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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee

Act II, Part ii

Act II, Part I

Act III

Summary

Martha and Honey return. Honey says that she often throws up. Martha says that her son also often threw up because of George. George responds that the boy ran away because of Martha. Everyone gets more drinks. Martha asks whether George has told Nick his side of the story. Nick says no. George tells Martha that he has to find a new way to fight her. Honey decides that she wants to dance. They put on music, but only Martha and Nick dance. They dance together in a sexual manner. Honey and George watch them, George commenting about this being a very old ritual. To George's protests, Martha tells Honey and Nick about the novel that George tried to publish. It was about a boy who killed his parents and then told everyone that it was an accident. Martha's father would not let someone at his university publish such trash. George tried to convince him to let the publishing go through by telling him that it was a true story, about himself.

George gets so mad that he attacks Martha. Nick tries to defend her, and they all struggle on the floor as Honey watches, chanting "Violence, violence!" The scuffle ends, and George announces that it's time for a new game. He considers "Hump the Hostess" and ends up with "Get the Guests." George says that his second novel is about a young couple coming to a new university. In other words, he tells the story of Nick and Honey's life, insulting everything. He says that her father took advantage of women while preaching. He calls Honey a mouse. He talks about how she drinks too much and throws up. He even recounts how they got married: she got fat with pregnancy, but then deflated. It takes Honey a while to figure out that he is talking about her, but when she does she becomes very angry with Nick for revealing their secrets. She runs offstage to throw up.

Nick is very upset and leaves to help his wife. Martha sarcastically compliments George on how brutal that game had been. She says that he is going too far, but he responds that she constantly goes after him like that. He warns her that she has been going too far herself, and that he is really going to get at her soon. He feels numbed by their fantasy life and how she reveals their life to the world. Martha says that the problem is that their life has snapped. She used to try but she won't anymore. They agree that they will wage "total war" on each other.

Nick returns to say that Honey is all right and is lying on the tiles in the bathroom. George goes to get ice, and Martha starts trying to seduce Nick. He gives in. George walks in on them kissing and touching each other. He turns around, though, and re-enters singing "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" He fixes drinks and sits in a chair where he cannot see Martha and Nick on the sofa. Martha and Nick start kissing again and hit chimes, making bells sound. George tells them to get back to their "necking." Martha becomes angry when she realizes that he feels in control of the situation. He tells Nick that he can have Martha. Nick and Martha go into the kitchen to continue. Honey arrives in the living room and asks what the bells were. She is still dreaming, though, and sleep-talks a little. She says that she does not want children and is afraid. George asks, cruelly, how she gets rid of them. Honey is upset and asks for her husband and a drink. Again she asks what the bells were. George, improvising this plan as he talks to her, tells her that someone arrived to tell him that his son had died. As the act ends, he is laughing and crying, looking forward to telling Martha about this development.

Commentary

The war between Martha and George is heating up. She insults him more and more personally, honing in on his work and its connection to his personal life. Plus, the fact that he could not publish his book without her father's approval reveals his reliance on her and her family for his life and livelihood.

George goes after the guests in a forced removal of their last shred of dignity. As he and Martha take each other down, he does not want to let them get away without some humiliation. This can be seen as a complex point by Albee. He seems to be pointing out that one of the major problems in his society is that people measure themselves against one another. All competition results from comparison. George seems to understand this problem and tries to rise above competition. But, as he is being humiliated, he becomes competitive about how desperate and low he is. His attack on Nick and Honey is ironic, then, because he is simply engaging in another kind of competition, similar to the one he disparages.

As the perfect image of Nick and Honey crumbles, the final idealization of marriage and family also collapses. Albee reveals that even this, the seemingly perfect marriage, has serious problems. Honey is afraid of having children, so they cannot have a family. And, it is unclear whether they love each other at all. Nick, the perfect model of a new faculty member, is rather easily seduced by Martha.

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