Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee

From 1966 movie adaptation of the play
starring Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton.
Initially, all I could think during and after reading Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a 1962 play by Edward Albee, was “What the hell?” George and Martha, a long married couple, return home from a university faculty party and the sparks begin to fly…sparks that are definitely not of the good variety. George and the reader learn that the young new biology professor, Nick, and his wife, Honey, have been invited over for some post party cocktails by Martha. It is after two o’clock in the morning and George is pissed. More sparks fly and the fighting continues to escalate right in front of the company. These two were making me incredibly uncomfortable, to say nothing of Nick and Honey. By the end of the play, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. I went from initially thinking that George and Martha were just acting like loons because they were drunk to thinking that perhaps they (or at least Martha) were mentally ill.

I was so distracted by their behavior that I originally missed much of the symbolism and intention of this work so, I actually had to give this play some extra thought. Albee certainly succeeded in creating an interesting character study. I would really like to see this on the stage. I think that it is important to remember that this play was originally being viewed by individuals who were just leaving the warm clutches of the wholesome 1950s. A time when shows like Leave it to Beaver depicted the “white picket fence” American family on TV. A world where everything was all “golly Wolly” and “geez Beav” and June and Ward were all smiles even during the rare disagreement. Albee was perhaps trying to expose this as a façade. That many Americans did not necessarily have their polite “telephone voices” turned on all the time. That life was gritty, complicated and imperfect and that for those that were hiding behind the facade ultimately illusion was a dangerous game. Albee is scrutinizing not only how some people project false images in public but also how this occurs in more intimate relationships such as between husbands and wives. Albee also explores how the frustration of the lack of children, the lack of career success for a man, and the unavailability of career options for women during this time can affect marriage. The image of the ideal successful American family required that certain expectations be met. A family required the perfect working dad, house wife and mother, children, house, and car. One must keep up with the Jones next door. This play reminded me in some ways of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road which is a haunting tale of the dangers of chasing the idealistic American dream. I think it would be interesting to explore these two works together in an upper high school English class. Ultimately, I think this play is something that must be experienced live rather than read.

Revisiting the Reading List…

Other “classics” projects that I have discovered, via the world of blogging, all seem to have set a finite number for their project. For example, some plan to read a set list of 100 or even 250 books. I purposely did not set my project reading list at a specific number. Instead, I chose for the project to remain fluid thereby allowing the project room to develop and transform as time went on. Since it is the New Year, I decided it was time to take a look at the list and make some updates.
In one of my initial posts, I indicated that certain books had not been added to the list because I had read them rather recently for various college courses: Robinson Crusoe…Daniel Defoe, The Scarlett Letter…Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emma…Jane Austen, The Red Badge of Courage…Stephen Crane, Uncle Tom’s Cabin…Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Awakening…Kate Chopin, East of Eden…John Steinbeck, and A Prayer for Owen Meany…John Irving. After further consideration, I have decided that A Wrinkle in Time…L’Engle, Gone with the Wind…Margaret Mitchell, and Revolutionary Road…Richard Yates should also have been omitted from my list. I did not read these three for any college class, but had read them before the project started in October of 2010. I had planned to post my thoughts on the three before the end of 2010, but it turns out that they would have really required a re-read for me to do them any proper justice. I will say this: both A Wrinkle in Time and Gone with the Wind are new personal favorites of mine with Revolutionary Road truly not trailing far behind. If you have the chance, read them all!
Now the question becomes…what would I like to add to my list? First, I have to say that I have become rather interested in the authors behind all of these “classic” selections. So, as a compliment to my reading I may continue to add a few selections regarding the actual authors to my list. For now, I have chosen: Sylvia Plath Method and Madness…Edward Butscher, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath…Paul Alexander and Edgar Allan Poe – His Life and Legacy…Jeffrey Meyers.
By Sylvia Plath, I am also adding The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and Collected Poems. I intend to spend a month or more of 2011 focused on Ms. Plath. I am also adding the following: Othello…Shakespeare, The Painted Veil…W. Somerset Maugham, Mrs. Dalloway…Virginia Woolf, and 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe. If my math is correct, this brings my new list to 52 selections. I will be updating the actual Reading List accordingly sometime this evening.