Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Study Guide

Edward Albee

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Course Hero. (2016, July 28). Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from 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 13, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Whos-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf/.


Course Hero, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed November 13, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Whos-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf/.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Symbols



The wolf has long been used as a symbol of danger. Albee claimed the idea for the wolf came to him one night when he was in a bar, having a beer, and saw "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" scrawled on a mirror. When he began writing the play, the idea popped back in his mind again: "And of course, who's afraid of Virginia Woolf means who's afraid of the big bad wolf ... who's afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke." The "big bad wolf" is a reference to the villain in the fairy tale The Three Little Pigs. In his play Albee lets the audience know that the parody of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"—"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"—was sung by an unnamed guest at the party that George, Martha, Nick, and Honey had attended earlier in the evening. Although the audience isn't given enough information to understand why, it's clear from the main characters' reactions that the rendition was amusing.


The term baby is used frequently throughout the play to emphasize the fact that both couples—George and Martha and Nick and Honey—do not have children. By calling each other "baby," perhaps George and Martha are trying to compensate for not having a child. The couple also uses child-related terms in their dialogue with Nick and Honey, referring to them as "our little guests," "kids," and "tots." But what's the symbolism? Having children represents a legacy, building something for the future. Further, for some people, a child gives meaning to a marriage and can divert the couple's attention from the problems between the two of them. This may be what George and Martha are trying to accomplish by having an imaginary child and why Martha is so distraught when George "kills off" their baby. Now she must face the sad reality of her life.


Alcohol symbolizes avoidance, a way to escape the realities of life. Offering Honey a drink, George says, "Hm? Oh, yes ... yes ... by all means. Drink away ... you'll need it as the years go on." George and Martha use alcohol as a way to ignore reality. They do not have to face the emptiness of their lives if they are drunk.

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