Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the major thematic concerns are those involving perception versus reality. In the beginning of the play, both couples seem to be average, loving couples of the nineteen-fifties. Even George and Martha seem to be playful in their insults toward each other. Things do not start to turn until George warns Martha not to “start in about the bit with the kid”, after which both of them begin to get more hostile toward each other. Even then, their antagonism of each other did not reach the feverish pitch that it had by the end of the play.

     Nick and Honey are presented as even more of an ideal couple. They are seemingly devoted to each other and are made uncomfortable by George and Martha’s constant attacks of each other. However, in the following acts, we find that this one is aptly titled “Fun and Games” when the truth is revealed about the two couples.

     In the second act, we learn that the idyllic perception of Nick and Honey’s marriage is exactly that: a fairy tale. George and Martha begin to attack Nick and Honey (as well as each other) and force them to admit the false pretenses on which their marriage is based; namely, that Nick only married Honey because he believed her to be pregnant. Also, the fact that Nick is so easily seduced by Martha makes one doubt the love in his marriage to Honey.

     Another perception destroyed in this act is that the men hold the power in the relationships, which was the standard when the play was written. Their sexuality is what gives Martha and Honey their power. Honey used a false pregnancy to force Nick to marry her while Martha, as the daughter of the president of the university, uses sex as a tool to advance the careers of certain professors (although never her own husband).
     In the third act, we learn that Nick is perhaps not the athletic sexually voracious man we may have thought he was; his failure to consummate the affair with Martha resulted from his failure to maintain an erection. Also revealed in this last act is the fact that George and Martha do not, in fact, have a son; they simply made him up. With this last fantasy purged, George and Martha finally have a clean break with all the lies that have deteriorated their marriage.

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     Perhaps the most evident example of the perception versus reality theme of this work is in its title. In the play, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a joke, a corruption of the children’s song. However, it has a much deeper meaning. Virginia Woolf was a stream of consciousness writer. Such writers were interested in revealing the truth by revealing the thoughts of characters as they occur. The answer to the question “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is, therefore, all four characters in the play. They are afraid of letting go of the perceptions that society has of them because those perceptions are the only things holding their marriages together.
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