Hallucinatory Figures in Modern American Drama

Stephanie Lynn Prugh, University of Colorado at Boulder


In drama, a “hallucinatory figure” is an absent, imaginary, or allegorical individual that a dramatic character perceives to be present. Hallucinatory figures are featured in some of the most prominent works in the American theatre canon including Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, August Wilson’s Fences, Mary Chase’s Harvey, David Auburn’s Proof, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Tom Kitt and Brain Yorkey’s musical Next to Normal. Despite its prevalence, the hallucinatory figure has managed to slip through the cracks of scholarly analysis and avoid any formal systematic study. This thesis focuses on the role of the hallucinatory figure in canonical and contemporary American dramas in relation to a leading character’s haunted mind. By looking at this figure as a product of the character’s psyche, we learn that each figure is a manifestation of the character’s loneliness; this lends valuable insight into the relationships between fathers and sons, society and the individual, and the members of a nuclear family. As haunted characters seek to fill the void in their lives, the hallucinatory figure reveals the fallacies behind their unwavering belief in the mythic ideals of American life and ultimately represents nothing more than the hallucinatory quality of the American Dream.