Study Guide

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Marriage

By Edward Albee

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Martha: Well…you're going bald.
George: So are you. (Pause…they both laugh) Hello, honey.
Martha: Hello. C'mon over here and give your mommy a big sloppy kiss.(1.28-1.131)

This is a perfect example of the complex web of love and hate that binds George and Martha together. They each seem to love the other's skill at crafting cruel insults.

Martha: I swear…if you existed I'd divorce you […] I haven't been able to see you for years […] you're a blank, a cipher (1.144-1.148)

Harsh words. Martha is constantly citing George's lack of a personality and drive as the cause of the rift in their marriage.

George: I'll hold your hand when it's dark and you're afraid of the bogey man […] but I will not light you cigarette. (1.451)

We think there's a pretty good chance that George is being sincere here when he mentions comforting Martha at night, but it's also exposing her weakness to the guests. Once again love and hate arrive in the same sentence.

George: It isn't the prettiest spectacle…seeing a couple of middle-aged types hacking away at each other, all red in the face and winded, missing half the time. (2.36)

This is a pretty apt description of the state of George and Martha's marriage.

Nick: I married her because she was pregnant. […] It was a hysterical pregnancy. She blew up, and then she went down. (1.49-1.51)

Nick reveals here that his marriage, which seemed to be perfect at first, was really just a marriage of necessity.

Martha: And along [George] came, bright eyed, into the History Department. And do you know what I did , dumb cluck that I am? […] I fell for him. (1.736)

This admission on Martha's part reveals that her now hateful marriage did begin with love.

Nick: I wouldn't say there was any…particular passion between us, even at the beginning…of our marriage, I mean. (2.163)

It's interesting that Nick and Honey's seemingly perfect marriage began without love, whereas George and Martha's seemingly terrible marriage began with love.

George: you […] go around like a hopped-up Arab, slashing away at everything in sight[…]
George: (Quietly) That is a desperately sick lie. […]
Martha: My arm has gotten tired whipping you. (2.626-2.639)

We wonder how much truth there is to Martha's statement? Does some part of George feel that he deserves the abuse Martha heaps on him? Is their marriage based on desire for punishment?

Martha: (Hopeless) I'll make you sorry you made me want to marry you. (2.191)

This statement, while bleak, seems to confirm that Martha had real feelings for George at the beginning of their marriage.

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)

This snippet comes after the destruction of their imaginary son. Will the marriage be able to survive without illusion? Will it thrive or finally completely collapse? Both options seem equally possible.

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