Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

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Babies Symbol Analysis

Babies Symbol Icon
Images of babies and child-like behavior appear throughout the text. Martha and George call each other baby; Martha sometimes speaks in a childish voice; and when Honey drinks too much, she curls up like a “fetus” on the bathroom floor and sucks her thumb. The abundance of baby symbolism is explained later on in the play, when it is revealed that both Honey and Martha have failed to have children and so both couples are fixated on the possibility and absence of babies.

Babies Quotes in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf quotes below all refer to the symbol of Babies. 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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Act 2 Quotes

It was a hysterical pregnancy. She blew up, and then she went down.

Related Characters: Nick (speaker), Honey
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Honey has left the room to be sick and Martha is tending to her; alone with George, Nick has admitted that Honey is sick often, and confessed that he married her because they thought she was pregnant. As it turns out, it was a "hysterical pregnancy," meaning Honey believed she was pregnant and even had symptoms of pregnancy, yet was never actually pregnant at all. This fact about Honey conveys the intensity of her desire for children. Indeed, the unfulfilled wish to be parents causes both couples to act in strange and delusional ways. While "hysterical pregnancy" is a recognized clinical condition, the word "hysterical" is particularly fitting in a play populated by characters who frequently behave in a crazed, delirious manner.

Just before we got married, I developed…appendicitis…or everybody thought it was appendicitis…

Related Characters: Honey (speaker), Nick
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Martha and Honey have returned, and Martha has demanded that George apologize for making Honey sick; Honey interjects that she gets sick often, and that before she was married she developed a condition that "everybody thought... was appendicitis." Because Nick has already told the real version of this story to George, the audience is aware that what actually happened to Honey was a hysterical pregnancy. This passage thus involves multiple layers of false appearances––Honey's false pregnancy, her lie that it was appendicitis, and even to some extent her marriage to Nick, which Nick has admitted took place to avoid scandal when they thought Honey was pregnant out of wedlock. Nick and Honey, whose marriage seemed respectable and harmonious at the play's outset, are revealed to lead lives consumed by secrecy and deceit in much the same way as George and Martha.

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. 

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. 

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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Babies Symbol Timeline in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

The timeline below shows where the symbol Babies appears in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
...fear of growing too sexually excited before their guests come over. Martha asks, in a childish voice, for another drink. (full context)
Act 2
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
Academia Theme Icon
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Theme Icon
Children and Childishness Theme Icon
...occurring fairly frequently. This leads Nick to reveal that he married Honey because of a hysterical pregnancy : he thought she was pregnant, but she turned out not to be. The two... (full context)
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
Academia Theme Icon
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Theme Icon
Ambition, Success, and Failure  Theme Icon
George begins in again on Nick’s marriage, and guesses that, in addition to the hysterical pregnancy , Honey has money. Nick lets on that George’s guess is correct, but adds that... (full context)
Act 3
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Theme Icon
Children and Childishness Theme Icon
...George play off of each other, each adding details about the birth and the son’s childhood— the banana boat, school, summer camp, his breaking his arm. George begins to interject phrases... (full context)
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
Academia Theme Icon
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Theme Icon
Children and Childishness Theme Icon
Honey suddenly exclaims that she wants a child. Martha ignores her and continues, beginning in on the difficult parts of the marriage— how... (full context)
Imperfect Marriage  Theme Icon
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Theme Icon
Children and Childishness Theme Icon
Martha and George go back and forth, her yelling “He is our child!” and him yelling “And I have killed him!” Nick quietly announces that he thinks he... (full context)