Study Guide

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Visions of America

By Edward Albee

Visions of America

Honey: Oh, isn't this lovely.
Nick: Yes indeed…very handsome. (1.176-1.177)

The attractive young couple's over-politeness in the face of their hosts' bitter disputes reveals just how fake they are. They seem to represent the image-obsessed America that came out during the 1950s. Over the course of the play their perfect façade is eroded just as America's image decayed in the 1960s.

George: I read somewhere that science fiction is really not science fiction at all…that you people are rearranging my genes so that everyone will be like everyone else. (1.330)

Throughout the play George equates genetics with the homogenization of culture that was present in America at the time of the play.

George: I will not give up Berlin!(1.600)

At the time of the play, America was in the midst of the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. Berlin was a hot bed of tension. This line draws connections between the characters' conflicts and that of America as a whole.

Nick: UP YOURS! […]
George: You take the trouble to construct a civilization…to…to build a society, based on the principles of…of principle […] then all at once […] through all the sensible sounds of men building […] comes the Dies Irae. And what is it? What does the trumpet sound? Up yours. (2.270-2.273)

This monologue could be seen as a lament for the death of the American Dream. Disenchantment was steadily growing in the '60s. People were beginning to ask themselves if all the building and growing America did post World War II really amounted to anything at all.

George: Godly money ripped from the golden teeth of the unfaithful, a pragmatic extension of the big dream (2.550)

By connecting the money that Honey's father swindled from his Church followers with the American dream, George corrupts the very idea of the American Dream itself. Is it awarded to the hardest working or to the most ruthless?

Honey: (Hysterical) Leave me alone…I'm going…to…be…sick. […]
George: The patterns of history. (2.588)

George's recognizes that this is the second time Honey has vomited. It's a cruel joke at her expense, but it has a larger purpose in the overall play. Here George recognizes that history has overall cyclical patterns; civilizations rise and fall. There was much speculation at the time of the play that the Cold War would be the end of not only America, but also quite possibly life on Earth.

George: Be careful, Martha…I'll rip you to pieces.
Martha: You aren't man enough…you haven't the guts.
George: Total war?
Martha: Total. (2.673-2.676)

Throughout the play George and Martha's relationship seems to parallel Cold War tensions. During that time both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R had thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at each other. Here Martha and George agree to the mutually assured destruction that both Americans and Soviets feared.

George: "And the west, encumbered by crippling alliances, and hardened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events, must…eventually…fall." (2.191)

When George reads this excerpt from a history text out loud at the end of Act 2, it's a major clue that just maybe this play is about more than a bickering couple. It's also about the crumbling of nations.

Martha: The gelding's all upset. Ha, ha, ha, HA!
Nick: You…you swing wild, don't you? […]
Martha: HAH! I'm a Gatling gun.
Nick: (In wonder) Aimless…butchery. Pointless. (3.62-3.66)

The use of war imagery here is no accident; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? uses interpersonal conflicts to examine international ones.

George: Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf,[…]
Martha: I...am...George...I...am...(3.541-3.544)

Was America as equally terrified of giving up its illusions as Martha is here? If America ceases to have faith in the American Dream then what do Americans have left?