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 of her father.
At the end of the play, as though revealing some truth, George and Martha begin to tell conflicting stories of their son’s birth and childhood. When George speaks, Martha accuses him of lying; when Martha speaks, he accuses her of lying. Then George dramatically reports that their son has recently died in a car crash. Martha yells at her husband, accusing him of having killed their son, and he responds, “You broke our rule, baby. You mentioned him . . . you mentioned him to someone else.” While the scene is confounding and difficult, it becomes clear that they never had a child after all, and yet placed great importance on maintaining, privately, the belief that they did. The fact that they have been lying all along about the existence of their son throws doubt on the truth of other stories they have told throughout the play, as of George’s story about the boy who accidentally kills both his parents. In fact, there is a suggestion that it is George's parents who have died, though perhaps not that he actually caused their deaths.
The play puts pressure on the contrast between stable appearances and chaotic hidden realities, and on the thin line between secret-revealing and story-telling. The final line of the play—Martha’s admitting that she is afraid of Virginia Woolf—lends further significance to this theme. Virginia Woolf was a social realist, who often depicted darkly realistic family lives. In admitting that she’s afraid of Woolf, Martha identifies the scariness of unmasking the truth, of facing reality, and in doing so, for the first time, admits a deep and honest truth about herself.
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling ThemeTracker
Appearance, Secrecy, and Truth-Telling Quotes in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Do you believe that people learn nothing from history? Not that there is nothing to learn, mind you, but that people learn nothing? I am in the History Department.
It was a hysterical pregnancy. She blew up, and then she went down.
In the hospital, when he was conscious and out of danger, and when they told him that his father was dead, he began to laugh, I have been told, and his laughter grew and he would not stop, and it was not until after they jammed a needle in his arm, not until after that, until his consciousness slipped away from him, that his laughter subsided.
Just before we got married, I developed…appendicitis…or everybody thought it was appendicitis…
Our son ran away from home all the time because Martha here used to corner him.
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.
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.
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.
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.