In the First act of “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”, Edward Albee introduces the two couples involved, (George and Martha and Nick and Honey) as well as brings to light information and themes that will be developed throughout the duration of the next two acts.
One of the most important theme explored is on that debates illusion as opposed to reality; both couples have been forced to create illusions because reality has become too difficult and too painful to face. As the play progresses we learn that underneath the guise of the characters’ surface facade, lies a mask that conceals their real selves. The brash and vulgar Martha is truly venerable, George seemingly passive and dominated, is the one who finally takes control of his and Martha’s lives. Nick, who appears to be the ideal man, veils a dark, coldly ambitious, hollow centre , and also turns out to be impotent. And Honey, the supposed naive and eternally childish personality, has been deviously using birth control to prevent pregnancy.
George and Martha, the older couple and experienced and skilful in sheltering themselves from reality. They merge illusion with reality (sometimes to such a degree that it seems indistinguishable) and rely on this as a form of escapism. Their empty lives thrive on playing verbal and physical games. These games are so severe that they make it appear as if they blatantly hate each other at one point, pledging to even destroy one another. however, there are moments of tenderness that contradict this loathing.
George tells Nick not to necessarily believe what he sees; some of the arguments are for show, others in the aim of staging challenge just for the sake of it, whilst indeed some are intended to hurt the other. However, after proving Nick impotent, Martha declares that George is the only man that can make her laugh, stand her insults, tolerate her habits and play games with her. He is the only one, despite all his faults, who can satisfy her physical and emotional needs.
The creation of George and Martha’s son, embodies their desperate need for illusion in a life, too bitter to digest or too bland to bear. In the last act, the details that the two describe surrounding the birth of their “son” convince the audience that their illusion id so extended that it has plunged them into a solitary realm that borders upon madness. However, as aforementioned this is a form of escapism in which George and Martha harness their grief into an attempt of communication, away from their usual battles of taunts and insults.
As a result of the unfulfilling and hollow marriage Nick and Honey lead, they too have established a deceiving double exposure, which they divulge during an evening as a careless result of alcohol consumption. Nick and Honey, a conventional American dream couple, are eventually revealing to be presenting a falsely happy disguise. The relationship between them is shallow and empty; nick only married Honey because she thought she was pregnant. He also has and ulterior motive in mind- her father is wealthy and Honey is sure to inherit his wealth! Nick is the one who admits to all of this and the fact that he is willing to sleep around in order succeed in his career is certainly not a sign of a devoted husband. On the other hand, Honey chooses to ignore that she does not share an intimate relationship with her husband, and pretends to ignore George’s hints about the adultery that his wife and her husband are committing in the next room.
In conclusion it can bee seen that both couples present a “double exposure” within their respective relationships and in the outer realms of society. Their ulterior motive is usually driven by an innate desire for escapism from a relationship that is not quite so fulfilling as they would hope.