Discuss the power of language (diction) and its effectiveness in portraying theme or character in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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One of the play's themes is the attempt to get below the conventional surface of life to the reality or authentic heart of who people are—to face the big bad wolf lurking inside of us. George and Martha, though they love each other, come across as cruel people who verbally...

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One of the play's themes is the attempt to get below the conventional surface of life to the reality or authentic heart of who people are—to face the big bad wolf lurking inside of us. George and Martha, though they love each other, come across as cruel people who verbally strike each other below the belt, and their diction is meant to be shocking. It it meant to wake up the audience and get people thinking about the reality of how they are living. It is hard not to be jolted by many of the things these two say to each other and to Nick and Honey, who certainly have no idea what they are getting themselves into when they are invited over for drinks. George and Martha's diction disrupts easy cliches and worn-out, everyday language.

For example, when Nick refuses to believe that Martha loves George, an unsurprising reaction given the way she has been treating him, Martha says to Nick:

You don't see anything, do you? You see everything but the goddamn mind; you see all the little specs and crap, but you don't see what goes on, do you?

The language, such as the use of words like "goddamn" and "crap," is jolting; it is not what you expect in the early 1960s from the wife of a college professor on a college campus speaking to someone she hardly knows.

Much of the diction is meant to explore or push toward the underlying authentic reality of life, and Albee puts fresh language and imagery in his characters' mouths. For example, Martha says:

I cry all the time; but deep inside, so no one can see me. I cry all the time. And Georgie cries all the time, too. We both cry all the time, and then what we do, we cry, and we take our tears, and we put 'em in the ice box, in the goddamn ice trays until they're all frozen and then . . . we put them . . . in our . . . drinks.

This diction, which uses imagery that shows how sadness is submerged in the rituals of everyday life, like having a cocktail, is meant to make us think and stick with us.

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The power of language in this play is clearly used to reveal the curious relationship that George and Martha have, and the way that it is built on a mutual desire to harm and wound. From the very beginning of this play, it is clear that these two characters have a relationship that is based on the contradictory emotions of love and hate. Simultaneously their words reveal a deep loathing of each other that is also curiously mixed in with love. Consider, for example, the following exchange:

Martha: Well…you're going bald.
George: So are you. (Pause…they both laugh) Hello, honey.
Martha: Hello. C'mon over here and give your mommy a big sloppy kiss.

The pointed reference to baldness by Martha in her husband is rather direct, but George's assertion that Martha is losing her hair as well is shocking in the extreme, as baldness in women is rather a taboo subject in Western society. However, note the response of laughter following this exchange and the romantic talk afterwards, as Martha asks for a kiss. Elsewhere the strength of Martha's hatred for her husband is expressed through her reference to him as "a blank, a cipher" and her assertion that if he actually "existed" she would divorce him. The raw strength of the words used indicate very strongly that this is a relationship where there are no holds barred in terms of wounding each other and expression.

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