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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee


A STEP BEYOND

TESTS AND ANSWERS

TEST 1

_____ 1. Martha's father

    A. is adored by George and Martha
    B. appears in the last moments of the play
    C. is a great influence on Martha's life
_____ 2. Martha is upset with George at the beginning of the play because he
    A. got drunk and made a fool of himself
    B. made a pass at Honey
    C. didn't participate in the fun
_____ 3. Which of these symbols represents sexual impotence in the play
    A. the toy gun
    B. the door chimes
    C. the telegram
_____ 4. The story of the boy who caused his parents' death
    A. is about Honey
    B. might have been invented by George
    C. is told by Martha
_____ 5. Which of these words might be applied to Nick?
    I. ambitious
    II. shallow
    III. honest
    A. I and II only
    B. II and III only
    C. all three
_____ 6. Nick married Honey
    A. a week before the play begins
    B. over the objections of his parents
    C. because he thought she was pregnant
_____ 7. Which of these themes is not important in the play?
    A. truth and illusion
    B. gamesmanship
    C. friendship
_____ 8. George and Martha's son
    A. died years before the play begins
    B. is a figment of their imagination
    C. had been committed to an asylum
_____ 9. The line "I want a child" is spoken by
    A. Nick
    B. Martha
    C. Honey
_____ 10. The title of Act III, "The Exorcism," applies to
    A. Martha's affair with Nick
    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.

TEST 2

_____ 1. Honey's father

    A. was a preacher
    B. advised her to marry Nick
    C. represents the devil in the play
_____ 2. When Martha tells the story of the boxing match, George
    I. laughs heartily
    II. is humiliated
    III. retaliates by bringing out the fake shotgun
    A. I and III only
    B. I and II only
    C. II and III only
_____ 3. George warns Martha about bringing up the subject of their son because
    A. he wants to do it
    B. Martha exaggerates their son's achievements
    C. the son is a private fantasy
_____ 4. The theme of history vs. science is best presented by
    A. George's and Nick's professions
    B. Honey's father and Martha's father
    C. the "bergin" story
_____ 5. George's speech about "peeling labels" is prompted by
    A. Martha's announcement that they're out of liquor
    B. Honey, who's lying on the bathroom floor
    C. Nick's admission that he had to marry Honey
_____ 6. Honey's tendency to become ill represents
    A. her inability to face reality
    B. Nick's ambitious drive to the top
    C. George and Martha's treatment of her
_____ 7. When Martha says, "SNAP! It went snap!" she's referring to
    A. their marriage
    B. her mental condition
    C. George's career
_____ 8. George decides to tell Martha their son is dead when
    A. Honey wonders why the chimes rang
    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
_____ 9. George's novel is about
    A. his marriage to Martha
    B. a boy who caused the death of both his parents
    C. his father-in-law
_____ 10. The theme of truth and illusion is best represented by
    A. the ringing of the door chimes
    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?

ANSWERS

TEST 1
  1. C
  2. C
  3. A
  4. B
  5. A
  6. C
  7. C
  8. B
  9. C
  10. B

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.

TEST 2

  1. A
  2. C
  3. C
  4. A
  5. B
  6. A
  7. A
  8. A
  9. B
  10. B

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.

[Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Contents]


TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING

  • THE PLAY
    1. Discuss the influence of the Theater of the Absurd on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    2. In what way is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a departure from the realistic tradition of Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams? In what way is it similar?
    3. Are the issues presented in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? still vital? Explain.
    4. Compare Albee's view of the world in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with that in his play A Delicate Balance.
    5. Is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a hopeful play? A pessimistic one? Explain.
    6. The lost or nonexistent child has appeared in other plays by Edward Albee. Compare the roles in the other plays with the role of the imaginary child in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    7. It has been said that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is concerned with "salvaging, not savaging" a relationship. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
  • CHARACTERS
    1. Is George a hero or a villain in the play? Explain.
    2. In what ways are George and Martha alike? In what ways different?
    3. Does Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have a main character? Who is it? Defend your answer.
    4. Compare the characters of Nick and George, and of Martha and Honey.
    5. How does the character of Martha's father influence the play?
    6. In what ways are George and Martha likable characters?
    7. Discuss the function of Nick and Honey in the play.
    8. In what ways are George and Martha allegorical figures?
  • THEMES
    1. In what way does sex function in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    2. Compare the theme of truth and illusion in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.
    3. Discuss the theme of revenge in the play. What characters are bent on revenge, and why? How do you think Albee regards revenge?
  • LITERARY TOPICS
    1. In what ways is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a comedy? Explain.
    2. Describe the ways in which the past affects the present in the lives of the four characters.
    3. In what ways is Albee's dialogue realistic? what ways is it not? Give examples.
    4. Discuss Albee's use of maxims, metaphors, puns, and humor. Give examples.
    5. Explain what is meant by dark comedy and how Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? fits into this category of drama.
  • THEATRICAL TOPICS
    1. What qualities would you look for if you were casting the four characters of this play?
    2. Research three or four contemporary theatrical reviews of the play. Explain why you agree or disagree with their judgments of the play.

[Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Contents]


GLOSSARY

ABSTRUSE
Hard to understand.

ALICE FAYE
Blond film star of the 1940s, known for her musical roles.

"BERGIN"
Variation on bourbon, coined in the story George tells about a friend of his youth.

BUCOLIC
Descriptive of an idealized rural life, shepherds, and farmland.

CHROMOSOMES
Threadlike bodies found in a human cell that carry the genes.

CLIP JOINT
Slang term for a bar or nightclub that overcharges its customers.

DAGUERREOTYPE
Photo created by an obsolete photographic process using a silver plate. The process was invented by a French painter, Louis Daguerre (1789-1851).

DIES IRAE
Latin for Day of Wrath, name of a hymn on Judgment Day sung in requiem masses in the Roman Catholic church. George recites the Dies Irae as Martha describes their son during the "exorcism."

EXORCISM
Religious rite in which a person is freed from a demon that possesses the soul. Albee named the play's third act "The Exorcism" to suggest that Martha and George's imaginary child was such a demon.

FLOOZIE
Slang term for a gaudily dressed woman; a prostitute.

FRAU
German word for "wife."

GENES
Chemical units that carry hereditary characteristics from parent to child.

MALLEABILITY
Ability to be shaped or easily influenced.

NEW CARTHAGE
College town where George and Martha live, named after the North African state conquered by the Romans in the Punic Wars.

PAGAN
Heathen; a person with either primitive or no religious beliefs.

PERITONITIS
Disease where the lining of the abdomen is inflamed.

PROHIBITION
Period from 1920 to 1933 when the sale of alcoholic beverages was forbidden in the United States.

RECONDITE
Difficult to understand, obscure.

REQUIEM MASS
Mass said for the dead.

THEATER OF THE ABSURD
Theatrical movement (loosely grouped and not formally organized) whose writers are characterized by a bleak and often hopeless view of the world, as well as a disregard for "standard" theatrical techniques to convey their messages. Albee is considered to have been influenced by the Absurdists and to incorporate some of their techniques in his work.

VOYEUR
Person who gets sexual gratification from looking at the sexual actions of others.

WALPURGISNACHT
Literally "Witches' Night," a legendary rite taking place when witches gather for the purposes of evil and sexual wantonness. Albee named Act II of Virginia Woolf after this rite to suggest the wickedness engaged in by the characters.

WANTON
Characterized by immoral behavior.

WOOLF, VIRGINIA
British writer (1882-1941) known for her experiments in fictional technique. Her relationship to the play's title is indirect at best. That her name is used in a parody song at an academic party suggests more about the intellectual level of the characters than it does about her own writings or personal life.

REFERENCE
THE STORY, continued


ECC [Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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