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The Existence of Infant Symbolism in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee is loaded with infant imagery. Albee seems to add an image of a baby to practically every page of the play. The reason for this kind of imagery is to symbolize babies, which has great significance throughout the course of the play since it links with the characters and themes in the book.
The direct repetition of the word “baby” ends up being very obvious at the start of the play and stays constant throughout.
George and Martha call each other “infant” various times. “Let me tell you a trick, baby” (p. 29) is simply among the lots of instances where George calls Martha “baby” and vice versa. Martha tends to use child talk when consulting with George, particularly when she’s begging him for a drink. In addition, Martha and George also like to refer to Nick and Honey as children.
They treat them with a mindset as if they were youngsters in their home. An example of this is when George welcomes Nick and Honey with “you need to be our little guests” (p. 20) while Martha directly says “c’mon in, kids” (p. 20) to the couple. George continues to utilize child imagery towards the visitors, specifically when he’s explaining Honey on the bathroom floor. “Peaceful … so serene. Noise asleep … and she’s in fact … sucking her thumb … rolled up like a fetus, nursing away” (p. 184) demonstrates how George utilizes a baby-like diction when explaining Honey.
Honey is even referred to as “slim-hipped” (p. 44) a couple of times in the play, suggesting that she can’t bear children, giving the reader an imagery of pregnancy.
Babies are one of the most dominant symbols in the play. Both couples have had pretend children in their lives. Honey had a hysterical pregnancy, giving Nick the sense of being forced into marrying her. However, Honey’s pregnancy was just made up in her mind, and the reason for that is because she truly wants a child of her own. This becomes apparent when she cries “I want a child, I want a baby!” (p.236). George and Martha’s child is made up as well, because they’re incapable of having children but most importantly, to fill the void in their lives. They’re covering up their marriage with the illusion of this child of theirs because they can’t handle to face the solitude that overcomes their pathetic lives. Then George decides to “kill” their son, and Martha is completely devastated. The last few lines of the play reveal that Martha is truly afraid of living without illusion, which was her son.
The symbolism of babies parallels a few themes in the play. The “Visions of America” theme is present since the reason why both couples want a baby is so that the child can bring meaning to their lives as well as finalize the missing piece of the puzzle to the American Dream. The baby imagery also connects with the theme of “Marriage” by suggesting that a baby will create a successful marriage for both the couples. Nick married Honey because of her hysterical pregnancy, and now it’s almost as if they’re stuck with each other with no passion present. George and Martha have been married for a long time now, and their marriage started out with love but now they seem bitter and unhappy, and the reason for that could be because they have no child present in their lives. Nevertheless, the symbol of babies connects greatly with the theme of “Illusion vs. Reality.” The son was just an illusion for George and Martha because they were incapable of having a child and facing the reality of their lonely lives.
Babies symbolize a various amount of things in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, such as truth, illusion, happiness and even the American Dream. The lives of both couples have changed drastically over the illusion of babies, even when they don’t have any yet. Honey’s hysterical pregnancy landed her in a marriage with Nick that didn’t start out with love and passion. George and Martha have been masking the truth of their lives with their son for a long period of time. This has caused damage to their lives, and now they’re going to have to make some changes in order to face the hard desolate lives that they’ve been trying so hard to escape from. The message that Edward Albee is trying greatly to convey is that human beings must learn to live life without illusion obstructing the view, that way human beings can live their lives with full honesty.
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