6. In The New York Times Magazine (February 25, 1962), Albee protested against the view that his plays, and others of the so-called theater of the absurd, are depressing. He includes a quotation from Martin Esslin’s book The Theatre of the Absurd:

Ultimately … the Theatre of the Absurd does not reflect despair or a return to dark irrational forces but expresses modern man’s endeavor to come to terms with the world in which he lives. It attempts to make him face up to the human condition as it really is, to free him from illusions that are bound to cause constant maladjustment and disappointment…. For the dignity of man lies in his reality in all its senselessness; to accept it freely, without fear, without illusion—and to laugh at it.

In what ways do you find this statement helpful? In what ways do you find it not helpful? Explain.

7. In an interview in 1979 Albee said:

I like to think people are forced to rethink some things as a result of the experience of seeing some of my plays, that they are not left exactly the way they came in.

Has reading The Sandbox forced you to rethink anything? If so, what

Rachid Amri
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