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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Study Guide-MonkeyNotes Book Summary
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Game playing evolves as the central metaphor of the play and the variety of the games suggests the numerous ways one can shield oneself from reality. They are spread over all three acts yet as the play progresses, the games become more serious and less fun. Act One offers "The Blue game" as well as a series of practical jokes such as the shooting of Martha with a gun that emits a parasol. Act Two involves games that humiliate and degrade such as "Humiliate the Host," "Get the Guests," and "Hump the Hostess." The Third Act has meaner and more twisted games, such as "Snap the Dragon" "Bringing up Baby" and "Killing the Kid." As the play proceeds the games no longer entertain but are directed towards the guests as well as the hosts to insult, abuse, and expose their most hidden desires and secrets.

Besides these games, there are also guessing games such as when Nick asks George whether he has any children and he says, "It's for me to know and you to find out," sporting games as Martha's story about the boxing match reveals George's lack of physical prowess, and games of wit that are verbal sparring matches. The title itself stems from a nursery rhyme and sets up the play as one where its characters play innocent enough sounding games that end up being deadly serious.

Whereas most of the games are meant to keep illusions in tact, the last game and the one that proves most damaging is "Bringing up Baby" and "Killing the Kid." This focuses on George and Martha's most compelling secret and the glue that binds their marriage, the formation of an imaginary child. He forces Martha to participate in the game even though she knows the consequences will be quite drastic. This game starts by narrating the events of their son's birth and ends with the surprising death of him. This is the ultimate game they will play and puts to rest their incessant playing with truth and illusion.


Humor implies a comic utterance or mode of behavior evoking laughter. It is often harmless and purely comic. Unlike wit or satire, which serve as a weapon against a person or society, humor denotes pure entertainment.

Because the Second World War had thrown the world into a turmoil and chaos of far reaching proportions, a deep sense of skepticism and insecurity pervaded much of the world. The magnitude of death, besides the sinister implications of the various techniques of wartime upheavals, left an indelible scar on the minds of the people. The everyday realities now appeared absurd and hostile to them. Existentialism, the leading philosophy of the day, purported that the individual had little power and is forced to conform and that human communication was impossible. Intellectuals and people alike began to ponder this new perspective. With the backdrop of such events, literature also incorporated these ideas. Humor reflected in 1950s and 1960s literature was given a new garb.

The literature related to this period provokes a kind of "sick" laughter, mocking and self-deprecating. It is a product of rage and bitterness that professes a cynical outlook on life. This kind of humor was referred to as Black Humor. The name was coined by Andre Breton in his Anthologic de l'humour noir in 1939 and was prompted by the "debasement" and "dehumanization" of man, most notably seen in the rise of fascism and dictatorships as well as the concentration on technology and progress over humanism. A rising lack of moral values resulted in a humor that laughed at the irrationality of the world. Illogical and grotesque behavior constituted the substratum of these writings. The "perverse", "sadistic" and "sick" vices of society were projected through these works.

The writers placed their characters in a "nightmarish" modern world. The chaos, cruelty and senselessness of human lives were laid bare. The materialistic dreams and the mad rush to achieve the desired goals in a short span of time were also part of the focus of these writings. With people shedding their inhibitions and stooping to any level in accomplishing their objectives, a new set of "morals" had come into prominence. Black humor sneered at these feats.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? carries shades of this humor. All the characters of the play are outlandish in their behavior and isolated in their deluded worlds. Albee scorns their sardonic and sadistic pleasure in inflicting wounds on each other. In her anguish, Martha tears apart George's self to shreds. Throughout the play she is portrayed as a woman deriving sadistic pleasure by insulting her husband. Equally pathetic is Nick and Honey's relationship. Nick ponders over various measures to reach the heights of success and Honey is scared of human contact and takes pills to avoid pregnancy. All the games in the play are gruesome and bitter. Besides, the humor is sickening. The parable in which a boy kills his parents and laughs over their death; Honey's untimely and frequent giggles, and Martha's sinister laughter reveal the cynical humor of the play. The play is based on an image of contemporary mores and values that are intolerable and must be laughed at. Intoxication (through liquor) serves as an aid to escape reality and occupies an important place in the lives of the characters.

Albee has presented this mood, behavior and manner of life through his play. The hollowness and the "glossy emptiness" of the American culture is highlighted in this play.

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


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