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Discuss the role of illusion in the marriages portrayed in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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Discuss the role of illusion in the marriages portrayed in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Literature in the 1950s and 1960s was concerned with the inevitability of failure, and that idealism is unachievable. The French writer Sartre developed a new genre in theatre known as existentialism, which criticizes insularism, and disputes the futility of human existence. The drama of this era, the Theatre of the Absurd, mirrored these ideas in an often surreal manner. Albee often combines the Theatre of the Absurd with some realism. He wrote Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf in the 1960s, the period of the Cold War, when the public was beginning to doubt the nationalistic notions of the 1950s. One of the major themes explored is the role of illusion, especially in the relationships between the characters. Martha and George's relationship centres on their imaginary son in an effort to alleviate the pain of their inability to conceive, and therefore keep their relationship intact. Their 'son' is their creation: "our child". However, Martha broke the rule: she "mentioned it to someone else". ...read more.


Martha's detailed and vivid description of their son's childhood displays true affection for a child to love. She illustrates their son with "gold" hair like "fleece", making him the embodiment of the perfect American Dream, an aspect of American culture which Albee mocks and rejects through George who will eventually shatter their dream. George's inability to differentiate between truth and illusion is shown when Martha lies to him about how Nick is "not a houseboy," implying that they had intercourse. Martha says: "[pleading] Truth and illusion, George; you don't know the difference." The stage direction suggests that she is anxious about George believing her because she has realised how much she needs George - Martha wants him to know it is not true. Nick and Honey, the supposed dream American couple also base their marriage around illusion. They present us with a falsely courteous and content masquerade. Nick not only married Honey because of her "hysterical pregnancy" but also for money. Nick is the epitome of the all-round American golden boy "smooth, blond, and right at the middleweight limit." ...read more.


Honey and Nick's relationship began as a perfect one. Yet due to the revelations of the evening and the web of lies gradually being untangled shows the shattering of the American Dream. Even the things that seem flawless have stifled secrets. George's termination of his and Martha's "son" had to be executed. Throughout the play, George has seemed to be the weaker half, Martha being the dominant one, going against the grain of contemporary social expectations. Yet George successfully manages to disconnect himself from the illusion which he knows will destroy their lives, and he emerges as the stronger force that was able to rescue Martha from their self-deception. After their son has been "killed", Martha suggests: "I don't suppose, maybe, we could..." create another child, panicking about how they will cope without it. But eventually, Martha and George had to abandon their illusion in order to save their marriage. Albee, as an Absurdist, considered a delusional life was unethical: it does not create any real happiness for life. He conveys this through the illusions invoked by the two couples. They used illusion as a coping mechanism, but ultimately, it produced nothing but disappointment and destruction. To survive, all four characters will have to discard delusion, and deal with reality. Word count: 1158 ...read more.

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