analysis of whos afraid of virginia woolf

Analysis of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Family life in the temporal axis is amongst the most difficult ordeals a person receives, given that the natural developmental crises collide with those in the family and create a substantial resonance, manifested through constant conflict between the spouses. The film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” confirms that the coexistence  under strong social pressure is quite challenging and can bring destructive consequences (Amacher, p.127; Halberstam, p. 204).

Primarily, it is important to look at the relationship management Martha and George demonstrate. They seem to intentionally avoid controlling themselves; in particular, Martha exaggerates her whims and mongers them into conflicts: for instance, in the beginning of the film, she terrorizes her spouse only on the grounds of his poor knowledge of cinematography, forcing him to recollect the motion picture, which contained the quotation she reiterates again and again. This happens after they return from the noisy part, at 2 a.m., when both are tired, and if Martha had some respect for George, she would have given him an opportunity to have a rest and relax (Halberstam,p.215). George, at the same time, frequently hints that Martha is old, addicted to alcohol and excessively noisy. Martha and George are waiting for guests, but no-one wishes to answer the ringing doorbell; instead, they begin to quarrel and offends each other’s character and personality. As one can assume, the spouses are no longer motivated for living together, but are ought to because of the social pressure; therefore, for the purpose of making their boring relationship more interesting, they add “extremities” and cruelty into it, subconsciously expecting one another to quit family life.

Their conflict is probably associated with Martha’s and George’s low self-esteems. They simply do not love and respect themselves, if they allow themselves and the other half to commit emotional and verbal violence. As she gets increasingly more drunk, Martha seems miserable, behaving like a victim, whereas George, who is normally a sophisticated and perfectly-mannered person, willingly taker the unnatural role of aggressor. Martha speaks and acts like an old grumbler; therefore, her psychological age is really not young and she is obviously not satisfied with this fact, she perceives herself as aged prematurely. According to the film, George believes he is a loser, given that he earlier had broad literary interests and even wrote his own novel, but Martha’s family rejected the writing and sowed a doubt in his self-efficacy and his abilities (Dozier, p.432). The husband and the wife explicitly stress each other’s complexes, given that George seeks to associate Martha’s actions with her age, whereas the woman humiliates his power and authority in different ways, both directly and indirectly (Dozier, p.432).

As the plot develops, Martha invents new tools of insulting George and lowering his already insignificant self-esteem: for instance, she is openly unfaithful to him and without any hesitation lures Nick into her bedroom. George, at the same time, breaks the illusion of the “decent” family they have created for their surroundings and partially for themselves, as he announces the death of their imaginary son. In the earlier years, this non-existent son helped the couple fill the emptiness of their relationship and added joy and happiness to the unbearable family life, so the destruction of this idea automatically means the obliteration of the relationship. This element of the plot points to the fact that the spouses’ self-awareness has remained quite low (Halberstam, p. 208) for decades of their family life.  The unwillingness and the resulting failure to see and accept themselves and each other as they are appear as factors that allow the couple stay together and avoid taking mutual violence too close to the heart. In order to fill the psychological gaps they notice through social comparisons, i.e. through comparing themselves to other similar families, they carefully weave the “public” image, in which they both begin to believe and which becomes their fortress of self-awareness, where they hide when facing novel situation and new stressors. Obviously, after each cruel joke and after each psychological hit, Martha and George behave as if nothing has happened and quickly put on their social masks.

In the context of relationship management, it is also important to note the importance of family, friends and colleagues for the spouses. Although the movie reveals that both approach George’s colleagues quite carelessly and forget about the good tone, when Nick and Honey are visiting them, they actually created this “decent image” and perfect reputation under the pressure of peer groups and relatives.  Conforming to the existing social norms, observed by their colleagues and relatives, Martha and George normally behave in public like an ideal middle-age couple, this habit for a long time prevents them from developing self-awareness and realizing that apart from the public life, they should also learn to understand and get along with one another in the their private setting.

The presence of Nick and Honey escalate George’s and Martha’s reluctance to follow the above specified “image for public” so that the spouses simply break down. Nick and Honey are cold and artificially obliging with one another, but the protagonists notice the bottom, the inner side of this exaggerated politeness and feel even more irritated by one another and their guests. They reveal their family secrets (e.g. Martha tells about George’s unpublished and rejected novel, whereas George confesses that they have a son aged twenty-one) and grow increasingly more sincere in their discontent with one another in order to force George’s colleague to demonstrate the dark side of his own marriage (Halberstam,p. 210; Dozier, p. 434). The main characters begin to play cruel games, which point to the true nature of their relationship, so that the reverse side of Nick and Honey’s life is disclosed. Nick recognizes there were mercantile grounds in his motivation to officially register his relationship with Honey; moreover, the latter imitated pregnancy, so there is little love in their union. Martha also discloses Nick’s tendency for marital infidelity, and finally feels disgusted seeing the ways the spouses deceive one another. Importantly, the protagonists, in spite of the deep intrafamilial conflict, are honest and frank with the other half.

Influenced by cold-blooded, materialistic Nick and Honey, the spouses see themselves as they are, this insight comes after they realize their self-expectations have nothing in common with they are achieving. In the final scene, the two are shown physically combating, which points to the inner struggle they are enduring. Martha and George come to the higher level of self-awareness and realize that that the construction of a “competitive” public image of the family implies not only self-deception but also dishonesty in relationship, which they are not able to develop given the deep feelings they still have for each other.

To sum up, the social pressure and never-ending social comparison often force couples to idealize family life and bring this ideal image to public, leaving unresolved conflicts under the surface of the relationship. This tendency, if overstressed in family life, appears to be destructive and thwarts the development of symmetric communication, self-awareness and mutual understanding between the spouses.

Reference list

Amacher, R. Edward Albee. Boston: Twayne, 1969.

Dozier, R. “Adultery and Disappointment in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Modern Drama, 11 (1969), 432-436.

Halberstam, D. The Fifties. New York: Villard Book, 1993.

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