Literature Study GuidesWhos Afraid Of Virginia WoolfAct 1 Fun And Games Section 1 Summary

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Study Guide

Edward Albee

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Act 1, Fun and Games (Section 1) | Summary


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is divided into three acts without scenes. This study guide further breaks down each act into sections unified by characters or actions for the purpose of summary and analysis.


Act 1 opens with the stage directions "Set in darkness. Crash against front door. Martha's laughter is heard." The play is set in the living room of a house on the campus of a small New England college, the home of George and Martha. George is a history professor; Martha is his wife. The stage directions indicate a crash occurs when George and Martha walk into their house.


The first act's title, "Fun and Games," is pointedly sarcastic. The vicious verbal attacks that George and Martha hurl at one another are anything but "fun and games." The title represents how George and Martha are living under a desperate illusion: what they call games are their manner of venting their respective disappointments and rages against each other.

The stage direction "set in darkness" suggests that George and Martha are themselves in darkness: meaning, they do not understand—or care—how the wreckage of their marriage is affecting themselves and others. Indeed, they will harm Nick and Honey later that evening. The directions also indicate the required sound effect—the crash. The crash is literal, as Martha crashes into the door. In addition, the "crash" foreshadows how their marriage will crash. Martha's laughter shows that she is drunk but also foreshadows how she will treat the evening with Nick and Honey (at least at first) as a great joke. It emerges that there is no reason to laugh at these "fun and games."

George and Martha live in a house provided by the college on campus. This is a special privilege, usually reserved for highly placed college officials, visiting scholars and professors, or professors with social pull on campus. Martha has social pull because she is the daughter of the college president.

Albee named George and Martha for George (1732–1799) and Martha Washington (1731–1802). George Washington is known for his courageous wartime leadership, political accomplishments, and integrity. Washington was also a success after he left public service, managing his estate and advising political leaders. The George in the play lacks all of these qualities: in fact, according to Martha, he is a failure. Indeed, he has been passed over for the presidency of the college; he is not even a full professor. The play never mentions whether or not he is a skilled teacher or a good scholar, so the audience can assume that he is neither. Martha is a vicious alcoholic who spends her time having affairs and attacking her husband. Therefore, Albee uses the names George and Martha as an example of verbal irony, to show how far Americans have declined from the heroic age of the men and women who founded our country.

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