Outcry Against Conformity in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? may be viewed as a criticism of American society in the 1960s. Edward Albee saw 'the responsibility of the writer...to be a sort of demonic social critic': thus the play became a reaction against the illusionary plays of its time. Two lines from the play are directly lifted from the works which Albee is mocking: 'Flores para los muertos' is from A Streetcar named Desire and Martha's speech - 'Awww, tis the refuge we take...' - is from a play by Eugene O'Neill. Both of these playwrights sanction illusion in the face of reality; Virginia Woolf is said to be an elaborate metaphor for the 'willing substitution of fantasy for reality, the destructive and dangerous infantilising of the imagination and the moral being by fear.' Albee saw society as too willing to conform and adjust itself morally in order to benefit and succeed. George's attempts to escape from such a society result in his hiding in history and thus him and Nick are no better than each other. George has to resist the totalitarian - 'defend Berlin' - in Nick but his attempts to defend Western civilisation 'against its sex- and success-orientated assailants...are too closely centred on his scrotum.'
The setting - New Carthage - of the alcohol-sodden gathering is significant in itself. The original Carthage was founded in the ninth century BC and it was razed to the ground in 146AD, when it collapsed under the weight of its own power. It is thus being likened to the America of the 1960s where, again, money and power provided the principal axels for behaviour and superseded the values of culture. As Ni...
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...tack on society. By referring to well known contemporary texts, Albee mocks the attitudes that their works sanction. The characters are created as before and after pictures of the results of relationships based in delusion, with clear links to moments in history acting as sounding boards for each others thoughts. Their intoxicated states allow, for the first time in a long while, for their true feelings and motives to be revealed, and for all the secrets and lies that have formed the keystones to their marriages to be removed finally allowing a true test of their strength. Unsurprisingly, what is left very quickly collapses: a warning to others and a wake-up-call to society. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an outcry against the thoughtlessness and conforming nature of Western culture and an attack on those who not only live, but sanction, such a lifestyle.
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