Analyzing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Published 17 Jan 2017

The psychoanalytic theory as described by Freud recognizes that neurotic behavior is not accidental or insignificant but instead goal-directed (Fisher & Greenberg, 1977). This view is considered to be a drastically different new method to the examination and treatment of so-called “abnormal” adult behavior. Moreover, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis transformed and modernized our attitudes towards mental illness, culture, sex, and religion (Appignanesi & Zarate, 1992).

At the core of this theory, which touches on childhood development is the “Oedipus complex,” which as described by Freud is a “boy’s close relation to his mother” (Fisher, 1985 p. 12). This close relation, which is considered to be the primary love-object, bring about a desire for total union with her. On the other hand, this complex states that a girl, who is likewise emotionally involved to the mother and hence caught up in a “homosexual” desire, commands her libido toward her father (Fisher, 1985). Therefore, this situation creates a triadic relationship in spite of one’s sex, with the parent of the similar sex cast in the role of a competitor for the affections of the parent of the opposite sex.

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Then, according to Freud (1991) “because of the boy’s fear of being castrated by his father, he will ultimately end his incestuous desire for his mother” (p. 314). Hence, the boy is forced to repress this desire and becomes accustomed to the reality principle (Appignanesi & Zarate, 1992). On the contrary, the girl’s road in the course of the oedipal stage is far more problematic as regarded by Freud.

According to this view, when the girl realizes that she is castrated and therefore inferior, the girl turns away from her likewise castrated mother and tries to “seduce” her father (Stoller, 1992). When this tactic fails, she goes back to the mother and relate with her feminine role. Nevertheless, the girl still resents the penis that she will never have; hence, she instinctively uses instead a longing to have her father’s baby. Obviously, this theory demonstrates little insight into femininity and the experience of women (Stoller,1992).

Furthermore, this theory also believes that the unconscious is considered to be that part of the mind that stays outside the rather porous and unclear boundaries of consciousness, and is established partly by the repression of that which is excessively painful to linger in consciousness (Fisher & Greenberg,1977).

An advantage of this theory is that Freud’s concept is different form earlier concepts bout psychoanalytic theory because earlier concepts disregarded behavior and instead searched for a physiological justification of this so-called “abnormality” (Fisher & Greenberg, 1977). Freud’s view was useful in the sense that by way of looking for the reason behind the supposed “abnormal” behavioral patterns, the psychoanalyst was provided a new approach for understanding behavior as informative and significant, without renouncing its physiological effects.

However, some of the disadvantages of this theory are first, Freud’s claims are neither falsifiable nor verifiable (Cioffi, 1998). Next, his theory is founded on an insufficient conceptualization of the experience of women (Cioffi, 1998); and lastly, I think that Freud’s theory exaggerates the role of sexuality in human psychological experience and development.

The psychoanalytic theory is used in theaters to unravel certain complexities or obscurities of gender relations in plays or dramas. Psychoanalysis is regarded as a usefully tool in decoding the iconography or meaning of the play but it also the end leaves the audience trapped within a repetitive structural unconscious (Mulvey, 1981). Moreover, sexual relations in plays are viewed as re-presenting pre-existing sexual relations in the real world (Mulvey, 1981).

The play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” written by Edward Albee (1981) digs up all neurotic fixations with the intention of revealing the motivating psychotic anxieties that neurotic behavior dislodges and contradicts. The objective in writing this essay about play is to reach the core, or to depict the deepest layer of human conflict thereby disclosing how it drives the play by challenging every game, which the characters play in an attempt to run away from it or control it.

In staging a play, the formation that develops is consequently a practically psychodrama of aggression as the power that governs the psyche. Hence, as it discloses the language games and reveals the roles, which couples play in maintaining the supposed great institution of marriage, the audience of the play is put through a persistent outbreak or upsurge of anxiety. According to Rabinowitz (1987), this is considered to be the process in which the play captures the audience or the guests and not merely the two actors or characters who find themselves before a live audience.

In this play, George and Martha are considered to be a proper match of enormous opposites for the reason that aggression has for each a separate dialectical telos (Trilling, 1975). On the one hand, the objective of aggression for Martha is to remove masks trusting that by means of this process she and George can reclaim human contact. In any case, this is considered to be Martha’s claim. On the other hand, aggression for George is regarded as the fulfillment of death-work or the effort to strip off everything, which shields us from the emptiness.

Therefore, Trilling (1975) said that the difference between George and Martha could be considered as the difference between one who oedipalizes disagreements or arguments with the intention of protecting against a deeper failure and one who dramatizes the deeper psychotic anxieties that oedipalization supersedes and renounces. For instance, George goes for the crypt whereas Martha stays at the meat of things. During the course of the play, the subject of psychosexual identity is put in a perspective even more militant or revolutionary than the one Tennessee Williams established in Streetcar (Little,1981).

Martha regards violence as a turn-on, and twice early in the first act she appears to be eager to let it all soften in love play; however, George declines to kiss her and hence Martha shortly says she only wishes for “blue games for the guests” (Albee, 1981 p. 59). Hence, it can be observed in the play that George’s desire inverts Martha’s, and that aggression does not prepare for sex, and that sex breakdowns prior to the greater pleasure of aggression.

In relation to the psychoanalytic theory and as his autobiographical narrative illustrates, George is intensely aware that on the deepest psychic register we are all possibly by now dead. This means that our oedipal games are efforts to conceal that fact (Searles, 1960).

Nevertheless, if the psyche is to know the truth concerning itself, it should be put through the psychotic anxieties that comprise the so-called “fear of Virginia Woolf.” Hence, for George, the goal of aggression is to create a regression that is not governed by the ego. This power or driving force provides George his dual roles, which are his identity as “embassy of death” and his power as truth-teller. Hence, in this paper, it is my attempt to show that George’s agency is a force that pushes the play on the way to awareness, which uproots every illusion.

Personally, I think that the efforts of analysts to invalidate George’s work and release the anxiety he sets free by way of decreasing his agency to a neurotic motive is not the answer to the danger he causes but rather a defense mechanism which itself fails within the play beneath the contemptuous assessment he focuses upon it. Even if George might carry out the right act for the wrong motive, that does not revoke the psychologically revelatory condition of the results. According to Trillling (1975), George is that psychological power which puts into effect “psychosis” as the essential beginning to any understanding or restoration of the “self.” Thus, as death-work, George creates a phylogenetic regression that strips away all intrapsychic formations that “saves” us from Munch’s howl (Searles, 1960).

One will observe that the drama in which George and Martha are connected is a progressive exposure and deterioration into the crypt. Hence, it is wrong for a person to view it merely as a recurring thrust and counterthrust of oedipalizations because every endeavor Martha makes to replicate that process exposes deeper disorders. Little (1981) said that it is as if the oedipal were an enormous camouflage, a hoped-for finish. Therefore, its collapse, by way of its own means, is the proper source of drama.

In connection with the psychoanalytic theory, for a person to understand this process, it is vital or imperative not to over interpret the initial structure that conflicts take, because one will overlook Albee’s skill or ability at dramatizing the unconscious of the characters of his play. I believe that this is particularly the situation with George. In Act 1 of the play, George causes plot volatilities that he and the play merely gradually catch up with (Albee, 1981). Trilling (1975) said that one of the ingenious magnificence in this play is that George and Martha make use of every available prop to initiate new games that will change the terms of the previous drama.

This means that both of them continues redefining the theatrical space, yet in a constant manner, since every redefinition continues and makes an clear term of conflict what was subtext frequently by intense denial in the earlier movement. One will observe that as the conversion of the theatrical space proceeds, a scene of insult turns out to be a scene of seduction that then happens to be a scene of mutual betrayal, and so forth, until one will ultimately reach a scene of ritual murder with the identity of the victim thoroughly overdetermined. Therefore, I was able to realize that to be able to truly comprehend the psychodynamics of the play, it is critical to evade premature interpretation of motives and character for the reason that the depth psychology of every agent is exactly what the play’s movement will disclose.

So, why is the psychoanalytic theory shown in a play, which is considered to be an academic setting? According to Rabinowitz (1987), a play regarding unconscious envy and the anxiety it dislodges could barely find a better environment. Rabinowitz (1987) claimed that academe is the fortunate place of that drama and of its arduous and exhausting denial. He further said that in the academe, people are considered to be very petty since the stakes are extremely small. The positive aspect of this condition is that small stakes can happen to be the Hegelian battle for absolute esteem. Therefore, academe is first and foremost a battlefield of genuine psychic needs and disorders pursued by way of a continuous play of surface texts.

In this play, I think that Albee considers the idea of Aristotle that structure is the soul of tragedy (Telford, 1965). Hence, Albee follows this concept and makes method of it. Therefore, the play follows the dialectical interrelationship of the four structures of marriage and two alternatives that comprise modern marriage and then stages the movement due to which these structures go by in their long night’s journey into emptiness. Consequently, every time a couple is exhibited, their conflict includes both the force of the past, which are the parents and the likelihood of the future, which is the child caught in the staging of their oblivious struggles that are aggravated the moment another couple emerges.

Albee’s play considers these four structures follows them through staging the two alternatives whereby couples can be connected with their conflicts and struggles, whether aggressively or actively, as with George and Martha, or submissively and by evasion as with Nick and Honey. Trilling (1975) maintained that the secret in so doing disclosed is the absence of difference. She also said that the plot of the play is the compliance of these structures and choices to the drama of aggression/regression as an irreversible procedure due to which the truth outs, leaving the dramatis personae stripped of all illusions regarding themselves and their roles.

In clonclusion, I believe that through his play, Albee has performed the best game in town, which is to get or capture the guests or audiences. And if we relate it to psychoanalytic theory, audiences or guests are captured best when they are aware about it least or deny it most vigorously. As what Rabinowitz (1987) said, great plays aspire to occupy dwelling in the Unconscious, considered as the place where nothing sits still. This means that when the conscious mind fights back that internalization, it simply reifies the nondialectical aspect of its agency, by this means creating by reflex an Unconscious that is more passionate in its operations, on account of the repudiation to identify all the means in which we dance to its tune. Rabinowizt (1987) asserted that the greatest play and the most demanding analytic practice could not change that reality.


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