"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Articulates the Crises of Contemporary Western Civilization

Good Essays
Edward Albee's (1928) play Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1961-62) exhibits concern with the crises of faith of contemporary western civilization. This thematic concern is rooted in two sources.

First it establishes a link with the dramatists of the thirties such as Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953), Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) and Arthur Miller (1915-2005). These dramatists had in their plays critiqued America as it moved from "confidence to doubt." In a land of success they wrote obsessively of the unsuccessful. Their characters such as Blanch Du Bois in Street Car Named Desire(1947), Joe Keller in All My Sons (1947), Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman (1949) and Maggie the Cat in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) all lead "posthumous lives." These are souls that have been lost as a consequence of the national myth of American Dream. In their delineation the authors simultaneously attack and present the potential dangers of "the unquestioned generalized acceptance of and participation" in this myth. This concern finds resonance in Edward Albee's comment when he describes his work as "an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, and emasculation and vacuity, a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen."

Secondly Albee deploys techniques of Theater of Absurd. Albee often begins with a seemingly realistic circumstance that is abruptly interrupted by an absurd or surreal element or event. As for example in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? incidents such as the moon that goes down and soon comes up again and the hysterical pregnancy of Honey. Therefore in doing so he shares alo...

... middle of paper ...


To summarize then Albee's work captures dissipation of the American Dream on one hand and an acute existential angst manifest in the Theater of Absurd. He however does proffer a solution wherein characters must strip themselves of all illusions a first step of dealing with the truth.


Bigsby, C.W.E, ed. Edward Albee- A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey:Prentice Hall, 1975

Dozier, Richard. "Adultry and Disappointment in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" Modern Drama Vol11. No 4, (Feb 1969): 432-436.

Miller, Jordan. "Myth and the American Dream: O'Neill to Albee" Modern Drama Vol7 (Sept 1964): 190-198.

Wardle, Irving. "American Theater Since 1945." American Literature Since 1900: Penguin History of Literature, Vol 9. Ed. Marcus Cunliff. USA: Penguin, 1994. 205-236
Get Access