Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

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Martha Character Analysis

Martha is the daughter of the president of the college where George and Nick are professors. She is middle-aged, large and boisterous, and is married to George in an intense and acrimonious relationship. She admits to a history of infidelity and flirts with Nick throughout the play, ultimately seducing him into kissing her, and perhaps more. Her constant nagging of George about his lack of ambition suggests that she may be insecure about her own professional situation.

Martha Quotes in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf quotes below are all either spoken by Martha or refer to Martha . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf published in 1983.
Act 1 Quotes

Ha, ha, ha, HA! Make the kids a drink, George. What do you want, kids? What do you want to drink, hunh?

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), George , Nick , Honey
Related Symbols: Babies, Alcohol
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Nick and Honey have arrived at George and Martha's home and Martha––notably drunk herself––instructs her husband to make their guests a drink. Her overfamiliar tone and use of the word "kids" makes her sound like a mother offering her children a drink; the fact that the drinks in question are alcoholic, and that Martha herself is already very drunk, adds a disturbing twist to her question. Throughout the play, the characters reference children and recreate family dynamics, highlighting the conspicuous absence of children in the lives of both couples. 

This passage also reveals Martha's forceful personality and manipulation of those around her, and particularly of George. Rather than politely asking or suggesting that George make the drinks, Martha aggressively demands that he does so. This in turn highlights the more passive, weaker role George takes in their marriage. The hysterical laughter that precedes this demand further emphasizes Martha's volatile and intimidating character. The characters in the play frequently laugh, though this laughter almost always contains distinct undertones of hostility, fear, or hysteria; this illustrates the theme that beneath social pleasantries lie far more menacing dynamics.   

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He was going to be groomed. He’d take over someday…until [Daddy] watched for a couple of years and started thinking maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all…that maybe Georgie boy didn’t have the stuff…that he didn’t have it in him!

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), George
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

With George out of the room, Martha has been telling Nick and Honey her life story, including the fact that her father had wanted her future husband to be someone who would one day take over the university presidency. Martha explains that at first her father approved of George and planned to "groom" him for the role of president; however, he then changed his mind, coming to believe that George "didn't have it in him." This story is of course highly embarrassing for George, a fact made worse by his reentrance into the room halfway through. Martha exhibits a total disregard for her husband's feelings and for ordinary codes of social conduct; indeed, it seems her motivation for telling her guests this story is simply to hurt George by making him look bad. 

Martha's use of childish language ("Daddy"; "Georgie boy") infantilizes both her and George, and trivializes the story she is telling. The term "Daddy" also suggests she has a childishly close relationship to her father, exhibiting loyalty to him over her husband. Once again, Martha and George's childlessness could be interpreted as creating an imbalance in the conventional family dynamic. Perhaps because she was not able to become a parent herself, Martha remains stuck in the position of a child, thereby alienating her from her husband.   

Act 2 Quotes

Our son ran away from home all the time because Martha here used to corner him.

Related Characters: George (speaker), Martha
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Martha has told Nick and Honey that her son used to be sick whenever George was in the room; George responds that their son would frequently run away because Martha "used to corner him." Once again, George and Martha attack one another in a strangely open, almost performative way. They seem fixated with one-upping each other, competing over who can leverage the crueller insult. George's words here evoke disdain for Martha's feelings about their imaginary child, perhaps suggesting he is resentful of the intensity of her desire to have children. Meanwhile, the fact that George and Martha use their imaginary son as a way of insulting each other conveys the extent of their marital misery; even engaged in a fantasy game, they cannot imagine a happy home life, but only different manifestations of their current unhappiness.

You told them! OOOOHHHH! OH, no, no, no, no! You couldn’t have told them…

Related Characters: Honey (speaker), Martha , George , Nick
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

George has played a game he calls "Get the Guests," in which he has told the other characters a thinly-veiled version of the story Nick confessed of Honey's hysterical pregnancy. Having realized that Nick must have told George her secret, Honey cries out in horror, exclaiming "you couldn't have told them." Honey's non-verbal cries of "OOOOHHHH!" in this passage convey her drunken and emotional state and make her seem childish. (This impression is emphasized by the fact that George has told the story like a children's tale, with Honey shown as a mouse who "puffs up.") Unlike the three other characters, who are all accustomed to taking part in intellectual rapport, Honey is characterized as earnest and unintelligent; she is not able to understand the ironic and absurdist ways in which George and Martha speak and interprets their words literally. 

This sense of earnestness translates to her relationship with Nick, whom she can't believe has betrayed her by telling George about her false pregnancy. Nick has repeatedly told George that he finds George and Martha's fighting and open discussion of their marital problems uncomfortable and inappropriate; however, at this moment it is revealed that Nick has done the same thing to Honey. This suggests that George and Martha are having a corrupting influence on the younger couple. At the same time, the fact that Nick and Honey's marriage seems to unravel so easily implies that the issues of dishonesty, secrecy, and betrayal plague all marriages, rather than being unique to George and Martha's exceptionally tumultuous relationship. 

I’m loud, and I’m vulgar, and I wear the pants in this house because somebody’s got to, but I am not a monster. I am not.

Related Characters: Martha (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Honey has left the room to be sick again after the game of "Get the Guests," and Nick has followed her. Martha at first seemed somewhat impressed by her husband's bold behavior, but quickly begins insulting him, and the two have once again descended into cruel bickering. George calls Martha a monster, and she responds by insisting that although she's "vulgar" and domineering, she is not a monster. This exchange highlights the complexities in Martha and George's dynamic. At the beginning of the play, Martha appears to be the more harsh and impolite of the pair; she incessantly pressures the other characters to drink and disparages and humiliates George. In this passage, she claims to "wear the pants in this house because somebody's got to," a statement that suggests her behavior is a direct result of George's failure to live up to the masculine ideal of a confident, assertive husband. 

However, over the course of the play it begins to seem like George is far more cold-hearted than his wife. While he and Martha both berate each other, it is George who then chooses to torment their guests. The climax of the play comes in the form of George telling Martha their imaginary son is dead, an act that clearly has a devastating effect on her. At this point, Martha's vulnerability is exposed, and it becomes difficult for the audience to see her as a "monster." George, on the other hand, appears to have abandoned all sense of social decency and morality, suggesting that he may be the true "monster" of the pair. 

Act 3 Quotes

I cry all the time too, Daddy. I cry allllll the time; but deep inside, so no one can see me. I cry all the time. And George cries all the time, too.

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), George
Related Symbols: Babies, Alcohol
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning Act 3, Martha is alone onstage, drunkenly talking to herself and conducting imaginary conversations with George and her father. She confesses to her father that she and George both "cry all the time," but says that she cries "deep inside, so no one can see me." This passage furthers the revelation of a more vulnerable side of Martha. Her confession "I cry all the time too, Daddy" makes her sound like a young child. This emphasizes the notion that Martha has not been able to move beyond the position of a child, partly because she has not had any children herself. The affectionate term "Daddy," meanwhile, highlights her closeness and loyalty to her father, an attachment that seems to come at the expensive of her relationship with George. 

This passage also evokes the themes of appearances and secrecy. Although Martha is brash on the surface, here we realize that internally she feels weak and sad. Her statement that she cries "deep inside" shows that Martha represses her feelings beneath a confident, careless exterior. Although George and Martha exhibit disdain for the social codes that require people to mask their true feelings beneath civility, this scene reveals that they are equally guilty of suppressing their emotions—they just do so under a cloak of flamboyant vulgarity rather than restrained politeness. 

George who is out somewhere there in the dark…George who is good to me, and whom I revile; who understands me, and whom I push off.

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), George
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Nick has entered the room; it seems that he and Martha have had a sexual encounter of some kind, but it is unclear exactly what happened. Martha has confessed that her extramarital affairs feel pointless and that George is the only man who has ever made her happy. She says George "is good to me" and understands her, but admits that she responds by pushing him away. Having been exposed to Martha's personal vulnerability, the audience now gains insight into a different side of her relationship with George. Perhaps it is not the case that they simply hate each other, but that their feelings are complicated by mutual insecurity, resentment, and self-sabotage. 

Martha's words here seem to suggest that something about George's love for her causes her to rebuff him. Note that she does not say "who understands me, but whom I push off" but rather "and whom I push off." The use of the word "and" indicates that perhaps because George understands her so well, Martha cannot stand to be around him. This is emphasized by the fact that their relationship seems to be built on trading insults; indeed, George and Martha are able to insult each other so effectively precisely because they know one another so well. 

I’M RUNNING THE SHOW! (To MARTHA) Sweetheart, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you…for us, of course. Some rather sad news.

Related Characters: George (speaker), Martha
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

George and Martha have been telling Nick and Honey about their son, taking turns to share facts about his life. Martha has explained that the boy is now off at college, and she seems to want to drop the topic, but despite his wife's protests, George insists they continue. In this passage, he announces that he's "running the show," before turning to Martha to tell her that he has bad news. George's declaration that he is "running the show" implies that he has decided to disprove Martha's claims that he is not assertive or domineering enough. It is also a meta-dramatic reference to the fact that this is a play filled with moments when the characters engage in theatrical behavior, performing in an exaggerated, flamboyant manner and reciting stories as if the other characters are an audience.

The "bad news"George references is his invented story that he has received a telegram telling him that their son is dead. George's decision to include this twist in his and Martha's "game" of telling stories about their imaginary son is the play's climactic act of cruelty. The fact that he first says "bad news for you" before correcting himself to "for us, of course" shows that he is deliberately aiming to hurt Martha; it also suggests that she is more emotionally invested in their game of speaking about their imaginary son than George is. 

I FORGET! Sometimes…sometimes when it’s night, when it’s late, and…and everybody else is…talking…I forget and I…want to mention him…but I…HOLD ON…I hold on…but I’ve wanted to…so often…oh, George, you’ve pushed it…there was no need….there was not need for this. I mentioned him…all right…but you didn’t have to push it over the EDGE. You didn’t have to…kill him.

Related Characters: Martha (speaker), George
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

George has finished telling the story of receiving the news that his and Martha's imaginary son is dead. Honey, still not aware that the son in question is not real, has exclaimed in horror, and despite the fact that she knows the story is all an elaborate game, Martha also becomes hysterically upset. She says that sometimes she "forgets" and almost mentions their son in front of other people, and admits that she mentioned him in front of Nick and Honey earlier (thereby breaking the rules of the game), but insists that George took it too far. This is the climax of Martha's vulnerability, a moment when––in contrast to her usual behavior––she becomes openly upset in front of the others, breaking "character" from the tough, flamboyant persona who mercilessly hurls insults at her husband.

On one level, it seems clear that George's actions were deliberate, and that he leveraged Martha's emotional investment in their imaginary son against her. At this point in the play, George certainly appears to be the crueler of the two. On the other hand, it is perhaps rather arbitrary for Martha to decide that this act has "push[ed] it over the edge," given that she and George spend the entire play taunting and tormenting each other. Either way, it is clear that both feel betrayed and perhaps on some level even frightened of one another, a fact that foreshadows the play's ending, when Martha admits she is afraid of Virginia Woolf. 

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Martha Character Timeline in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The timeline below shows where the character Martha appears in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
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...opens in the dark, and a crash is heard at the front door, followed by Martha’s laughter. Martha enters through the front door, George following behind her. Martha begins to curse,... (full context)
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Martha goes on to describe the movie, but George pleads that he’s tired from her father’s... (full context)
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Martha orders George to make her a drink and informs him that they have guests coming... (full context)
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George and Martha continue to bicker—George accuses her of springing things on him like this, and Martha accuses... (full context)
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They continue on in this vein, Martha calling George a “simp” and “phrasemaker”, and George comparing Martha to a cocker spaniel when... (full context)
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...doorbell interrupts their antagonistic banter, George very reluctantly goes to answer it as he provokes Martha. At the very moment that he opens up the door, she yells at him, “Fuck... (full context)
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...the artist. George begins to explain that it was made by a Greek man that Martha attacked one night, when Honey interrupts him, uncomfortable with the story. Nick starts off saying,... (full context)
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...prepares drinks for the crew—brandy for Honey, bourbon for Nick, and (jokingly) rubbing alcohol for Martha. George recounts that when he was first dating Martha, she would order the “damnedest” things,... (full context)
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Martha again begins singing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and this time Honey joins in. They... (full context)
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...doesn’t like to become involved in other people’s affairs, and is uncomfortable around George and Martha’s marital disputes. George comforts him by saying he’ll get over that squeamishness, because the college... (full context)
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...in New Carthage, given that the college isn’t MIT or Oxford. He tells Nick that Martha’s father expects his staff to grow old at the college. George calls to his wife.... (full context)
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George lets Honey and Nick know that Martha is according them an honor by changing her dress, and characterizes her as the “right... (full context)
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Martha insults George, calling him an “old bog” in the History Department, but George coolly ignores... (full context)
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Martha encourages George to tell their guests about a boxing match they once had together, but... (full context)
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George comes from behind Martha and aims a short-barreled shotgun at her head. Honey screams when George pulls the trigger,... (full context)
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Martha asks her husband for a kiss and he dismisses her but she insists and then... (full context)
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Honey changes the subject by asking when George and Martha’s son is coming home. Martha says never mind, and George makes Martha answer for both... (full context)
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Martha and George dispute the color of their son’s eyes. George adds that Martha’s father has... (full context)
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Martha is just beginning to describe George’s entrance onto the college scene, when George returns to... (full context)
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George breaks a bottle against the portable bar and nearly cries, but Martha does not relent, and tells George she hopes the bottle was empty because he wouldn’t... (full context)
Act 2
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...tells Nick that he would like to set him straight about something his wife said. Martha interrupts and announces that she and Honey are drinking coffee. George and Martha go back... (full context)
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...which you wave-of-the-future boys are going to take over.” George reciprocates by telling Nick that Martha’s money comes from Martha’s father’s very rich second wife. (full context)
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Martha returns, with a very drunken Honey in tow. Martha tells George to apologize to Honey... (full context)
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Martha mentions another embarrassing disappointment of George’s—that he tried to publish a book, but was prevented... (full context)
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Martha discloses more of George’s embarrassing history: he wrote a novel, but when her father read... (full context)
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George yells at Martha that he will kill her and grabs her by the throat. Nick intervenes, and throws... (full context)
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Martha congratulates George for his performance, judging it to be the most life he’s shown in... (full context)
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...that he’s going to go read a book, because he always reads around four o’clock. Martha corrects him that he always reads at four pm, not am, but he absorbs himself... (full context)
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Martha calls George a motherfucker, and after kissing Nick, instructs him to wait for her in... (full context)
Act 3
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Martha enters the room and begins to ramble alone on the stage, echoing pieces of conversation... (full context)
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Nick enters the room and comments that Martha, too, has gone crazy. He reports that when he came back downstairs, his wife went... (full context)
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Nick asks where George is and Martha responds that he’s vanished. Martha, with great affection, and in a brogue enunciates, “’tis the... (full context)
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Martha goes on a rant about all of her pointless infidelities, and concludes by asserting that... (full context)
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Nick announces that he doesn’t think George has an intact vertebra. Martha challenges him, and criticizes his microscopic vision—claiming that he has the ability to see everything... (full context)
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...George describes that he picked them for their son’s birthday the next day. He and Martha dispute whether or not there was a moon in the sky that could have provided... (full context)
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...hog calls toward the hallway to get Honey, but Nick goes and gets her himself. Martha tearfully begs George not to play any more games, but he assures her that she’ll... (full context)
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...the room with Nick, hopping like a bunny. George begins to discuss their son, despite Martha’s pleading. He prompts Martha to take over, and she reports that their son was born... (full context)
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Honey suddenly exclaims that she wants a child. Martha ignores her and continues, beginning in on the difficult parts of the marriage— how they... (full context)
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Honey, hysterical, screams for them to stop it, telling them they “can’t…do…this!” George tells Martha that he has some bad news about their son. He reports that while she was... (full context)
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Martha and George go back and forth, her yelling “He is our child!” and him yelling... (full context)
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...proposes that the party should come to an end. Nick asks George if he and Martha couldn’t have any— and trails off. George and Martha admit that they couldn’t. The guests... (full context)
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George puts his hand on Martha’s shoulder and begins singing, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Martha answers that she is and... (full context)