Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Themes

Reality and Illusion

While other plays establish the difference reality and illusion respectively, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starts out with the latter but leans to the former. More specifically, "George and Martha have evaded the ugliness of their marriage by taking refuge in illusion."[2] The disappointment that is their life together leads to the bitterness between them. Having no real bond, or at least none that either are willing to admit, they become dependent upon a fake child. The fabrication of a child, as well as the impact its supposed demise has on Martha, questions the difference between deception and reality. As if to spite their efforts, the contempt that Martha and George have for one another causes the destruction of their illusion. This lack of illusion does not result in any apparent reality. "All truth", as George admits, "[becomes] relative".[3]

Critique of the societal expectations

Christopher Bigsby asserts that this play stands as an opponent of the idea of a perfect American family and societal expectations as it "attacks the false optimism and myopic confidence of modern society".[4] Albee takes a heavy-handed approach to the display of this contrast, making examples out of every character and their own expectations for the people around them. Societal norms of the 1950s consisted of a nuclear family, two parents and a child. This conception was picturesque in the idea that the father was the breadwinner, the mother was a housewife, and the child was well-behaved. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? smashes these conventions and shows realistic families that are far from perfect and possibly ruined. The families of Honey and Martha were dominated by their fathers, there being no sign of a mother-figure in their lives. George and Martha's chance at a perfect family was ruined by infertility and George's failure at becoming a prominent figure at the university. Being just a few of many, these examples directly challenge social expectations both within and outside of a family setting.


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