Edward Albee focuses on the lifestyle of two couples as he writes the play, who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Nick and Honey make up the younger couple while Martha and George are a bit older. The marriage between Martha and George is full of insults; blame game and disrespect, which is contrary to Nick and Honey’s marriage. The author uses the younger couple as a negative reflection of the older couple.
Although Martha and George are old, they enter the house at about two in the morning drunk and shouting, Martha is so loud that George decides to silence her. Surprisingly, they do not go to bed and Martha continues to drink alcohol up to sunrise. Martha reminds George about the visiting couple, Nick and Honey; a fact that he does not like. Finally, Nick and Honey arrive and overhears as George and Martha throw insults at each other.
Due to fear and embarrassment, Nick suggests that they go back home; if anything they should not have shown up in the first place; nevertheless, they gather the courage to enter the house. Nick is calm as George teases and makes fun of his career as a university professor and for the second time running, Nick raises the issue of going back as the home of the old couple is not habitable. Nick’s request to leave the old couple’s house implies that his (Nick) home is habitable and peaceful compared to that of Martha and George.
Additionally, George lacks civilization as he despises his visitors (younger couple), he describes Honey’s figure as hipless and finds fault in Nick’s research on genes. However, Nick remains calm and does not despise his profession and such underscores how the young couples highlight the negative side of the older couple.
Martha is 52 years old; however, Nick’s youthfulness turns her on. She goes ahead and changes into attractive dress to attract Nick and she incessantly flirts with him openly.
Surprisingly, George does not comment on her behavior and overlooks her flirty escapades; this shows the old couple’s marriage is void of happiness, love, and respect. Additionally, Martha talks about her husband’s lack of success opening their marriage secrets to another couple. Similarly, George blames Martha for forcing her into marriage simply because her father has a reputable position at the university.
Nick and Honey helplessly watch their hosts as they tear each other apart; actually the environment is so inhabitable that Honey throws up probably because she cannot stomach the insults exchanged by the old couples. The younger couple continually remains mum about their marriage secrets whether they are happy or not. The author deliberately paints this contrasting picture to show the older couple’s negative side as portrayed by the younger couple.
George’s marriage is on the rocks because Martha has been unable to conceive throughout her life. Although Nick’s marriage is in the similar situation, he corrects George that marriage is not all about children. He asserts that besides kids, there is a career and wealth to build on.
However, Nick confesses that Honey tricked him into marriage with a false pregnancy a fact that he has put up with. There is a blame game between the two couples. However, Nick is unable to face his wife directly and tell her what he thinks about their relationship, a fact that George openly does. Not that Nick is afraid of his wife; no, he respects her something that outstandingly lacks in George’s marriage as he blames his wife for the failure of their marriage.
The intoxicated Martha ridicules her husband’s upcoming novel and brands it ‘trash.’ George is so angry that he picks up a fight with his wife; however, Nick tries to separate them again exposing the negativity that dominates the old couple’s marriage. To cool things down, George suggests a sarcastic game but ends up insulting Nick’s marriage. He calls Honey’s father a womanizer cum a preacher. Martha is unhappy with George’s game and declares war against him (Albee 7). On the other hand, Honey goes to rest and Nick is back after ensuring she is fine. However, Martha takes advantage of Honey’s absence to seduce Nick. Interestingly, when George gets them kissing, he does not raise a finger.
Even though Nick falls into Martha’s trap and goes to bed with her, he fails to erect perhaps because of the love and respect he has for his wife. Again the issue of exposing the negativity in the old couple’s marriage comes out; Nick fails to erect because he loves and respects his wife; on the contrary, Martha has the guts to take Nick to bed even in presence of her husband. Clearly, the author uses the young couple’s marriage to expose the negative side of the older couple.
Honey is still in love with her husband and that’s why she monitors his steps all the time. Lack of respect and infidelity is rampant in the older couple; something that is conspicuously lacking in the young couple’s marriage as evidenced by Nick’s failed erection in presence of Martha.
The younger couple treasures happiness in their marriage as opposed to the older couple. Honey keeps all her emotions and awful intrigues to herself not because she cannot publicize them, but because she knows the price one has to pay to keep a marriage intact; actually she takes alcohol to forget all the problems in her marriage. The older couple is a poor example to the younger couple who still have a brighter future ahead.
The reluctance of Nick to follow George’s footsteps is a clear indication of him knowing the cost of maintaining a marriage. People do not stay together because they do not face problems; far from it, people stay together because they learn to appreciate each other for what they are not what they have or can do. The rift between Nick and George on matters concerning how to keep a relationship together underscores the authors move to expose the old couple’s shortcomings through the young couple.
Nick and Honey are unsatisfied with the older couple’s behavior especially their fantasies about a son. If anything, Honey does not have a child just like Martha; however, she handles the situation soberly not as Martha who sees her husband as a wolf and conventionally wolfs cannot sire sons and daughters. On the other side, Nick handles the issue of childlessness with a lot of understanding and maturity not like George who thinks his wife is a good-for-nothing woman who cannot bear children.
In few words, the old couple’s marriage is an epitome of a failed marriage but the young couple’s marriage symbolizes how a marriage should look like; even in midst of chaos, partners should show maturity and address issues soberly. Therefore, throughout the story the author uses the good deportments of the young couple to underscore the negative behavior that defines the old couple’s marriage.
Albee, Edward. Who is afraid of the Virginia wolf? New York: New York press, 1962.