George’s lack of success is a great point of conflict in his marriage to Martha, who, with her father, had expected him to accomplish more than he has. George was expected to take over the college’s presidency after the retirement of Martha’s father, but Martha suggests that her father no longer thinks George fit for the position. She mocks his scholarly work, the novel he wrote, and his general weakness. George is put into relief by the young Nick, who is praised as ambitious, successful, and bound to achieve great things. Martha seems more upset with George’s lack of success than even he is, which might be read as a projection of her own frustration with her own inability to have an accomplished professional life —a consequence of the sexism of the time, and perhaps an indication of her own shortcomings as well.
That all of the characters’ focus on ambition and relative success has only led them to the seemingly unhappy situations on display in the play suggests that success as they understand it may not be a good value or barometer to dictate one’s life around.
Ambition, Success, and Failure ThemeTracker
Ambition, Success, and Failure Quotes in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
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!
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.