Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The American Dream
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In 1962, when Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? premiered on Broadway, America was still in a the mindset of the 1950s. People worked, built, and multiplied all in the name of the American Dream. For many Americans this meant acquiring a happy stable family, a happy stable house, and (if you were a man) a happy stable job. The closer a family resembled Leave it to Beaver the better. If your family didn't shine with that perfect sitcom gleam, well you'd just better pretend. The American Dream was one of Albee's favorite themes. (One of his early plays is even titled The American Dream.) With Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? he seems determined to challenge audiences' notions of what it meant to be an American.
George and Martha are named after George and Martha Washington, making them symbolic of America as a whole. So, if the American Dream is about having a happy stable family, what does it say to have Albee's George and Martha represent all Americans? They're not even trying to pretend they're happy, and they sure as heck aren't stable. Perhaps, Albee is suggesting that there may just be a lot of nastiness behind that sitcom sheen. The fact that the most meaningful connection between them (their son) is imaginary, seems to suggest that perhaps the entire American Dream itself is really just an unattainable illusion.
But what about Nick and Honey? At the top of the play, they seem like the poster children for the American Dream. They're an attractive, young couple. Nick is ambitious and seems destined for success. Honey seems to be polite and supportive. Over the course of the play, however, the illusion of their perfect marriage cracks and falls away. We learn that that Nick only married Honey for money and because he thought she was pregnant. We see him cheat on her with Martha, and we watch Honey drink herself into a stupor just to avoid all the unpleasantness around her. Here again Albee seems to set a couple up as symbolic of the American Dream, and then swiftly corrupts the whole image. It looks as if Albee's picture of America was in direct conflict with that of the mainstream.