The psychological aspect of aging in Edward Albee’s "Three Tall Women"

Facharbeit (Schule), 2013
18 Seiten


Table of contents

1. Introduction: How does one become the person one is?

2. Edward Albee’s play Three Tall Women
2.1. The playwright Edward Albee
2.2. The play in context
2.3. Content of the play

3. Analysis of the play with respect to the psychological aspect of aging
3.1. Analysis of the protagonist and her life
3.1.1. The characters A, B and C
3.1.2. The protagonist´s life and the psychological consequences
3.2. Analysis of the main themes connected to aging
3.2.1. Appearances, vanity and beauty
3.2.2. Memory
3.2.3. Mortality and death

4. Conclusion: Children’s upbringing as a matter of importance

5. Bibliography
5.1. Primary literature
5.2. Secondary literature
5.3. Online resources

Introduction: How does one become the person one is?

In the course of a human’s life a person goes through different physical and psychological stages and as the body becomes older the mind follows and vice versa. Already Greek and Roman philosophy discussed negative and positive aspects of different stages of human life. The first theoretical disquisitions on human psychological development were composed as early as in the 18th century. During this time Johannes Nikolaus Tetens described human development as a lifelong process including gain and loss and affected by sociocultural aspects; a process that therefore can be influenced. The Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quételet dealt with the development of skills and collected empirical data on the course of human life. He did not base his work only on statistics about physical aspects, such as height, weight and strength but also and more importantly on psychological variables, like emotions and intellectual potential. He also covered how historical events influenced aging, hence how the psyche and emotional condition of a person influence how old people become (see Lang/Martin/Pinquart: Entwicklungspsychologie – Erwachsenenalter, p.14). It is apparent that the interest in the human psyche and its effect on aging as a process were always of scientific concern. It is something we face daily.

Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women perfectly represents the issue of developmental psychology. One protagonist is being portrayed by three versions of herself at different stages of her life and as a result the development of that protagonist becomes clear. An array of changes in her behavior and in her way of thinking can be seen. The most important point of the protagonist’s unfolding, just as Johannes Nikolaus Tetens describes, lies in the influence of one´s social surroundings (see Lang/Martin/Pinquart: Entwicklungspsychologie – Erwachsenenalter, p.14).

The topic “The psychological aspect of aging in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women ” focuses on the protagonist’s social development as she gets older. In this paper the character of the protagonist will be analyzed and the courses of events in her life which lead her to become the person she turns out to be in the end. Following that the most essential themes of the play will be analyzed on the background of psychological aspects. But at first there will be a brief section of information on the playwright and the play itself.

2. Edward Albee’s play Three Tall Women

The origin of Three Tall Women is the Austrian Vienna’s English Theatre, where Franz Schafranek had produced the play for the first time in 1991 and Edward Albee as the author took over the role of the director. After its debut Albee was given the Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for the Drama Desk Award Outstanding Play for Three Tall Women three years later. The play was originally written in English, however Alissa Walser and Martin Walser translated the play into German.

2.1. The playwright Edward Albee

Edward Franklin Albee was born in Virginia in the US in 1928. As a baby he was adopted by the Albees of Larchmont in New York. His family’s “wealth and social position [came; DD] from the family’s interest in a national chain of theaters”.[1] His love for writing was kindled at the age of 20. As an author he wrote several memorable books and plays. His well-known opus “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was later filmed and directed by himself. In the United States his work was recognized with several awards. He also received acknowledgement for his writing in German-speaking countries. His first piece of work “The Zoo Story” had its debut performance in Berlin and he was renowned for his work in Austria as well.[2] Edward Albee had no offspring. His sexual orientation was formed when he was “twelve and a half”[3] as he admitted himself. He handles his sexuality in a very neutral way: “I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay.”[4] For more than 20 years he shared his existence with Jonathan Thomas, who died in 2005.[5]

2.2. The play in context

It is certain that Three Tall Women is written as an autobiographical piece (see Zinman, 2008, p.118 f.). In the play we face a woman dealing with her homosexual son in an intolerant way. Their relationship fails when the protagonist throws her son out from home because of his sexuality. The same happened to Albee when he turned eighteen. His adoptive mother, Francis Cotter Albee, did not want to allow him to stay at home for the reason that he was gay. This makes it clear that Edward Albee and his adoptive mother had a difficult relationship. “We [he and his mother; DD] had managed to make each other very unhappy over the years, […] it is true I don´t like her much”[6] is what he concedes. This clearly shows that Albee´s mother bothered him. He thought of her in contrasting ways. On the one hand he could not stand her intolerance towards his homosexuality; on the other hand he admires her because of her pride and self- assurance (see Zinman, 2008, Albee, p.119). By writing Three Tall Women he comes to terms with that issue in his life. The fact that the drama was written soon after the death of Edward Albee’s adoptive mother supports the statement that Three Tall Women is an autobiographical play.[7]

2.3. Content of the play

In the whole drama only three women are introduced as talking characters. The main focus lies on A, who owns the flat where the drama takes place. She is a 92-year-old woman. In the first act the audience gets to know stories of A´s life, because she tells her caretaker B about them. C, who visits A as part of her job - she is a young lawyer - which consists of taking care of A´s funds. When she comes to the point where she talks about her most aching memories she suddenly discontinues. After B and C realized that she has had a stroke they want to contact A´s doctor and her only son.

In the second act of the play all of the three ladies appear again. Therein Edward Albee uses the coup de théâtre (see Zinman, 2008, p.119). Following that dramatic application the three tall women turn out to be one person in different stages of her life. Because of A´s look-alike doll that is laying in bed motionless it can be assumed that the protagonist is recalling her life with visions of herself at the ages of 26 and 52. Thereby she is conducting her last conversation with herself in order to be able to rest in peace. Toby Zinman describes that as a “human interior drama”.[8]

3. Analysis of the play with respect to the psychological aspect of aging

Since the play is written autobiographically it is said that “the play never feels vicious or vengeful, just as it does not feel maudlin or nostalgic. Psychologically, then, the play would seem to be an extraordinary achievement.”[9] Although the literature is autobiographical and the psychological aspect does not play the biggest role it is interesting to open one´s mind and take a look behind the scenes to understand the characters’ behavior and its background. Not by analyzing the protagonists as Edward Albee´s mother but instead by analyzing the woman that appears in Three Tall Women .

3.1. Analysis of the protagonist and her life

The play is written as a dialogue between only A, B and C, all representing the same woman but at different times of her life. In the first act A, B and C are introduced as three different people with no close relation to each other. In this manner the audience gets acquainted with each of the women as their own character (see Zinman, 2008, p.119). Nevertheless, several allusions are made throughout the first act that show A, B and C are actually one woman, as for example when B tells C with a “(Sour smile.) Well ... you just wait.”[10] as well as when A talks about C: “Oh, she´ll learn”[11] and repeats that on the following page. From the interaction between the three women in act one the audience can deduct their characters and social behavior.

3.1.1. The characters A, B and C

The audience gets to know C as “the emissary from A´s lawyer´s office”.[12] She appears to be confident, naive, egocentric and a bit cocky because of her youth as for instance when she says to A implying that she is wrong about her age: “(A bit as if to a child.) Well, one of you might be wrong, and it might not be him [, her son; DD].”[13] Her behavior towards A can be generally described as rude and inappropriate as she mocks her and laughs about A (see Albee, 1994, p.12 ff.). She reveals that she does not have much experience with old people by asking B in an aside: “Is it always like this?”[14] Towards the end of the first act she actually admits: “I’m not good at ... all that [dealing with old people; DD].”[15] At this point B mentions for the last time the fact that they are actually one person by telling C: “You’ll get there.” and “[...]: if you live long enough you won’t have to; you’ll be there.”[16], which becomes obvious in the second act when she is revealed to be the 26-year-old version of A. Then her attitude remains the same and she “continues to be shallow and irritating”[17]. The explanation for the missing depth in C’s character can be explained by the fact that Albee didn’t know his mother when she was young and C “thus [is; DD] a mere assumption”[18] on his part. It is a very probable assumption though as in the psychological theories by Costa and McCrae it is said that younger people are more extroverted and open to new experiences in comparison with older ones (see Lang/Martin/Pinquart, 2012, p.150- 151).


[1], 20.05.2013.

[2], 25.05.2013.

[3], 25.05.2013.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] Zinman: Edward Albee (2008), p.119.

[7], 21.05.2013.

[8] Zinman: Edward Albee (2008), p.120.

[9] ibid.: p. 119.

[10] Albee: Three Tall Women (1994), p.11.

[11] ibid.: p.13.

[12] Zinman: Edward Albee (2008), p. 120.

[13] Albee: Three Tall Women (1994), p.6.

[14] ibid.: p.12.

[15] ibid.: p.30.

[16] Albee: Three Tall Women (1994), p.30.

[17] Zinman: Edward Albee (2008), p.121.

[18] ibid.: p.121.

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The psychological aspect of aging in Edward Albee’s "Three Tall Women"
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Deborah De Lorenzo (Autor), 2013, The psychological aspect of aging in Edward Albee’s "Three Tall Women", München, GRIN Verlag,


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