Illusion in Edward Albee Selected Play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”

Authors: Susan Raheem Rahman Jaf1, 2, Zenaa Salim Hammoudi2, Zhang Zaihong1

Abstract: Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Exposes the plunge of moral values of the American family in the modern society in which materialism is Victorious. The play shows the deceptive appearances and moral disintegration of George and Martha. This paper attempts to outline the American dream and how the characters accept illusion as an escape from real life. The initial part provides us withsome information about the writer’s life and how he is influenced by the theater of the absurd, and the impact of the psychological approaches on Albee’s way of writing .The paper also proposes Albee as a modern playwright to recall and explain the community problems that help modern readers to understand his crises and his tragedy form. Superficially, the play seems to be about the illusion but in fact it examines and presents crises of the modern American values and their way of life. Thus, the play discloses the theme of illusion and social American crises through the bond of marriage of the two couples.

Keywords: Illusion, Social Crises, American Dream, Marriage, Psyche of Absurdity

Albee and the Absurd Theater

Edward Albee (1928- ) is one of theimportant writers in 20th century American drama. He becomes an orphan at an early age. He had miserable life with his adoptive parents. Albee found it difficult to relate to them, therefore he never felt at ease with them, especially with his domineering (step) mother. Being an adopted child of a harsh woman had negative effect on the psyche of the writer. Albee’s rootless life always troubled him and the question of who he was, where he was from and to which family he belonged intensified his dissatisfaction with life and increased his crisis.

Albee was dismissed from two private schools and even rejected by Trinity College in Harford. He had never seen his father or met his mother for 17 years. It is only later in life through his love to the theatre and arts that Albee enjoyed success. His wealth and social status came from his involvement in the national circle of the theater. In spite of his interest in the drama and the theatre his adoptive parents pushed him to pursue more conventional career, but he refused to comply with their wish and followed his own artistic ambition. His final decision to leave his family forever came at the age of 20. After a long mission in his miserable life, he finally could find the way to prove his talent in writing and become a famous writer.

At the age of 30 his major work TheZoo Story (1958) brought him his international reputation after being staged in Berlin, Germany in 1959. Within a few years Albee brought the absurdist to American stage for the first time with his works, The Sand box (1959), The American Dream (1960)and Who’safraid of Virginia Woof(1961).

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was the first Broadway production of the writer which achieved great success and brought him Tony Award and pantheon of American criticism like Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. Albee for many years was unable to duplicate the success of this play though he tried to stage different plays with varied themes such as All Over (1971), The Season Escape (1974) and many other literary works( kucuk 2008:1-3).

As a tragedy writer influenced by the modern absurd drama, Albee was listed among such absurdist dramatists as Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter and Samuel Backett who were considered as the founders of absurd drama. Albee adopted the methods of the absurd theatre and established his own unique literary style.

Theater of the absurd has become one of the most important phenomena in the history of literature especially drama at the modern age. In fact, the word “absurd” refers to a specific type of play which flourished in the mid-20th century and which was borrowed from, the French philosopher, Albert Campus’ essay The myth of Sisyphus (1942) in which he detonated the human condition as essentially meaningless. Camus proved that humanity had to emerge itself to understand that a fully satisfying rational world was behind its reach; in that case, the universe ultimately should be absurd. After its appearance in the 1950s in France, it has revolutionized all the concepts of the common understanding of the theater and played a vital role in the development of drama. Modern people surrounded by unreal life pushed the critics to use a different language with disingenuous expressions in the works of theater. All the writers of the absurd share the same themes and writing styles while combining his own techniques in it, especially after the Second World War when European countries lost their faith in religion and their dreams for a better life. Compared with the life in United States, the situation in Europe was totally different from what was happening in the United States because “… there has been no corresponding loss of meaning and purpose. The American dream of the good life … [was] still very strong. Their belief in progress… has been maintained into the middle of the twentieth [century]” (Esslin 1961:225). As a result, it was difficult to find many absurd plays in America asthere were in Europe. Albee is one of those who established the absurd theater in America as he “attacks the very foundation of American optimism”. (Ibid) As a result, he is considered as one of the writers who follow cyclical pattern of the absurd to establish the modern American Theater.

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