The Themes Of Truth And Illusion In Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

Albee believed that life of illusion was wrong because it created a false life content. It’s therefore no surprise that Who’s Afraid is Virginia Woolf’s central theme of ‘truth & illusion’ plays an important role. Albee creates a dramatic story about two couples through the use of critical language and direct speech. Audience members can immediately see that tension is a major part of the eventual confessions, climax and final scene. Truth and illusion will be established through the breaking down characters.

Albee depicts George and Martha as an unorthodox, abusive couple. It creates a sense of mystery and ambiguity and is a play about a dysfunctional, abusive marriage. George and Martha fight constantly and are known to frustrate one another. Albee draws a sharp contrast between the two personalities. George, who is passive and intelligent towards Martha but is also very sad and violent towards her, while Martha is aggressive, violent, assaulting both physically and mentally. It is hard to understand the couple’s relationship as George calls Martha a “sub-human monster” who yowls, while Martha defends her husband’s great qualities as he teaches the games as fast as he can. This creates a false sense of reality that the audience doesn’t know who is lying. Albee suggests that the couple agree that there is no objective reality. George: But we have to keep going as though they did. Martha: Yes, but we must carry on as though we did. The excessive consumption of alcohol during the ‘evening’ increases the tension between characters and makes the disclosure of truth easier. George’s numbness can be seen through his calm and sometimes apathetic demeanour. It is not clear if this is George as he really is or if it is an illusion created by the performers. Martha and George insist that Honey befriend Nick and play several games that are quite revealing. The first Act’s title, ‘Fun and Games’, is a lie. It’s not fun for most people to play the games that the guests are forced to play. Albee suggests Martha play games with George. It is not clear to the audience, however, that Martha and George’s idea of fun is to make fun of their guests. Martha then taunts George and suggests that they will play a play called Hump the Hostesses’. The play’s uncertainty and dubiousness instils fear in the characters, which could lead to a change of meaning.

Albee creates the illusion of George’s son, and Martha believes he is the one to kill him. The couple’s chaotic marriage continues through Albee’s use of metaphors. George believes he can kill their son by playing the game of ‘bringing up baby’. But Martha makes the whole fantasy into a reality, and the audience sees it as madness. George and Martha create an illusion of their son by sharing details about their child. This includes his birth and his hair color. The play’s other characters Nick and Honey are introduced to the imaginary son of the hosts early in the play. There is doubt as to whether George or Martha are lying, but the intention to intimidate and confuse their guests with clever gameplay shows that George and Martha have made a fool of themselves.

Nick and Honey Albee make up the guest list to George and Martha’s after-party. Their marriage is based on illusions and false pretenses. While the couple seem to be a normal, American family, they are not truthful. Their relationship is dominated by the theme of fertility and the absence thereof. They were portrayed as having a natural love, and then a very hysterical pregnancy. However, Nick admits in these scenes that he was only trying to inherit Honey’s wealth. Martha and Nick develop a flirtatious attitude throughout the play. Honey falls asleep in the bathroom at Act Two and they kiss, showing that their marriage lacks truthfulness and communication. Honey is presented as the perfect housewife. However, her actions show that she is an abnormally young person. Honey sucking her thumb and lying in fetal position are just a few of her tendencies. Honey is often described as “slim-hipped”, but she is actually afraid of having children and has taken preventative medication called ‘apple jelly” to make sure she doesn’t. She is moved by George’s and Martha’s stories about their son at the end and decides to have a kid. Albee shows us how she explores truth and illusion through Honey and Nick’s misunderstanding of their marriage. This is just one example of Albee exploring the theme.

Virginia Woolf is mentioned in the title of this play, which brings up the theme of living without illusion. Albee’s play creates illusions from only one perspective, so the characters must fight to maintain their reality. Albee also raises the issue of private and publicly visible images in marriage. This theme suggests artificiality as well as deception. The projecting false images raises questions about Woolf’s theory that humanity is afraid to question reality. This theme is strongly represented in the play’s title, “Who’s Afraid” Virginia Woolf. The title could be interpreted as ‘Who’s afraid of questioning existence?’ and Albee suggests Martha is terrified of this convention of reality in the final moments of the play, as she expresses that she is afraid of Virginia Woolf; ‘I…am…George…I…am’, the overuse of ellipses slows the pace of the speech dramatically, giving the audience a sense of closure.

Edward Albee shows the theme “truth and illusion” through the dissections made of four characters: George, Martha Nick, Honey and Nick in Who is Afraid to Virginia Woolf? The audience can see the tension growing between the characters, which gradually exposes their most intimate truths. This is made evident by the heavy alcohol consumption throughout the play. George and Martha’s devoid marriage is centered around an imaginary son. This shows that reality has no deeper meaning. George or Martha must abandon their illusions to see the truth and expose themselves to each other.


  • camdynelliott

    Camdyn Elliott is a 35-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. She has been writing about education for nearly a decade, and her work has been featured on sites like The Huffington Post and The New York Times. Camdyn is the founder of the education blog Education Week, and she is also the author of the book "How to Teach Like a Pro: A Guide to Effective Teaching Methods for College and Career Students."

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