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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Study Guide-MonkeyNotes Book Summary
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The second act begins with an anxious Nick talking about his wife's illness while Martha is busy in the kitchen making coffee for Honey. There is a bit of confusion here as to whose wife is being referred to in the conversation between George and Nick. This muddle is deliberately caused by George as he wants to irritate Nick and humiliate him as George has been humiliated by Martha. Nick fights back by remarking how well the two (George and Martha) go at each other. George remarks that Honey's habit of throwing up ever so often is not less remarkable. The hostility between the two men is quite tangible in this scene as they exchange disparaging comments about each other's wives.

However, almost suddenly the mood of bitterness between the two professors mellows and becomes confidential as they talk of more personal matters. Nick reveals the circumstances that had led to his marriage. He claims that he had been forced to marry Honey because of her hysterical pregnancy. Honey had been obsessed with the idea that she was pregnant. However, that was not the case at all and as soon as they married, Honey's pregnancy disappeared

George narrates an episode that took place when he was sixteen years old. During the Christmas vacation at the prep school that he attended, he and his friends had left for New York on a holiday. They enjoyed drinking and listening to jazz in the bar, and laughed over how one of the boys called bourbon, "bergin". This boy had killed his mother accidentally with a shotgun. The very next summer the boy killed his father while he was driving drunk on a country road. He was trying to save a porcupine while driving, and in so doing he had rammed into a tree. The boy was only injured but his father was killed. He laughed over his (father's) death and was committed to an asylum for thirty years.

The conversation now returns to their wives. Musing over Honey's hysterical pregnancy, George makes an off-hand comment that his wife never gets pregnant at all. The talk then shifts to the imaginary son. George says that their son is the apple of their three eyes, as Martha is a cyclops, i.e. a one-eyed person. He also casually remarks that his son is a "bean bag." Nick is tired of him and is unable to follow the incoherent talk.

George goads Nick to come up with the explanation of the ulterior motive behind his marriage with Honey. Nick confesses the truth that they had been childhood friends and as children they played "doctor games. His father-in-law, a preacher by choice, traveled quite a lot and had become famous. When he died he had left behind all his money to Honey which had also been an important reason for marrying Honey. George discloses that Martha too had inherited money after her stepmother's death. He calls his father- in-law 'a mouse', who had nibbled his old wife to death.

Nick talks about a plan he has chalked out for working at the college. His way of reaching the top is to "play around" and take advantage of the "weak spots". He does not hesitate to make use of the "pertinent wives" in the campus for his personal benefit. George cuts in sarcastically that this was indeed the right way to achieve success. Suddenly Nick remembers that Martha falls into the category of "pertinent wives". George shows no reaction to his discovery. He surprises Nick by recommending his wife and calling her his (Nick's) "historical inevitability". Later a serious George advises him to be careful with such unscrupulous ways as it was like "quicksand" and would drag him down and swallow him up. Nick only exclaims, "Up yours!" This is followed by a ridiculous account given by George about how all the moral principles of civilizations have been reduced to a mere "Up yours!" Nick does not hesitate from praising this speech.

Now, Martha and Honey enter the room. Honey immediately starts drinking brandy again and explains that nothing is wrong with her. Martha blames George for having made Honey feel so sick. However, Honey maintains that it has been her habit to throw up so often. But Martha is persistent and discloses how George would even make their son feel sick. At first George is upset that Martha has broken the rules by mentioning their son again. But later he too begins to converse freely about this son and he gets an opportunity to "exercise" his wit. He says that his wife's behavior prompted their son to keep running away from home, at least six times a year. He suggests that Martha attempted incest with her son. She gets violently abusive at this remark.

In return, Martha begins to relate the episode of George's unpublished novel. When George tries to dissuade her she informs him that he may get the chance to relate his version of it. George is disturbed with Martha's attempts to humiliate him and decides to think of ingenious ways to get even with her.

A little later they play music and dance. Nick and Martha's provocative dancing irks George. His wife dismisses his reaction with a nasty laugh. She continues narrating the contents of George's novel, which is the same incident about the boy killing his parents that George had narrated earlier. Martha goes on to recall how her brilliant and intelligent father had ridiculed and rejected the novel. At the same time she hints at how cowardly George had behaved to give in to her father's dismissal of the novel. She does not shrink back from suggesting that her husband lacks any intellectual genius, as he does not protest against his work not being published.

George cannot tolerate the insult any longer and retaliates with violence. His wife has ultimately revealed his weaknesses to the guests. He tries to choke her in order to shut her up. Nick manages to rescue Martha. She is so disgusted with him and calls him a "murderer."

An agonized George sums up the whole episode as a game to "Humiliate the Host" and decides to play another game entitled "Get the Guests". Now it is his turn to humiliate, rebuke and take revenge. He begins to relay the story of his second novel, that of a scientist and his "mousie" wife. The scientist has a priest as a father-in-law who leaves money for them. The scientist had been tricked into marrying his "puffed" wife even though her pregnancy was imagined. By now Honey and Nick realize that he is in fact relating their story. Honey is aghast that her husband has disclosed the most intimate facts of their lives. Sick with all this she leaves the room once again, with Nick following her. Before leaving he warns George that he will take revenge for the betrayal.

Martha and George argue about what has occurred over the night. She objects to George's way of playing games. He retaliates that he cannot be mute to his humiliation and warns her against trying to degrade him. However, Martha's belief is that George actually needs her to flagellate him in such a manner so that he can at least blame her for his state of affairs. George happens to accept this view but maintains that Martha is going overboard with this. He decides to avenge this insult. At this point, George and Martha declare war against each other.

Nick comes back with the news that Honey is feeling better. Martha begins to flirt with Nick openly. George remains undisturbed and picks up a book to read. As Martha is seducing Nick only to provoke George's jealousy and anger, she is irritated by his indifference and orders Nick to go to the kitchen to "amuse" her. She threatens George that she is serious about going to bed with Nick.

Martha leaves George alone and walks off to the kitchen as she is bent on making George "regret" his indifference. George continues to read from the book titled - Decline of the West. Some noise can be heard in the background. George suddenly flings the book away in disgust at the continuous banging sound. Meanwhile Honey returns and cries that she does not intend to have children. George is disgusted with her and begins to provoke her, hinting that she has managed to avoid having a baby by aborting the fetus. Honey inquires about the bell that rang a few minutes ago. Although George tries to hint that his wife and her husband are involved in a passionate affair, she is determined to remain ignorant of it. She persists in knowing who has caused the ringing sound. She probably believes that someone was at the door. George suddenly replies that a messenger had come with the news that their (George and Martha's) son is dead. This act comes to an end with his mixed reaction of tears and laughter.

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Plot Synopsis/Book Notes/Analysis/Chapter Notes


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