Study Guide

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Dissatisfaction

By Edward Albee


Martha: Bette Davis comes home from a hard day at the grocery store […] into […] modest cottage Joseph Cotton has set her up in […] and she says, "What a dump!" […] She's discontent. (1.30-1.36)

Is Martha just taking about a movie, or could she be expressing dissatisfaction with her own home and husband in some sort of code?

George: there are easier things than being married to the daughter of the president of that university. […]
Martha: […] for some men it would be the chance of a life time.

The fact that George never went further in his career seems to be Martha's major source of dissatisfaction.

Martha: Georgie boy didn't have the stuff […] he wasn't particularly…aggressive. In fact he was […] A great…big…gat…FLOP! […]
SD: CRASH! Immediately after FLOP! George breaks a bottle against the portable bar

Up till now George's dissatisfaction with his failure had been revealed through subtext. This violent reaction of his part shows just how disappointed he is with his life.

George: I'LL KILL YOU! (Grabs her by the throat. They struggle) […] YOU SATANIC BITCH! (2.480-2.484)

You can gauge which failure George is most dissatisfied with by the violence of his reaction when Martha chooses to reveal it. The above reaction happens after she mentions his novel.

Martha: I sat there at Daddy's party, and […] I watched you sitting there, and I watched the younger men around you, the men who were going to go somewhere. […] and you weren't there! […] It finally snapped! (2.668)

We wonder if Martha's dissatisfaction with George stems from her the fact that she's never gone anywhere with her life.

Martha: There is only one man who has ever…made me happy. […] George; my husband. (3.31)

Really? Then why are you so dissatisfied, Martha? (Check out some of our theories in Martha's "Character Analysis.")

Martha: George who is good to me, and whom I revile […] who has made the hideous, the hurting, the insulting mistake of loving me and must be punished for it. (3.45)

This seems to be the root of it. Martha admits here that she loathes herself. In her twisted logic the very fact that George loves her seems to be the ultimate source of her dissatisfaction.

Honey: Why would anybody want to wash somebody who's sixteen years old?
Nick (Slamming his drink down) Oh, for Christ's sake, Honey! (3.290-3.291)

Honey's absurd level of naiveté seems to be one of Nick's main sources of dissatisfaction with her.

Martha: A son […] who spends his summers away…ON ANY PRETEXT…because he can't stand the shadow of a man flickering around the edges of a house…
George: […] who spends his summers away because there isn't room for him in a house full of empty bottles, lies, strange men, and a harridan who…(3.395-3.396)

It's interesting how George and Martha imbue their imaginary son with their own deep-seated gripes.

George (Long silence) : It will be better.
Martha (Long silence): I don't…know.
George: It will be…maybe. […]
Martha: Just…us? (3.529-3.534)

Will living without illusion force George and Martha to finally face their dissatisfactions with themselves and each other, or will the lack of buffer between them prevent them from surviving?