Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf: Act 3 Part 2
Act 3, part 2 (pp. 209-242)
Honey and Nick reenter. Nick is supporting Honey, who has a brandy bottle and glass in her hands. George gets them all prepared to play the final game. He tells Honey that they have to get down to the marrow of things, inside the bone. He means you have to get to the essence of things. He smiles at Martha as he says this. Then he brings up the subject of their son, even though Martha tells him not to. George then goes on to say how the boy is a “nice kid,” which is surprising given the way Martha used to parent him, sleeping until four in the afternoon and trying to wash him in the tub when he was sixteen. Martha protests, but takes the bait. She says it was an easy birth for her; George counters that it was hard; Martha modifies her statement, saying it was easy when she accepted it and relaxed into it. George accepts this revision of the story. They both recall some details of how they raised him “with teddy bears and transparent floating goldfish,” according to Martha. She says his eyes were green, and George chimes in that they were “blue, green, brown.” Martha recalls how he loved the sun, how he was a beautiful boy, and how he broke his arm when he was three, falling as he ran away from a cow that had mooed at him. George takes to punctuating her words by repeating Latin phrases from the mass for the dead. Martha tells how he fashioned a sling for him and carried him across the fields.
Honey breaks in, saying that she wants a child. But Martha continues after the interruption, saying that the idyllic state of affairs with their son could not last, not with George around. But she gives no more details, which annoys George, who complains that she has stopped telling the story just when things started getting rough. He takes to goading her, say that their son fought her attempts to turn him into a weapon against his father and would not disown his father and who came to him for love and support because he couldn’t stand his mother.
Martha, who claims this is a lie, says that the son was ashamed of his father because George was such a failure. “Lies,” says George immediately. They both claim to have letters from their son, written only to them. Martha says their son spends summers away from home because he cannot stand being near his father. George responds that their son cannot stand being in a house full of empty bottles “lies, strange men, and a harridan.” Martha shouts that he is a liar. As George again recites lines from the mass, she says that their son is the one light in the darkness; she has tried so hard to protect him and raise him above “the mire of this vile, crushing marriage.”
Honey yells at them to stop, and Nick asks whether the game is over. George says it is not. He says he has some sad news for Martha, that while she was out of the room, someone came to the door with a telegram. He sighs and says that their boy is not coming home for his birthday. Martha disputes this, but then George says their son is dead. He was killed late in the afternoon on a country road, swerving to avoid a porcupine (this is exactly the same story George told earlier about his boyhood friend). Martha shouts in fury that he cannot do that, he cannot decide that for himself. She leaps up at George, but Nick holds her back. George insists that their son is dead. She howls, and George tells Nick to let her go. She slumps to the floor, still insisting that their son is not dead and that George cannot kill him. She asks to see the telegram; George replies that he ate it. Martha spits in his face. George gets Honey to confirm that he did indeed eat the telegram. Martha says that he is not going to get away with this, but George replies that she knows the rules. She still insists that he cannot kill their child. When George says he has the right to do so, she asks him why, and he explains that she broke the rule by mentioning the son to someone else. Martha is reminded that she told Honey about the son, but says that even though she mentioned him, George did not have to kill him.
George says quietly that it will be dawn soon and the party is over. Nick has guessed what has been going on—that their son is imaginary—and asks whether they were unable to have children. Martha and George both confirm that this was the case.
Nick and Honey exit. George and Martha speak softly to each other. They agree that it is time to go to bed. George tells her that he had to kill their imaginary son because it was the right time. He says it will be better now, but Martha is not sure. Now it will be just the two of them. George sings softly to her, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Martha says that she is. George nods slowly, and the curtain descends.
“Bringing up Baby” is the final game in the “fun and games” motif that has dominated the play. Finally, the truth comes out about George and Martha’s imaginary son. However, the ending of the play has often been considered ambiguous or unclear. The general meaning is that now George has finally killed off an element of their fantasy life together, they can now learn to live with the truth, whatever that might be, without illusions. The last section, after Honey and Nick leave, is described in the stage directions as taking place “very softly, very slowly.” There is a gentleness in the interaction between George and Martha that has not been seen up to this point. The implication is that they will now learn how to be honest with each other about their feelings, beyond the intellectual mind games that they have erected for themselves. Whether George and Martha will be any happier living without their illusions is a question the dramatist leaves open.