Is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf a morality play?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although there is a moral to Albee's play, namely, that many people are afraid of living lives without illusion, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf [the meaning of the title according to Albee] defies categorization.  For, it has been categorized with others of Albee's plays as absurd; it has been considered naturalistic, realistic, and expressionistic and Freudian.  One critic, : Orleyl. Holtan, in"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And the Patterns of History" in Educational Theatre Journal, contends that the play, with its main characters, George and Martha, is an allegory for the history of America, beginning with George Washington and  the American Revolution. For, history figures prominently in the play as George alludes to it constantly.  Their allusions are constantly to the past with an acute sense of failure and disillusionment.  Just as George and Martha began innocently enough and moved to guilt and madness, so, too, has America begun innocently, a "beacon on a hill" that would set an example for the rest of the world, but now has fallen short of Europe's expectations of recovery after World War II, just as George has not met Martha's expectations by being "in the history department," but not "the history department."  And, when the American Dream did not materialize, America became disillusioned and had to recreate illusions to sustain it.

But, with the play ending as Martha answers the question of who is afraid to live their lives free of illusions with, "I am, George, I am," the viewer is reminded of Tenessee Williams's expressionistic dramas. Indeed, there is much of the psychological and spiritual suffering of its characters unrelieved by the merciless humor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

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