Saturday, April 3, 2010

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The actions in Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf gets stranger and stranger throughout. The play begins with Martha, who is obviously drunk, coming home from a party at two in the morning to find her husband, George, waiting for her. Martha tells her husband that a couple from the party, who are friends of her father’s, will be coming over shortly. The two bicker about it, as George is tired and doesn’t want company, and Martha insisting that they come over.

The two guests arrive, a young couple named Nick and Honey. Nick is the head of the Biology department at the college where George works, and Martha’s father is president of. Honey is simple-minded and innocent. At first, Nick and Honey seem to be normal people, especially when contrasted with George and Martha. Martha constantly emasculates her husband, attacking his low position at the university and comparing him to the younger, more successful and more attractive Nick. George retaliates by making fun of her constant drinking and her simple-mindedness.

Nick is horrified by the way the two treat each other. He says several times that he and his wife will leave, but he stays. Martha and George’s fighting gets more and more intense, and at one point, George points and shoots a fake gun at Martha, who thinks that it is a real gun. George becomes infuriated with his wife when he learns that she has only mentioned their son to Honey, and from this point forward, decides to torture Martha.

At first Nick and Honey seem to be a loving couple. Later, though, Nick admits to George, when the two women are out of the room, that he only married Honey because he thought she was pregnant, and his marriage with her was more out of convenience, as the two had known each other since they were children. As the play progresses, Martha’s flirting with Nick gets more and more aggressive. When Nick’s wife is passed out from drinking, Martha kisses Nick in front of her husband, who reads a book in the same room, pretending not to care. Later it is insinuated that Nick and Martha had sex in the kitchen.

The play is absurd because the characters in the play do not act like people normally act. George and Martha’s marriage is about nothing but the one trying to get the better of the other. Nick and Honey stay, even until the next day, despite being insulted by George and Martha and their constant fighting.

At the end of the play, George decides to play one more “game” in order to punish his wife for mentioning their son. He makes Martha tell about their son to Nick and Honey. Martha begins with their son’s childhood, speaking of events such as when he broke his arm. She then tells them that their son is away at college, to which George replies “Oh, come on, Martha!” (273). As Martha talks of their son, George constantly repeats Latin phrases. George then tells them all that their son is actually dead, and had died in a car accident that morning. Martha is hysterical and insists “You…can’t…do…that!” (245). The ending is absurd because George is able to think their son out of existence.

Christianity, an important existential and absurdist theme, can be seen throughout the play. In Steven Carter’s essay Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he points out the religious allusions in the play. He brings out that the very first word of the play, uttered by Martha who is stumbling drunk in the dark is “Jesus” (Carter). Carter explains:

Terribly shaken at the very end of the play by the death of the imaginary son, she echoes this initial line: “Just ... us?” On both occasions, she and George are alone on stage (3, 241). This subtle play on the off-rhymes “Jesus” and “Just ... us? ” accomplishes three things: It links up the aforementioned motifs of religion and language, making of them in effect a single, overarching motif; it brings Martha, the uncertain atheist who is also scared of being alone, to a crossroads; and it refreshes, in a single homophone, the audience's collective memory of the play's central conflict among George, Martha, and the son.

Carter brings out that these two lines tie the play together because it ties two important themes in the play, that of language and religion. The two are tied together to make one motif, that of the language of religion. It may also be significant that their son, who is dead and probably never existed, represents Jesus. Another evidence of this is brought out in Carter’s same article, where Martha and George’s son is both a unifying thing that ties the two together, as well as a “doomsday weapon to use in their ‘total war’ against each other” (Carter). This could be a comment about religion and God in general, that it is make-believe and is brought into existence by mankind’s thinking and speaking, but does not exist on its own.

Works Cited:

Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New American Library: New York, 1983.

Carter, Steven. "Review of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." The Explicator 55.2 (Winter 1997): 102-103. Rpt. in Drama for Students. Ed. David M. Galens. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.

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