Réka M. Cristian, Associate Professor of American Studies, Chair of the American Studies Department, Institute of English and American Studies, University of Szeged, Hungary, and also Co-Chair and founding member of the Inter-American Research Center at the same university is the author of Cultural Vistas and Sites of Identity: Literature, Film and American Studies (2011), co-author with Zoltán Dragon of Encounters of the Filmic Kind: Guidebook to Film Theories (2008), and editor of various volumes on American Studies. She is founding editor and editor-in-chief of AMERICANA E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary as well as its e-book division, AMERICANA eBooks. Her research areas include modern American literature, with special regard to American drama, American modernism, theories of American Studies, film theory and the American film, and cross-cultural exchanges of the Americas in American literature and film.
With focus on the tropes of aging and death in Edward Albee’s The Sandbox (1960) and Tennessee Williams’s The Milktrain Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963), the essay investigates the negotiation of the protagonists’ identity through specters of age and the means of encountering death, and it analyzes the representation of the dramas’ senior citizens with special regard to the ways in which these characters challenge mainstream cultural constructions of aging. On their deathbed, both Albee’s and Williams’s protagonists are reconnecting with their pasts in idiosyncratic ways: they build up a conscious “age autobiography” (Margaret Morgenroth Gulette) in an inventory of events and feelings assessing a complete(d) life and achieve an “agewise” (Gulette) identity that comes full circle in the very moment of grace. The characters who escort these two elderly women on their last journey reconceptualize the sense of intimacy between people. The dialogic potential of their empathy, care, and unconditional support during the end-game of the protagonists accommodates difference in various contexts by blurring the boundary between the old and the young as well as the one between men and women, because death has neither age nor gender. Thus, these intergenerational exchanges help elder characters’ agewise enterprises into the unknown gain a cathartic sense of freedom. (RMC)