Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Study Guide

Edward Albee

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Course Hero. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2017. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Whos-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf/.

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Course Hero, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed November 22, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Whos-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf/.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Act 1, Fun and Games (Section 2) | Summary

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Summary

Martha looks around her house and says, "What a dump." She gets annoyed when George doesn't understand that the line comes from a Bette Davis (1908–1989) film and that he cannot name the movie. Martha calls George rude names, including "cluck" and "dumbbell." Martha and George have just returned from a faculty party hosted by her father, the college president. Martha has invited a young couple, new to the college, to come for a drink. George is annoyed and not in the mood to entertain, as it is 2:00 a.m. Martha says that the man she has invited over is about 30 years old, teaches in the math department, and is very good looking.

When George sulks because Martha has invited guests over without consulting him, she starts singing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Martha is annoyed when George doesn't laugh, even though he laughed when she sang the song at the party. Martha asks George to put more ice in her drink, and she talks about her "big teeth."

Analysis

The line "What a dump" comes from the 1949 movie Beyond the Forest. The quote fits the context of this part of the play because Davis plays the neglected wife of a physician. Albee is suggesting that Martha feels neglected and her husband, a college professor, has high status. The character Davis plays gets bored and has an affair with a visiting businessman. Martha is bored and tries to have sex with Nick. The quote is famous, and Albee's audience would recognize it.

Bette Davis was an American actress noted for the wide range of her roles. She often played unsympathetic women, even horror roles. The fact that Martha quotes this line from a Davis movie foreshadows the mind games that she and George will play: they take delight in their intellectual accomplishments, even though they do not use their knowledge in a positive, useful way.

In the 1960s, when the play is set, faculty wives were expected to entertain other couples in the college to help further their husbands' careers. Martha has invited Nick and Honey because she claims that her father, the college president, asked her to do so. Because she has high status in the college based on her father's role as president, she would not be under any obligation to entertain anyone—even to please her father. She invites Nick and Honey over to annoy George. Nick is young and handsome, which George points out. The audience can also infer from this incident that Martha has had affairs with George's colleagues. Of course, this would be well known in the small college community and a source of tremendous embarrassment to George—which is likely the main reason why Martha does it.

Martha's singing and her pride in her wit also show that she competes with George. He is a college professor, and her status derives only from an accident of birth—being the college president's daughter—but she is determined to show George that she is bright and witty too. Much of George and Martha's sniping derives from their sense of competition.

Martha's "big teeth" are not just big; she has two more teeth than George does, suggesting that she is capable of inflecting more harm on George than he can inflict on her. Here, it appears that Martha is the wolf, the more dangerous partner in the marriage.

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