Hey everybody,

I am writing an essay on the play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I start strong but finish weak. Can you guys help me?

The protagonist, George, experiences a dramatic turnaround in Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. George enters as a quiet, submissive and weak man, but exits a man in a clear position of power as he reverses the role in his marriage and regains his manhood. George’s full transition takes place over the play’s three acts in the following way: his weakness and shortcomings are presented throughout the first act; his self-realization and the desire to change himself and the dynamic of power in his marriage follow in the second act; and he culminates his transformation by taking power from his wife in the final act. The compounded feelings of guilt, failure, and gloom that illusions rule his life is released as Nick and Honey, essentially a younger version of George and Martha, spend the night drinking and playing “games.” Edward Albee takes the weak, unsuccessful, and emasculated George through three acts gradually reversing his role, and eventually allowing him to emerge revitalized from the night of darkness and games.

Fun and Games

Prior to his transformation, George’s weaknesses and shortcomings are highlighted by his various relationships throughout the first act. The opening dialogue not only serves to start the book, but also provides background information about George and Martha’s marriage. In deep contrast to the overwhelming social norms of the 50’s and 60’s, Martha controls George. Martha states that if George, “existed,” she would, “divorce,” him. Edward Albee uses the cruel and divisive dialogue between the two to paint the image of what love can fall in too. Martha is also extremely upset with George and his failure to succeed, particularly even within his own department. George’s unresolved issues with Martha’s “Daddy” and the repeatedly stated justification that George is a “simp” or a “flop” serves Martha’s motivation that she married the wrong man to complete her dreams of social stature. George quietly acknowledges his failure and slinks into the shadows. George expresses his frustration in his cynical disgust with Nick. Nick epitomizes everything George was at a younger age. Nick is young, and has the world ahead of him in an emerging field in science, whereas George is old and stuck in the history department where things become “H.I.” or “historical inevitabilities.” There is no future in his work.

Another issue at play for George is illusion. George and Martha drink to create illusions, and to put aside the issue of having to deal with each other. As shown by the bickering over their child’s, “eye color,” George and Martha also have created the illusion of having a child. By giving the impression of a perfect marriage the lies that exist in their fantasies tear them apart. The drinking knocks down the walls that have hidden the truth behind their relationship. This deception places more stress on their already fragile marriage. While a real child unites two people by a shared genetic bond, the fact that they have invented a child threatens to tear them apart. George spends this act living in Martha’s shadow. He engages in verbal warfare, however, he shies away from the actual problems that will split their marriage. George allows Martha to play his aptly named game of, “humiliate the host,” and flirt with Nick. Martha wins the first round of their battle.


In the second act George’s transformation begins as he starts to feel more comfortable and confident, realizing more about himself and his desire to change the power dynamic in his relationship. Walpurgisnacht itself is a pagan holiday where witches come out to create mischief and cause devastation. Only George finds comfort in this situation, forcing Nick and Honey into his own games and effectively destroying their marriage. Opening the act, George has a conversation with Nick about a boy he knew growing up. The boy killed his parents and went crazy. This story reveals George’s fears of how much a child can affect his parents. George’s story may be drastic, however it parallels his relationship with Martha’s Daddy. This all-powerful Daddy figure has consumed George in the child’s life and will eventually drive him crazy. After Nick reveals his story of why he married Honey, the two note the correlation between their lives. Both married their wives for their power; however, George feels better because at least he married Martha for the right reasons. George takes this moment to lengthen his lead over Nick his fellow competitor by adding that “ [to Nick] you marry a woman because she’s all blown up… while I, in my clumsy, old-fashioned way.”

When Honey and Martha return the war heats up. Martha reveals the story about George’s book, and how Daddy forced it now to be published. This reveals George’s reliance on Daddy for his job, wife, and personal success. As Martha destroys each level of George’s self-confidence George decides to take everyone down with him. George tells the story of why Nick and Honey got married. Albee illustrates peoples’ need to compare themselves with others. This explains George’s relationship to Daddy. No matter how successful George becomes he will always be compared to someone better than him. This feeling of inferiority drives George crazy. As George drives a wedge between Nick and Honey, Albee reveals that behind the cover of a good marriage there are always underlying complications. Ending the act humiliated and trampled over, by Martha George resolves himself to destroy the one thing Martha has held dear. Her child – the chimera – the being that places the protective murkiness over her life.

The Exorcism

In the third act George completes his transformation and takes full control of his relationship. By this stage of the play George is in full control. Having seen the damage caused by his war with Martha he proceeds to exorcise all illusions from the night. George enters the act repeating lines from other plays such as, “Flores Para los Muertos.” With these words he is able to convey the falsity of their actions throughout the night. The couples are living a play in which they must dig past the initial truth to discover their true emotions. George then forces Martha to play his last game, “bringing up baby.” Martha desperately tries to avoid the game because she is afraid of the truth that will come out. Nevertheless, George continues making Martha talk about their fictional child. Together with her George speaks a requiem in Latin for the dead. With this he symbolizes the death of their fictional child, and the rebirth of their marriage. By casting aside all shadows, George has exorcised all illusions from their pagan night of Walpurgisnacht. He has also sent the night away by calling an end to all of the games. To Nick and Honey, George and Martha stand as warnings to their marriage. Albee leaves it up to the reader to determine whether or not Nick and Honey are even in love. George does not “play” a game in this last act. He calls an end to all of the games by stating that this will be the last game. His use of the phrase, “last game,” denotes the sincerity of his actions to an absolutely bewildered Nick and Honey.

Edward Albee uses a variety of techniques to display how a loving marriage can fall into disrepair. He also reinforces the idea that behind a seemingly perfect marriage lays a fragile web of lies and deceit. It is these illusions that George breaks down through the tumultuous night. Triggered by the presence of Nick and Honey, a younger version of George and Martha, George reclaims his manhood. In the first act, Fun and Games, George played the role of an emasculated man stuck in a loveless marriage governed by Daddy. The second act pushes George over the edge, as Martha leaves nothing out in bashing out his hopes. Finally, in the last act, George destroys the fragmented illusion that has held together his marriage. This “exorcism” flushes out all lies and ends the dark play symbolizing the rebirth into light. George single-handedly repairs his marriage and highlights the dangers of lies to Nick and Honey.

Can you please tell us the exact wording of the topic or question you were given. Or did you teacher just say 'Write an essay about the play'?

So, our basic premise for this essay was choose a character in the play and describe how he changes. I clearly (hopefully) chose George. My essay is due tomorrow so hopefully you reply quickly.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?

Sorry, it's midnight here. My bedtime.

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Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Engaging on some hopefully constructive criticism:

I think there is a central problem with your essay, and that is the fact that you completely divide George and Martha. While they are of course two struggling titans, they are also on another level a single unit. Thus I think it is very difficult two claim that one "wins" over the other. Of course the majority of their dialogue is vitriolic, but by disregarding Albee's frequent but subtle suggestions about the other part of their marriage, i.e. the actual profound love and respect, you oversimplify the play considerably. Thus in the end I would strongly suggest that the implicit question is not who of the two has one (of course that would mean George then), but whether the end is auspicious for them as a couple, or whether nothing will alter in the future. Your words "loveless marriage" are a very dangerous (and plainly wrong) assertion.

The second section I would criticise is that pertaining to your analysis of "Daddy's" role. Albee clearly states at one occasion in the play (sorry for not knowing the exact position now) that Martha desperately seeks but does not gain her father's approval. This goes a long way to explaining her hate of George's inadequacy, as the prime motivation for her application of the criterion for suitability for university head in her search for a husband was her desire to thus gain paternal approval. Since this failed, George's failure implies her failure in rising in her father's esteem. Thus her hate of George in the field of his inadequacy is an outward projection of spite she feels for herself/ her own inadequacy.

I really don't mean to be too critical, and I absolutely know how much easier it is to deconstruct than to construct! Sadly the general English teacher's dictum that "you can argue everything as long as you justify it" sadly is not true, as not everything about literature is subjective.