Kasia Whitelaw Professor Yves Saint-Pierre The Play: Page, Stage, Screen April 9th, 2013 The Imaginary Child in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ Albert Einstein once said “imagination is more important than knowledge”, however it is important to keep reality and imagination separate. In the play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ’ by Edward Albee, it is discovered what happens when a couple mixes their reality with illusion. Through a long night of drinking and chatting with their new neighbors, George and Martha learn the monstrous outcome of their mistake in intertwining their illusions into their reality.
Throughout the night Nick and Honey, the guests, discover the secret of George and Martha’s son, which provoked a series of ongoing arguments and blaming between the ‘mother’ and ‘father’. In the end, it becomes apparent that their child does not exist and was a mere illusion. George and Martha’s child was a key element in keeping their marriage alive as they used it as a figurative punching bag: the child was a personification of their marriage.
Without it, they would have simply attacked each other and their relationship would have perished. Instead, they relied on a happy illusion to distract them and keep them in a fake happiness.
Throughout the play, the two characters try to protect their own made up reality by destroying each other’s. They created said illusion due to the fact that they were unable to have children; however the figment of imagination provided the two a source of blame for their lousy relationship. Finally, George decides to kill off the imaginary character as to move on from their fake world and come back to reality. The fictional child stemmed from the desire for a childhood that they themselves never had, and driven by the fact that the couple couldn’t have kids, “George: Yes.
Martha doesn’t have pregnancies at all” (P. 46). As their story collapses on itself through lies piled on top of lies, George brings their child’s imaginary life to a sudden end and Nick begins to figure it out: “You couldn’t have… any? ” meaning children, which George and Martha both respond with “We couldn’t” (P. 97). Their desire for a child was a simple case of ‘you want what you can’t have’; they were attracted to the idea of a child because they couldn’t get pregnant. The illusion of a child provided a safety zone where everything fit well, as George said “Yes, well he’s a… omfort, a bean bag” (P. 46) which implies that their illusion kept them grounded, comfortable and happy because they use the child to hurt and blame each other. When Honey questioned George about his and Martha’s son, he reacts in an odd fashion and is surprised that Martha has mentioned their boy. Looking up the stairs in her general direction he says: “OK Martha… OK”(P. 24) in a seemingly threatening tone. This is proof that Martha has broken the rules of their fantasy by letting other people into their pretend world and is saying ‘game on’.
It was this action that caused George to eventually destroy the illusion of their child forever. George wrote an autobiography/novel “all about a naughty boy child [… ] who killed his mother and father dead” (P. 60). Earlier on in the play, George told Nick a story of a boy who killed both his parents by accident, with no harm intended; however both murder stories related to George as a personification of a painful separation from his parents. Having said this, George obviously didn’t have a lovely home life if he felt this strongly against his parents.
Martha dealt with the death of her mother: “Mommy died early, see, and I sort of grew up with Daddy” (P. 37). She also dealt with the abandonment of her father to a private school “I went away to school, and stuff, but I more of less grew up with him. Jesus, I admired that guy! I worshiped him… ” (P. 37). Their past reveals that neither Martha nor George were given the ideal family situation as a child, therefore they projected their desires for a happy family into their own marriage, creating the illusion of a son.
However, they personify their relationship into the child so their general dissatisfaction in the marriage is brought out through the child. Through stories told by George and Martha, it is shown that the child didn’t live a happy life: “Martha: A son who was so ashamed of his father. [… ] A son who spends his summers away because he can’t stand the shadows of a man flickering around the edge of a house” (P. 92). While George counters: “Who spends his summers away [… ] because there isn’t room for him in a house full of empty bottles, lies, strange men [… A son who is, deep in his gut, sorry to have been born… ” (P. 93) George and Martha blame each other for the mistakes they made with the child, which translated into the mistake they made with their marriage, thus causing their unhappiness. This shows that the child represents the couple’s relationship; simply making it easier to blame each other for its faults. In the end, George decided to kill off the leading character in their fictional fantasy to a car crash: the same way the boy killed his father in the story he told Nick “He was… killed… ate afternoon on a country road, with his learners permit in his pocket, he swerved, to avoid a porcupine, and drove straight into a [… ] large tree” (P. 95). George decided to abolish their figurative son because he felt that Martha had gone too far in telling their guests about the child: “You broke our rule baby. You mentioned him… you mentioned him to someone else” (P. 96). It was no longer only their secret, harmless fantasy: the illusion was shared with Honey and Nick and therefore had to be destroyed. They had become so embodied in their desired illusion that they casually brush off their reality: “George: Truth and illusion.
Who knows the difference, eh, toots? ” (P. 83). Their obsession with illusion is also demonstrated through their love of constant, heavy drinking. Throughout the entire play, George and Martha always had a drink at hand, which may suggest that the couple would stop at no extent to escape their immediate reality. Their child stayed alive because of the childish ways in which George and Martha acted so by killing him, George insinuated that it was time to grow up. He also felt that it was time to step out of this illusion and face the reality that they had made for themselves: real life.
When he asked Martha “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? ” he really asked if she’s scared of living without illusion, and she admitted that she’s absolutely terrified. Imagination, when at work, has the ability to create beautiful things. However, upon the realization of your own imagination’s infinite power, you may dangerously overuse it to create illusions, which may then become your reality. In the play, the young couple Nick and Honey also struggle with an imaginary child “I married her because she was pregnant […] It was a hysterical pregnancy.
She blew up, and then she went down” (P. 44). This shows just how far the imagination can take a person, yet Martha and George experienced it a bit differently. When the statement arises: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ” (p. 98), it is George and Martha who are terrified of this ‘Virginia Woolf’, which so happens to represent their own reality. Therefore they focus on their individual illusion of their imaginary son to keep them content: the couple used the child to personify their marriage, which made the idea of the child all the more real.
This would therefore explain his creation, because George and Martha couldn’t have children; the babies function, that it gave them something to blame each other with and why George decided to kill their imaginary son in the end, as to make peace with their lives, grow up and put their dreams to rest. All in all ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ demonstrated the act of taking your imagination one step too far, and revealing the complications that arise when avoiding your own reality. References: Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. New York: Dramatists play Service Inc. , 2005.
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