Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf


Edward Albee

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Themes

Themes and Colors
Imperfect Marriage Theme Icon
Academia Theme Icon
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Theme Icon
Ambition, Success, and Failure Theme Icon
Children and Childishness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Imperfect Marriage

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf paints a harsh portrait of marriage as a vehicle for conflict, arguments, and disappointment. George and Martha, though named after the first presidential couple of the United States, are a model of dysfunction, an undermining of the idea of the happy couple. They invite Nick and Honey to their house to serve as an audience for their mutual disdain and bickering. Though Nick and Honey are initially presented as…

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The play takes place “on the campus of a small New England college,” George and Nick are both professors, and Martha’s father is the president of the college. This academic setting influences and taints the narrative in various ways at various points throughout the play. It results in specific power dynamics, tensions, and jealousies among the characters—Martha is attracted to Nick, and George is threatened by him, because of his academic accomplishments; Martha’s father bears…

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Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling

George and Martha use Nick and Honey as an audience to whom they reveal dark secrets about their marriage, and thereby to betray one another’s honor and secrecy. Alcohol loosens everyone’s lips, and encourages even Nick and Honey to say things they otherwise wouldn’t. Nick discloses to George the story of his own marriage and Honey’s false pregnancy; Martha tells Nick and Honey about the book that George wrote but failed to publish on account…

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Ambition, Success, and Failure

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…

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Children and Childishness

Throughout the play, Martha and George act childishly in provoking one another and teasing their guests. They perform common romantically infantile gestures, like calling each other “baby,” and talking to each other in childish voices. When she drinks too much, Honey sucks her thumb on the bathroom floor. At some moments, too, George and Martha treat Nick and Honey as though they were children. All of this behavior might be understood in the…

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