Reality versus Illusion in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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Reality versus Illusion in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In his play, The American Dream, Edward Albee unveils a tortured family that is symbolic of the reality beneath the illusion of the American dream. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Albee takes a more traditional approach than the theater of the absurd, and his language is more natural, but he returns to this theme with a vengeance. For in all of drama there are few plays about domestic relationships that are as caustic, violent and as poisoned with the milk of human bitterness, cynicism and pessimism as is Woolf. The story regards George and Martha, a married couple (he a history professor and she the University President's daughter). Verbally and emotionally George and Martha are as skilled at cutting each other without going for the final kill as much as a professional torturer trained to prolong his victim's agony. Into this volley of abuse come Nick and Honey, a young couple who also share a vision of the "American dream," but Albee portrays Nick as the victor in his battles with George because George is of the old school and Nick has already been indoctrinated into the new American culture of capitalism for its own sake.

The theme of the play, other than touching on the disillusionment of the American dream for the younger generation, and a robotic-like acceptance of the evolved "capitalized" version by the older generation, is that each of the characters in the play, like each of us in real life, are destined to struggle through our own personal hell, a struggle that we face alone "It becomes clear that each character is engaged in an isolated struggle through a personal hell" (Murphy 1113). The plot centers around George and Martha's p...

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...e his themes in the play. Truth versus illusion, reality versus perception, and union versus inability to come together are the main themes the author chooses to highlight throughout the work. In the end, once all illusions have been stripped or peeled away, Martha and George have a chance to come together in an effort to save their marriage. As Martha says to end the play in response to George's singing "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf"; "" (Albee 242). Only from this point of truth can George and Martha hope to save their troubled marriage.


Albee, E. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. New York: Signet, 1962.

Carter, S. Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The Explicator. Vol. 56. June 22, 1998, 215-218.

Murphy, B, ed. Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

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