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SCENE SUMMARIES AND ANALYSIS
ACT THREE: THE EXORCISM
The third act begins with Martha talking and laughing to herself. She complains that she has been abandoned like an "old pussy- cat." This saddens her a great deal. She addresses her complaints to her father and intermittently yells at people around to come out of their hiding places. Simultaneously, she continues her drinking and clinking ice in the glass. Nick enters and is astonished to find her behaving in such a crazy manner. Earlier he had seen his wife behave as if she too was going overboard. Furthermore, he is even more surprised to hear Martha talking well of her husband. She tells him that she loved George who had once been affable and good to her. At the same time, she keeps calling Nick a "flop," probably referring to his inability to perform in bed. She wonders if he is that bad even in performing the chores around the house.
Meanwhile George who had been outside returns with a bunch of flowers. He narrates how he had plucked the snapdragons in the moonlight for Martha and his son. They now begin another game, forcing Nick to play the part of their son as they both fight over him. Martha continues to call him a "houseboy." A confused Nick does not know where he stands.
The argument now revolves around the existence of the moon. George tells them how once while he was traveling to Majorca, the moon went up and down. Martha brands it a lie. This leaves Nick more baffled as he is unable to infer when they are lying and when they are not. They dispute over truth and illusion. Martha receives a few blows from George about whether or not Nick was satisfactory in bed. Martha is unwilling to admit he was a "flop" so she repudiates his being a "houseboy," a sign of his failure to satisfy her. George cannot discern whether Nick and Martha have had sex and as he attempts to access the truth, he becomes more manic, warning them that they must play by the rules. He begins to throw snapdragons at the two of them, violently denouncing their bad gamemanship. He then announces the final game "Bring up Baby" and orders Nick to get his wife.
Before Nick and Honey return, Martha pleads with George to stop playing games. That she is tired of them and wants to stop. George refuses to listen and says they must go on and that she cannot stop the games just because she does not like them anymore.
Honey is back in the game and exclaims that she has been playing "Peel the Label" in the bathroom. George compares her game to the peeling layers of skin until reaching the marrow of the bone, an apt metaphor for what he is about to do. With a devilish smile on his lips he says that the bones in the young are "resilient". George and Martha explain how their son looked at birth and how they had raised him, catering to his likes and dislikes. They recall an incident when he had broken his arm and another when he first saw a cow. It is remarked that as he had grown older he had turned wiser and thus was ever present, holding his parents' hands.
Suddenly, Honey declares that she desperately wants a son. Martha resumes her talk about her son, his initial years, his schooling and his transformation into a five-year-old boy. In between she also adds how he was ashamed of his father's failures. She calls him "the one light in all this hopeless darkness." The whole time she is telling the young couple about their son, George is speaking in Latin. George slowly begins to destroy the illusions that Martha has built around herself by making up his own story.
He tells her about the telegram and the news that their son has been killed in an accident, while trying to save a porcupine. A shocked Martha screams at him for deciding things on his own. He reminds her that she had broken their rule of secrecy by disclosing her son's very existence. Hence, it is his prerogative to kill him. They argue over the disclosure of their secret and the death of their son until Nick figures out the real story behind the games they have been playing. Disgusted by this news and utterly dejected, he leaves with Honey.
Dawn has come. In the final scene, George sings the title of the play and for the first time in the entire play, Martha is overwhelmed by the circumstances of what has occurred. All the fire is out and she confesses that she fears reality.