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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee

Act I, Part ii

Act I, Part i

Act II, Part I

Summary

Martha returns in a sexier dress. The conversation turns to praising Nick, who is something of a young genius and an athlete. Martha insults George for being stuck, unsuccessfully, in the history department; she praises Nick's body, among other things. Martha tells a story about when she and George were learning to box (at her father's request), and she accidentally knocked him flat on his back. As she tells the story, George comes up behind her head with a gun, which no one knows is fake until it goes off, shooting out a parasol rather than a bullet. Honey gets very scared. Everyone gets another drink.

George begins insulting the field of genetic biology again, but Martha defends it. George says he does not want to give up quirky things in life for a perfect race of humans. Honey, now very drunk, asks when George and Martha's son is coming home. The couple acts strangely, and does not answer. They fight with each other, partly about the color of their son's eyes. George says that Martha's father's eyes are red because he is a little mouse. Martha claims that George hates her father because of George's own insecurities. George leaves the room, and Martha tells the story about how they met and were married.

Martha's mother died young, she says, and Martha was raised by her father. She enjoyed being important at the University and decided, after a wild youth, that she wanted to marry someone at the college and continue the family tradition there. She met George and fell for him when he was new, even though he was much younger than she. But, she continues, he let her down because he was not good enough to take over running the University. As Martha talks about what a "flop" he is, George breaks a bottle against a wall. Then, to cover up her insults, he sings "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the top of his lungs. Nick and Honey join in the singing. When they all finish, Honey announces that she is about to vomit and runs to the bathroom.

Commentary

Martha's desperation can be seen as a feminist statement by Edward Albee. As she tells her own history, the audience realizes that she never considered taking over the University herself. Instead, she felt that she had to marry someone to do it for her. Therefore, her only power comes from her father. She seems to try to gain power through sexuality, though. As Martha puts on a sexy dress, flirts with Nick, and reveals secrets from her sexual past, she is attempting to gain some authority. She insists, through this behavior, that she made her own decision and that she can control men. But, her attempts to show this power are somewhat sad because she is ultimately disappointed with her life. She does not have much power, because her fate is so tied up in the men around her.

As Martha and George fight about their son's eye color, they hint at the fact that the audience learns later--they made him up. The significance of this fight beyond their usual bickering is that they are trying to claim ownership for this fantasy. Whereas a real child might bring parents together, the dream of one that they created is tearing them apart. They each want to be closer to this dream, to make it more theirs. Instead of joining together through their pain, they fight each other.

In the meantime, Honey and Nick are not completely innocent. Nick, with his many degrees and boxing prowess, is an image of youthful pride. Nick can be seen as a younger version of George. Although George no longer has Nick's ambition or youthful energy, George began his time at the University with similar hopes (as Nick mentioned earlier in the act). As Nick and Honey watch this disenchanted, cynical, seemingly hopeless couple fight each other, they seem to recognize the potential for the same in their own lives. This realization might be symbolized by Honey's need to vomit.

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