Act 2, part 2 (pp. 117-150)
Honey and Martha return. Martha demands that George apologize for making Honey ill from drinking too much. Honey takes the sting out of the situation by admitting that she sometimes vomits without any apparent reason. The doctors can find nothing wrong with her, she says; she also alludes to her false pregnancy, although she pretends it was a false alarm about appendicitis.
Martha then brings up the forbidden subject of their son, who, she says, used to “throw up” all the time. He ran away from home twice in one month, and six times in a year. George says it was Martha’s fault that he ran away because she was sexually abusing him. Enraged, Martha calls George a liar.
Honey says she wants some brandy, and George gives it to her, even though Nick does not think that is a good idea. When George says he used to drink brandy, Martha says to him privately that he used to drink “bergin,” too, which suggests to the audience that the boy in the story that George told earlier might in fact be George himself, at least in part.
Martha then threatens to tell a story about how George tried to get a book published but Martha’s father would not let him. Honey suggests that they dance, and George takes up the idea. Martha agrees, although Nick is nervous. George puts on a recording of a Beethoven symphony, and Honey is quite happy to dance to it, even though it is not dance music, as George well knows. Martha protests and George takes the record off.
Honey and Nick begin to get annoyed with each other. She complains, saying she likes to dance and that he does not want her to. Martha puts on another record, a jazzy pop tune, and she and Nick dance close together, while George and Honey sit and watch.
Martha then starts again on her story about George and the book. She says he wrote a novel based on “something funny in his past.” Her father was shocked by it, since it was about a boy who killed his mother and his father. Her father told him that if he published it, he would be fired. George is furious at Martha for telling this story, but she only laughs at him. Then Honey and Nick laugh at him too. George finally shouts, “THE GAME IS OVER.” But Martha takes no notice, adding that George told her father that the book was not in fact a novel, but the truth about what happened to him. George yells, “I’LL KILL YOU!” and grabs her by the throat and they struggle. Nick tries to separate them and succeeds in throwing George to the floor. George drags himself to a chair. He is humiliated but not physically hurt. He declares that the game, “Humiliate the Host,” is now ended and that they should think up another one. He suggests “Hump the Hostess,” but then says they will save that for later.
Honey and Nick exchange sharp words, and then George suggests another game, “Get the Guests.” No one wants to play, but George persists. He refers to his first novel in such a way that no one knows whether Martha’s story was true or false, and then he says he wrote a second novel, an allegory about a young couple from the midwest. He gives some details that make it clear he is describing Honey and Nick, and in extremely unflattering terms. He talks about how her father robbed the church and that Nick married her for her money and because they thought she was pregnant. Nick gets angry and tries to stop George, but it takes a long time for Honey to realize that the story is in fact about them. When she finally does so, she is furious with Nick for having divulged such details of their private life to George. Saying she is going to be sick, she runs out of the room.
Nick is furious with George and tells him he will make him regret having told such a damaging story. Martha tells Nick to go and look after his wife. Nick exits, still furious and threatening.
With the two rather malicious games, “Humiliate the Host” (which is how George describes Martha’s tale about his alleged book) and “Get the Guests,” the plays continues the “fun and games” motif established earlier. In “Humiliate the Host,” George is humiliated by his wife’s apparent revelations about his past. But the audience is not sure how much of what Martha says is true. Can it really be that the story George told earlier, about the boy who killed his mother and was responsible for the death of his father, actually be about George himself? Could he really have written a novel about these events? The question is left open. It may well be that the story George told in the first place is a fiction, and that George never really wrote a book about it, and Martha knows this. She is just trying to taunt George in front of their guests. As the end of the play will demonstrate, George and Martha have a habit of constructing imaginary realities and then fighting over who has the “correct” version of the illusion. That too is part of the game they play with each other, although it is not a game that either seems to enjoy.
So far in this Act, Martha continues to exploit the advantage she had gained by the end of Act 1. She seems to be able to hurt George at will, with her humiliating revelations and her sharp judgments. When George pleads with her not to talk about the book she says he wrote, Martha takes no pity on him. Will George ever find the ammunition to fight back? the audience wonders. George himself admits that he has to do something: “I’ve got to figure out some new way to fight you Martha,” he says, but he has no clue at the moment about how to do so. It seems that Martha holds all the aces, and she is prepared to rub in her advantage as she dances intimately with Nick in front of her husband.
Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf: Act 2 Part 2
Act 2, part 2 (pp. 117-150)