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A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. Martha's father
B. appears in the last moments of the play
C. is a great influence on Martha's life
B. made a pass at Honey
C. didn't participate in the fun
B. the door chimes
C. the telegram
B. might have been invented by George
C. is told by Martha
B. II and III only
C. all three
B. over the objections of his parents
C. because he thought she was pregnant
B. is a figment of their imagination
C. had been committed to an asylum
B. George's announcement to Martha that their son is dead
C. Honey's inclination to illness
11. Discuss the use of religious symbolism in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
12. Compare the characters of George and Nick.
13. Discuss the significance of the titles of the three acts: "Fun and Games," "Walpurgisnacht," and "The Exorcism."
14. Discuss the use of games in the play.
15. Is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a hopeful play? Defend your answer.
_____ 1. Honey's father
B. advised her to marry Nick
C. represents the devil in the play
II. is humiliated
III. retaliates by bringing out the fake shotgun
B. I and II only
C. II and III only
B. Martha exaggerates their son's achievements
C. the son is a private fantasy
B. Honey's father and Martha's father
C. the "bergin" story
B. Honey, who's lying on the bathroom floor
C. Nick's admission that he had to marry Honey
B. Nick's ambitious drive to the top
C. George and Martha's treatment of her
B. her mental condition
C. George's career
B. Martha tells Nick and Honey about George's novel
C. Martha sings "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the beginning of the play
B. a boy who caused the death of both his parents
C. his father-in-law
B. George and Martha's son
C. Nick's decision to go to bed with Martha
11. Discuss the function of Nick and Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
12. Discuss the uses of the song "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
13. What is the importance of children and babies in the play?
14. What is the importance of the imaginary child in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
15. In what ways do Nick and Honey change during the play?
11. Religious allusions and symbols appear throughout the play, but readers don't agree whether the symbols are meant to suggest the hope of religion or its failure. References to Christ and God are frequent (often expressed as curses or hidden in common expressions). There are also religious symbols (both Christian and pre-Christian)- for example, in Martha's role as "earth mother," in the satanic rites of Walpurgisnacht, and in the ritual of exorcism that accompanies George's attempts to rid Martha of the "possession" that haunts her (their imaginary child). George reads a passage from the Catholic mass for the dead as Martha describes their son to Nick and Honey. Other more subtle hints include the ringing of the door chimes three times (to suggest the beginning of a mass), George's claim to have eaten the telegram (communion), and Honey's father, a corrupt preacher. Readers disagree over the meaning of many of these symbols, but few deny that they make up a great deal of the fabric of the play.
12. Because of the differences in their ages, George and Nick represent two different generations. George is generally passive, weakened by his lack of success and by Martha's constant humiliation of him. Nick is young, ambitious, amoral, eager to get ahead by whatever means it takes. The two are also contrasted by their professions. A historian, George is also representative of a humanist, one who is interested in human values- in his case, with a particular interest in the past. A biologist, Nick represents both the future and the clinical, coldhearted approach to life that threatens to rob mankind of its individuality. Albee ironically turns the tables on the characters when George is shown to be the one in control and the only one who has ever satisfied Martha. Nick, "the stud," is impotent in his sexual encounter with Martha and becomes the "houseboy," the subservient one.
13. "Fun and Games" is an ironic use of the phrase often associated with parties. It suggests not only the psychological games that George and Martha play with each other as a substitute for communication but also the "games" played with Nick and Honey. They become unwitting victims of George and Martha's need to include others in their web of mental cruelty.
"Walpurgisnacht" means, literally, "Night of the Witches." In European folklore, it is a night when witches meet to indulge in orgies. It is in this act of the play that George and Martha's cruelty to each other and to their guests is at its most vicious and hurtful.
"The Exorcism" is a rite to rid a possessed person of the devil within him or her. Martha is the subject of an exorcism when George convinces her that their son- a figment of their imagination- is dead, that the illusion that has sustained them must be eliminated if they are going to face reality.
14. Gamesmanship is one of the play's major themes and is expressed in the title of the first act, "Fun and Games." Albee is emphasizing the games everyone plays in life, particularly those that are harmful to ourselves and to others. George and Martha's games have moved beyond the needs of a normal couple to chide each other for their faults. They now are capable of wounding each other deeply as these games have become a substitute for real communication between them. In the play, their need to lash out extends to include Nick and Honey; and the party games, including "Humiliate the Host," "Get the Guests," "Bringing Up Baby," etc. (as named by George), provide the framework for their marital battles. George's decision to "kill" his and Martha's son provides the climactic game that may change their lives forever.
15. To answer this question, you must look for evidence within the play to support your feelings about Albee's intentions. If you feel George and Martha are better off for having rid themselves of the illusion that they have a son, then you might compare the characters at the beginning of the play and at the end to show a progression. If you feel the ending of the play suggests hopelessness, you might look to the traditions of the Theater of the Absurd (and to Albee's other plays) to suggest the feelings of futility common to this movement among dramatists. In either case, your answer will probably be subjective, but be sure to back up your opinions with solid evidence from the play.
11. On one level, Nick and Honey are necessary to the play because they provide an audience for George and Martha's verbal battles. George and Martha need spectators for their games to be truly effective, and this time the audience happens to be Nick and Honey. The younger couple also represent the play's real audience; that is, they act as stand-ins for our own shock and embarrassment as we watch George and Martha tear each other apart. On a thematic level, Nick and Honey are a contrast to George and Martha. Nick is on the way up; George is a failure. Martha is loud and aggressive; Honey is pallid and weak. George is a historian; Nick, a biologist. Martha can't have children; Honey uses secret means of birth control. Finally, however sad the outcome, George and Martha attempt to communicate with each other; Nick and Honey seem destined never to connect.
12. At first, the song (an academic parody of "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?") is a party joke, an intellectual game song heard at Martha's father's party. In the first act, the four characters discuss its merits as a laugh-getter. At the end of the first act, George repeats the song in order to drown out one of Martha's bitter denunciations of him. He sings it again in Act II to cover up his knowledge that Martha and Nick are about to have sex with each other. And by the end of the play George is singing the song as a lullaby to soothe Martha after the devastation of the "death" of their son. Albee has said that the song means "Who's afraid to live life without illusions?"- that is, who's afraid to face reality? Martha's confession that she's "afraid of Virginia Woolf" is an admission that she's frightened of, and vulnerable to, reality and of what the future holds for her.
13. Three of the characters are revealed to have troubled relationships with their parents. Martha's father is a powerful man in the college. She worships him, but, according to George, her father doesn't return her love. There is the suggestion that Martha has looked for a father substitute in marrying George and hates him for not living up to the older man's image. George tells the story of a young boy who murdered his mother and was responsible for his father's death. Whether or not the story is true, it reveals a deep-seated parental hatred on George's part. Honey's father was a corrupt preacher who may have stolen money from the church. Both Martha and Honey are failed parents: Martha has created an imaginary child to take the place of the one she couldn't have, and Honey, after one false pregnancy, has secretly used birth control to counteract her deep fear of childbirth. Also, Martha is seen ironically as an "earth mother," fertile and sexual; Honey is portrayed as the eternal child, prone to sickness and curled up like a baby in the womb on the bathroom floor.
14. The imaginary child is important to the play for several reasons. On one level, it gives the play suspense, as the audience wonders why George is so insistent that the subject of the child not be mentioned. On a symbolic level, the child represents George and Martha's need to share something private amid the wreck of their marriage, even an illusion, since the thought of facing the reality of their lives is too painful. Another possibility is that the child represents the sterility of American lives, in which the dream of the perfect child is merely an illusion, impossible to achieve in a world of adultery, alcoholism, lying, and evasion. Finally, the child acts as the catalyst in George's last gesture against Martha, a gesture both sadistic and healing. His decision to "kill" the child results in Martha's realization that reality must be faced, whatever the consequences. And the consequences for both George and Martha are, at best, uncertain.
15. At the beginning, Nick and Honey seem like the perfect all-American couple- young, attractive, on their way to success. As the play progresses, a different couple emerges. Nick reveals himself to be coldhearted and a bit ruthless, ready to do whatever it takes to get to the top. Honey seems silly and hopelessly inane until she reveals herself to be deeply frightened of reality, an eternal child who refuses to grow up to the responsibilities of life (as represented by childbirth). Nick comprehends George and Martha's secret, but whether he is changed by it is a question the play doesn't answer. As Martha is describing her son, Honey cries out that she wants a child, but Honey's future is ambiguous, too. Whether she will feel the same way after she has sobered up is never clarified.
TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.