Martha, a middle-aged faculty wife and daughter of the president of a small New England college. Martha is loud, aggressive, and vulgar, secure that her father’s position at the college will insulate her from censure. She has a volatile relationship with her husband, George. A crass joke may turn into a vicious insult, followed by a moment of happy intimacy, all smoothed over by constant consumption of liquor. Martha is particularly cruel about George’s lack of academic success. She had envisioned him taking over the history department and eventually the college, but because he is only an associate professor at the age of forty-six, she considers him a failure. Martha and George’s marriage revolves around a series of games, none more central than the myth that they have a teenage son, a fiction Martha in some strange way has convinced herself to believe despite the fact that they cannot have children. When Martha’s continuous attacks on George’s professional status and masculinity prove too much for him to bear, he retaliates by revealing before their guests Nick and Honey that his and Martha’s son is “dead,” effectively shattering Martha’s carefully maintained fantasy world and forcing both him and Martha to face the future without the comfort of fantasy and game-playing.
George, Martha’s husband, an associate professor in the history department. George is more subdued than Martha, but he...
(The entire section is 605 words.)