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American Dream in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Essay

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In the final act of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Honey apologetically and drunkenly explains that she has peeled the label off her brandy bottle. To this, George replies, "We all peel labels, sweetie: and when you get through the skin, all three layers, through the muscle, slosh aside the organs, and get down to bone, you still haven't got all the way, yet. There's something inside the bone… the marrow… and that's what you gotta get at." In a play blending realism and absurdism, Edward Albee peels off the institutions and values that Americans held and hold dear, such as family, beauty, marriage, success, religion, and education. With blackly humorous ridicule and through critical analysis, Albee suggests that these institutions, traditionally comprising the "American dream," have been desperately created to escape reality. Ultimately, however, he shows us that reality continues to pervasively lurk not far beneath the surface that we have slapped over it, almost as if threatening to eat up the very thing with which we suppress it.

Even before an analysis of Albee's dramatic action, the location itself sets the scene for a study of American society. Albee sets his play in the fictitious New England town of New Carthage, alluding to the ancient civilization of Carthage, which for thousands of years flourished, but was permanently conquered by the Romans. The name is not coincidental, as George refers to New Carthage as "Penguin Island," a mythical island destroyed by capitalism in a novel by Anatole France, and as "Gomorrah," the city in the Bible that was destroyed, along with Sodom, for its wickedness. (40) The allusion invites parallels to our own country, which, at the time facing the threat of communism, not only face...


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...an philosopher. "And the west, encumbered by crippling alliances, and burdened with a morality too rigid to accommodate itself to the swing of events, must… eventually… fall." (174) Albee suggests that, behind the façade of the American dream, behind the pretense of American ideals, behind the false front of the tranquility of American society in the early 60's, America's internal corruption and emptiness threatened, and perhaps continue to threaten, the country with a similar fall.

 
Work Cited

Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Rev. ed. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2005. Print.


Works Consulted

Clurman, Harold. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. C.W.E. Bigsby. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall 1975. 76-79

Hirsch, Foster. Who's Afraid of Edward Albee? Berkeley: Creative Arts, 1978.


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