Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf: Character Profiles

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Martha is George’s wife. She is described as “a large, boisterous woman,” who looks younger than her fifty-two years. She is “ample, but not fleshy.” Martha is a feisty woman who spends much of her time taunting her husband, whom she appears to regard as inadequate. Martha is the daughter of the college president, and she is very close to her father, whom she greatly admires. It was her father who raised her, her mother having died  when she was young. Martha’s first marriage was very brief.  In her sophomore year in college she married one of the gardeners; her father disapproved and the marriage was quickly annulled. After that, Martha went to live at the university where her father was president. She decided to marry into the college and fell in love with George. But George eventually disappointed her because he did not measure up to her father’s standards in terms of his professional competence. Her disappointment with her marriage comes out in her constant jibes at her husband, her drinking, and her willingness even to commit adultery with Nick. Underneath her brashness and vulgarity and the way she rails at her husband is an unhappy woman who represses her true feelings and takes refuge in illusions, especially the fantasy she has created with George of their son. Deep down, Martha seems to love her husband because, as she explains to Nick, he is the only one who  knows how to make her happy, who is good to her even though she reviles him.  However, she never says this directly to George, referring only to the “sewer” of their marriage. George
George is Martha’s husband. He is forty-six years old, six years younger than his wife, and is described as “thin; hair going gray.” George is an associate professor of history at a university in New Carthage in New England. He has been at the university for many years, but his career has stalled. He has no chance of becoming head of the History Department, and Martha seems to despise him for his lack of success. When she married him twenty-three years ago, she expected him eventually to become college president, but he appears not to have the drive, ambition or social skills that would give him professional success. George has a rather world-weary attitude, combined with a cynical view of the college that he tries to pass on to Nick. He also sees Nick as potentially more successful than he has been, and seems to resent the younger man for it. George comments that it is not easy to be a faculty member at a college and also to be married to the daughter of  the president. For much of the play, George seems on the defensive in the “fun and games” he and Martha play with each other, and he is clearly wounded by her cutting remarks. But in the final act he regains the initiative and devises an elaborate game in which he destroys the illusions that he and Martha have lived by and tries to create something more real between them.
Honey is Nick’s wife. She is twenty-six years old and is described as “a petite blond girl, rather plain.” George makes a point of calling her “slim-hipped.” During the course of the evening Honey gets drunk on brandy (which provides some comic relief in the play) and has to go to the bathroom to vomit. She is often sick in this way, she says, although the doctors can find nothing wrong with her. She once had a “hysterical” pregnancy, which means she showed all the signs of being pregnant without actually being so. Nick married her because he thought she was pregnant and also because she has money, which she inherited from her father, a preacher who became rich. On the surface, Nick and Honey appear to be a fairly happy couple, but as the play proceeds the tensions between the two of them become apparent. Honey confesses to George that she does not want to start a family, and he surmises that she secretly takes contraceptive pills which are the cause of her headaches and sickness. However, near the end of the play, Honey appears to change her mind, saying she does want to have a baby.
Nick is a young professor of biology at the university, married to Honey. They have recently arrived in New Carthage, Nick having taught earlier in Kansas. He is described as “blond, well put-together, good looking.” As described in the cast list, he is thirty years old, although in the text of the play, he tells George he is twenty-eight. Nick used to be an intercollegiate middleweight boxing champion, a fact which greatly impresses Martha, who decides to flirt with him. However, when he tries to make love to her in the kitchen, he is too drunk to succeed, and Martha derisively relegates him to the role of “houseboy.” Nick is on the whole a decent young man who struggles to know how to react appropriately when he sees the antagonistic way in which Martha and George relate to each other. He is taunted by George but quickly learns to give as good as he gets.


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