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 6) | Summary

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Summary

George and Martha once again discuss their misunderstanding about Nick teaching in the math department. George talks about the work that scientists are doing with chromosomes, which he believes will lead to a race of superhumans. George says that he will not give in to this new race. Honey asks, "Where is your son?" George and Martha talk about their son.

Martha says that she is an atheist, but George replies that she is a pagan. George and Martha discuss their son, and Martha says that George hates her father. Martha says that her mother died when Martha was only a girl, so she and her father are very close. After Martha graduated from college, she says that she came home and sat around. During her sophomore year, she had been married for a week to one of the college's groundskeepers. Her father had the marriage annulled and quickly had her married to George. She claims that she didn't have to marry one of the college professors because she "wasn't the albatross." Rather, it was her decision to continue her father's legacy at the college by marrying "into" it.

Analysis

Albee has George talk about chromosomes to underscore that George feels threatened by Nick. George rants about the "dark side" of Nick's research with chromosomes, suggesting it threatens to wipe out the imperfect. In truth, George feels his manhood is undermined by Nick and his position in the biology department.

Coming right after George's discussion of chromosomes and Nick's assertion that he will be "the wave of the future," George and Martha's imaginary son can be seen as a symbol of their failure to leave a legacy. Children represent the future, hope, and possibility, and the fact that George and Martha do not have a child but make a party joke out of their infertility shows the depth of their failure and the sadness in their lives.

The son is also part of the theme of illusion and reality. Some critics have said it is implausible that an educated husband and wife would foster the illusion of an imaginary child for 20 years. But implausibility seems to engage Albee. His main focus is not on dramatizing factual truth. He is interested in peoples' reasons for creating false illusions to support their unhappy lives.

There are no mothers in this play. Both Martha and Honey appear unable to bear children. Because mothers are traditional symbols of warmth and nurturing, their absence creates a harsh, unloving environment without any maternal tenderness.

Martha repeatedly states how close she is to her father, yet her running off with a gardener shows a desperate cry for attention and love. She is very aware of social status. In large part, she married George on the rebound because she was "damaged goods" and he was socially suitable—and so her running off with someone so obviously unsuitable seems to show that she was not getting the attention she craved from her father.

In the poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), an old sailor is punished by the heavens for killing an albatross, a bird that sailors consider to be good luck. Among other punishments, the sailor has to wear the dead bird around his neck. The saying to be an "albatross" has come to mean "a burden." Because Martha's father would have been keenly embarrassed by her running off with the gardener, Martha would have felt the pain of being an albatross to her father. When she says "I wasn't the albatross," she is being defensive, as if she married George voluntarily instead of marrying to shed the shame and embarrassment she brought to her father.

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