According to Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? aims to examine whether American society was able to “live up to the principles of the American Revolution” (qtd in Bottoms 16). In another interview, he noted that the play stands as a response to O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, a response that acknowledges that the denial of the self leads to fiction and prevents the acceptance of reality (qtd in Bottoms 46).
In this sense, one might state that aforementioned play serves as a critique to the way of life led within American societies as it enables and tolerates the denial of reality through the creation of fictitious images of American culture. This is evident if one considers the similarities between the characters within the play. George and Martha stand as representations of the effects of the rapid shifts in the industrial, social, and historical climate within the United States to the individual.
Nick and Honey, on the other hand represent the effects of these changes to the individuals whose existence started during this period. Within the play, George stands as the epitome of the individual whose commitment to life the self and to others has been deprecated by his career as an associate professor of history in New England. Martha, on the hand, stands as the embodiment of the angry, strong, and frustrated individual. The couple’s identities were emphasized by their counterparts Nick and Honey.
Within the play, Nick represents the opportunistic superficial individual. Like George, who is also a professor, Nick is a new biologist instructor in the college. His wife, Honey, on the other hand is the daughter of a rich family who like Martha is plagued with hatred and terror which may be traced to her husband’s treatment. These feelings are veiled with a pretense of laughter. The characters, within the text, thereby portray distraught individuals who are continuously being destroyed by their pretenses and their failure to accept and realize their selves.
Such a realization, however, was achieved by the protagonists (George and Martha) as they were able negotiate their identities as well as the recent failure of their marriage. Note for example that the initial part of the play portrays George and Martha as being engaged in verbal battle. Martha describes her husband as “A FLOP! A great…big…fat…FLOP” (Albee 84). The later part of the novel, however, shows an end to the verbal battle between the couple as the chasm between illusion and reality has finally been crossed.
The question posed by George in the initial part of the play was answered. He states, “Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference? ” (Albee 201). It seems, only those who can accept a life without illusions, one purely founded upon reality can know the difference and in effect can live a ‘real’ life. In the initial part of the essay, it was mentioned that Albee’s purpose for writing the play was to show the American society’s failure to live up to the ideals of the revolution. This failure lies in our failure to go beyond our pre-fabricated illusions. Our failure to face reality as is.