Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Edward Albee
Edward Albee was raised by wealthy adoptive parents; his adoptive father was the son of a vaudeville magnate and owned several theaters. Edward was expelled from high school, and then dismissed from a military academy in Pennsylvania. He completed his secondary education at the Choate School and then was expelled from Trinity College in Connecticut for skipping classes and refusing to attend chapel. He moved to Greenwich Village and began writing plays. Albee currently teaches playwriting at the University of Houston and has received three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.
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Historical Context of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
During the sixties, an image of the happy American family was reinforced by the conservative president, Dwight Eisenhower, as well as popular sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. These social images, of the happy housewife and the perfect marriage, were unrealistic and masked the harsher reality that lay beneath the social exterior. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf resists the narrative pressure to present reality in a digestible form and instead exposes family life in a harsher light. At the same time, the Cold War was an important feature of American political life in the 1960’s, and the non-violent tensions that arise in Martha and George’s living room might be understood as a small-scale representation of the international conflict.
Other Books Related to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Buried Child, written by Sam Shepard in 1978, like Who’s Afraid, depicts the breakdown of an American family, and expresses disillusionment with the fiction of the American dream. Both George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s You Can’t Take it With You (1936) and Harold Pinter’s Birthday Party (1957) also resemble Albee’s play in that they feature party games that get out of hand and result in the playing out and revelation of private marital tensions.
Key Facts about Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • Full Title: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
  • When Written: 1962 (first performed)
  • Where Written: New York
  • Literary Period: Theater of the Absurd
  • Genre: Dramatic stage play
  • Setting: A house on a New England college campus
  • Climax: George informs Martha that he has received news, via telegram, that their son has died.
Extra Credit for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Nikita and George. Albee has admitted that the resemblance of Nick’s name to Nikita Kruschev—the Soviet premier—and of George’s name to George Washington—first president and the icon of the American dream—were intentional.

Close, but no cigar. Though the play won all of the votes necessary to award it the Pulitzer Prize in 1962, it did not receive the prize because of its controversial themes and language. No prize was awarded in drama that year.