What is the meaning of the last line of the play, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout the play, George and Martha spar viciously with one another and with their guests. It is unrelenting, but Martha has makes one mistake: she mentions their son to someone else, thus opening up the secret fantasy that has kept their marriage going. The "apple of our eyes...Martha being a...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Throughout the play, George and Martha spar viciously with one another and with their guests. It is unrelenting, but Martha has makes one mistake: she mentions their son to someone else, thus opening up the secret fantasy that has kept their marriage going. The "apple of our eyes...Martha being a Cyclops" is another game (but it is a very private game with their "son" bearing a disquieting similarity to George's youth) between George and Martha and she has made it public. The ensuing brawl ends with George's decision to put an end to the fantasy and, perhaps, an end to all of the games. But in order to do that, he has to "kill" their son. When Martha screams at him that "You can't do that!" his replies "Of course I can. We just never talked about it" revealing that their games - which have become their life together - have always been held together by a mutual complicity in maintaining the fantasy. Remember, "Who's Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?" is a love story. But George is exhausted by a love that requires such artifice. By killing their "son", he puts something even more challenging to Martha: to love one another as they are - with all of their disappointments and failures in themselves and with one another - without the "comfort" of lies and fantasy. And it is that fear - to be seen and loved by George as she is, not as she would pretend to be - that frightens Martha.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The final words in the play are uttered by Martha who says simply, "I am" in response to George's singing to the tune of "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf" altering the words big and bad for the name Virginia.  This sums up the essence of the play.  Martha must live a life of illusions in order to survive.  In order for George to survive he must also keep these illusions alive even though it makes him miserable.  In the end, tired of it all George hauntingly but somewhat lovingly sings the tune to which Martha responds.  Through out the play there are ups and downs in the illusion of their having a perfect wonderful son is explored and at points, the reader does not know which way it will end up. Will they both exhaust the fantasy and give up the illusion which is ultimately not keeping them sane and together but driving them apart or will they continue to live the illusion? In the end, Martha's fear of letting the illusion go is revealed in her last statement.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team