Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Are Albee’s characters “afraid of a life without illusion”? Discuss.

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Truth and illusion is key to this plays understanding. It starts as a play focusing on two couples failing marriages and the intensity of their relationships between each other as well as the audience. However, as the story progresses, the alcohol flows and the tension increases, it becomes clear that truth and illusion play a deeper and more complex part.

The first example of this is simply shown in the illusion of George and Martha’s marriage and later Nick and Honey’s. Their relationship can hardly be described as a marriage but more of a perpetual contest and power struggle

‘If you and your…wife …want to go at each other, like a couple of…

… animals,’

Name calling ‘muckmouth’, insults ‘YOU SATANIC BITCH!’ and sarcasm ‘sweetie’, all feature in their fight for survival in their own illusion. Both characters seem to thrive off this, or the power that they gain when ahead of the other.

We also discover that the seemingly perfect marriage of the young couple Honey and Nick also has deeper scenarios then first thought. This truth or the break down of the illusion is brought about by George’s probing questions ‘Tell me about your wife’s money.’ Again it is a loveless marriage fuelled by money and Honey’s ‘hysterical’ pregnancies. These self-terminating pregnancies, deceiving both herself and Nick show the unbalanced nature of Honey but also that she uses the illusion of appendicitis, a ‘false alarm’, to protect herself from being pregnant or having a child. Honey needs this illusion so she can continue to be childless, she is terrified at the start of the play of a life without this illusion, of a life with a child

“I…don’t…want…any…children. I’m afraid! I don’t want

to be hurt.”

However, by the end, when she is drunk and the pressure is high she confesses hysterically that she wants a child, ‘I want a child!’ She is tired of a life with illusion, she is probably scared by the unhappiness of George and Martha and the example of how their illusions have damaged them.

The clearest and most significant illusion that arises in the play is the illusion of Martha and George’s son. The fantasy or game world that they have created for themselves in the form of having a child is resurfaced throughout the play. Albee has created these illusions for the characters of George and Martha to use it as a weapon against each other in their power struggle. With guests present it is used as threat to intentionally hurt each other, ‘he’s not completely sure it’s his own kid.’ Through the years they have concocted a whole imaginary life for an imaginary son. The audience only find out the truth at the end of the play when George breaks the news of their sons death to Martha in such an unfeeling and flippant way that the whole farce is seen to be another of their illusions or games ‘Now pull your self together. Our son is Dead!’ This illusion is comparable to the games played between the characters, for example ‘Humiliate the Host’; they both have rules and are used as a device to gain power. However, where Martha controlled that game, this illusion shows how the power has shifted from character to character. The major difference between the games and the illusion is that the game is based around truth, the game unravels the illusion, for example ‘bringing up baby’ and ‘Get the Guests’.

The language that Martha and George use when describing the death of their son exemplifies the fact that the son is just an illusion, made up by them at the start to try and save their marriage




The hysteria that Martha displays when George decides to end the illusion upholds the argument that Albee’s characters are afraid of a life without illusion. They have come to rely upon it, employ it so much in their everyday lives that it has actually become real to them, they have forgotten how to live without the game. The breakdown of Martha also shows how powerful the game was, whoever made up the rules was in control. George won the power in the relationship by changing the rules of the game and ending the illusion. Martha at the end of the play becomes childlike and George takes on a fatherly role ‘All right. Time for bed.’

However, with the ending of the illusion, George gains power, he is not afraid of a life without illusion but thrives on it, he becomes free and the dominant one in the relationship. Not all Albee’s characters are afraid of a life without illusion.

Indeed, Nick is the first character to recognise the problems that the games and the confusing difference between truth and illusion cause in the play ‘Hell I don’t know when you people are lying or what.’ The audience identifies with Nick, as they are in the same state of confusion, not understanding where the play is going and not knowing what to believe and what not. George answers this question on Albee’s behalf with ‘ You’re not supposed to.’

There are many other illusions in the play that are not only there to allude the characters but also the audience. Honey seems to be the typical feminine wife, stemming from her descriptive name, her girly giggle and her slim hipped, frail figure. A dumb blonde who turns out to be able to speak Latin in return to George’s Latin requiem over the death of his and Martha’s illusion ‘Et lux perpetua luceat eis.’ This changes the illusion. It exemplifies that the illusions about the characters the audience started with do not last the whole play. The audience has allusions to Martha’s power, the intelligence of Honey, and Nick’s intentions with furthering his career, he is not as good and innocent as first thought ‘ I’d just better get her off in a corner and mount her like a god-damn dog, eh?’

Albee uses illusion in the play for many reasons. The audience are constantly assuming and then reassuming concerning the characters. As well as the unrelenting intensity between the characters this leads to a play where the audience is kept guessing to whom has the mental power, who is making the rules and is it all just an illusion in the end. The play concerns itself with one night where four characters lose their fear of a life without illusion and face up to their own separate truths.

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