Study Guide

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Drugs and Alcohol

By Edward Albee

Drugs and Alcohol

Martha: Make me another drink…lover.
George: My God, you can swill it down, can't you? (1.17)

This is the first of George's many jabs at Martha's alcoholism. If he has such a big problem with it, why does he always make her drinks?

George: Martha? Rubbing alcohol for you? […] Martha's tastes in liquor have come down…simplified over the years…crystallized. [1.198-200]

George is referencing Martha's increasing descent into alcoholism. Could this reflect the disintegration of their marriage?

George: I'll tote you gin bottles out after midnight so no one'll see. (1.451)

George seems to be a real enabler when it comes to Martha's alcoholism. Does he do this out of pity, hatred, or love? All three perhaps?

Nick: May I leave me drink here?
George: Yeah…sure…why not? We've got half-filled glasses everywhere in the house, wherever Martha forgets she's left them…in the linen closet, on the edge of the bathtub…I even found one in the freezer, once. (1.544)

Is Martha's alcoholism as out of control as George describes?

Honey (Suddenly giggles insanely, subsides. To George) When is your son? (Giggles again) (1.620)

Honey is pretty darn drunk by this point in the evening. Notice how her drunkenness steadily increases as the situation gets more and more tense.

George: we've got guests.
Martha: (With a covetous look at Nick) We sure have.
Honey: Could I have a little brandy? I think I'd like a little brandy? (2.322-2.324)

This is after Honey's first trip to the bathroom, but once again the social situation is just too tense for her without alcohol.

Martha: we take our tears, and we put 'em in the icebox, in the goddamn ice trays[…]until they're frozen[…]and then…we put them…in our…drinks. (3.1)

Here's quite a poignant metaphor for drowning sorrows in alcohol.

Nick: You should try me sometime when we haven't been dinking for ten hours (3.26)

Nick uses drinking as an excuse for his impotence, but are there deeper reasons? Disgust? Shame?

Martha: You [Nick] just stay where you are. Make my hubby a drink. (3.96)

Making the drinks has been George's job for the whole play. Now, Martha is ordering Nick to do it. What could this sudden shift symbolize?

Honey: (Apologetically, holding up her brandy bottle) I peel labels.
George: We all peel labels, sweetie; and when you get through the skin, […] When you get down to bone […] There's something inside the bone…the marrow…and that's what you gotta get at. (3.259-3.261)

George's riff on peeling labels gets at the central message of the play: we must strip ourselves of illusion. It's ironic, in this instance, that a bottle of alcohol is the starting place for the metaphor, as alcohol is a time-honored way of avoiding reality.