Fort St Band 5/6 Albee / Woolf Essay

Examine how the authors of your texts engage and examine the desire for reconciliation.
Discuss this statement with close reference to the context, values and language of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “A Room of One’s Own”

In the exploration of the radical essay ‘A Room of One’s own’ 1929 by Virginia Woolf and ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf’ a political satire by Edward Albee, we gain insight into the each composer’s desire for reconciliation between the sexes. Virginia Woolf demonstrates her outlook regarding history and biology in reference to patriarchal ideals, as well as the divorce and conflict of the gender divide prevalent in her zeitgeist in a time of social change and acceptance. Conversely Albee extrapolates and reapplies these common concerns of gender conflict and the biological roles standards expected of men and women, however in a more subtle way due to the more conservative era, challenging society’s hypocritical pursuit of happiness in the 1960’s. In the re-exploration of these shared ideas, both composers use language as a tool to empower their criticism of their societies and their common concerns.

The challenges faced by individuals in post WWI period are thoroughly examined in ‘A room of one’s own’, regarding the biological role of women in the 1920’s a period of social, economic and political change and growth, under the shadow of the Russian revolution in 1917 – in which independence becomes the catalyst for female agency. This is highlighted through Woolf’s core statement that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, a recurring motif through which Woolf contests Britain’s patriarchal cultural custodians. For example, she employs irony in her list of women in history “small size of brain of, weaker muscles of, less hair on body of” to illustrate the delusional concept that males were experts on women. She further emphasizes this through the characterization of “Professor Von X”, ironically referring to his work, “The mental, moral and physical inferiority of the female sex” as “monumental”. Her witty, dry tone demonstrates men’s narrow masculinist stereotypes and ludicrous perspectives on women whom, “have served all these centuries as looking glasses… reflecting the figure of man, twice its natural size”. Here Woolf employs irony to mock patriarchal arrogance, hyperbolically asserting, “a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule…who believes…half the race is inferior” to emphasize the illusory nature of masculinist notions of conventional gender roles As such Woolf demonstrates that context is essential in defining her central message and that the biological and historical expectations of women can be defied.

Contrastingly, Albee extrapolates and reapplies this common idea to expose the hypocrisy and conformist nature of American society under the shadow of the cold war, much like the Russian Revolution in which western society advocated conformist lifestyles and gender roles. In his period, TV shows such as ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ showcased the ‘white picket fence’ family as the desired and socially accepted model for middle class Americans. He asserts through his frustrated tone that men fear the potential of women to undermine their power, as is demonstrated through the deliberate patronizing and infantilizing slurs, such as Martha’s derogatory “Georgie boy” to undermine his masculinity. This parallels Woolf’s exploration of the struggle between the genders and the continuing patriarchal exclusion of women due to men’s fears of being dominated by the supposedly ‘weaker’ sex. This is especially demonstrated by Albee through Martha’s vicious diction, in attacks on George’s career, such as “some men would give their right arm” and “you’re swampy” in which Albee uses metonyms and idioms to satirize Martha’s attempt to gain superiority over George. This tension between men and women who use husbands as surrogates, for their own desire for fulfillment and as a medium to achieve success is highlighted through George’s own insults such as his descriptions of Martha as, “sub human monster”, “putain”, “Cyclops” dehumanizing women as emasculating monsters. In both texts the physiological and biological aspects of women are pursued as an excuse to make their roles exclusive of the pursuit of freedom beyond domesticity.

Woolf examines the patriarchal values of society and confronts the representation of women as defined by their patriarchal discourse, however she recommends for reconciliation between the genders. The onset of WWI and the breakdown of Romantic and phallocentric ideals fueled Woolf’s argument in favour of the unification of genders. She utilizes personification and a metaphorical conceit in her description of the way, “anger had snatched my pencil while I dreamed” to emphasize the necessity of women to be logical and rational in order to overcome patriarchal bias, rather than succumbing to counterproductive anger. She further reinforces that breaking down gender barriers are imperative to writers of either gender in “When this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its facilities” conveying the notion that a person must have intercourse with both genders in their mind in order to broaden their way of thinking. She employs historical allusion in the line “ Shelley and Voltaire and Browning…all those great men who…admired, sought out, lived with, confided, trusted certain persons of the opposite sex.”  which highlights the notion that behind ever powerful female writer there was a man supporting here further arguing for reconciliation. She highlights that androgynous writers  are  “Naturally creative, incandescent, undivided” thereby being the perfect vessel to create works. Through Through Woolf’s exploration of, responders perceive the importance of finding a resolution between the genders in shaping the validity of her argument.

Conversely, Albee highlights the tensions and conflicts between the genders as an idea shaped by the ample opportunities for either gender to develop both intellectually and economically in America in the late 1950’s, however, he too recommends unity between genders. As such, unlike the context of Woolf, Albee outlines not only the vulnerability of women, but also that of men in a period where both men and women are perceived by Albee as victims and offenders who should compromise. Albee showcases the reconciliation between Martha and George through the use of stage directions ‘puts his hand gently on her shoulder’ ‘she puts her head back’ highlighting their moment of peace and tranquillity. He further reinforces this atmosphere through stage directions of ‘a moment of communion’ highlighting their union in achieving fullfillment and comprehension of each other’s issues. Martha and George represent the hopeless pursuit of material happiness while their desperate actions showcase the allure of their society’s acquiescence to conformist social standards. The hypocrisy beneath the façade of the perfect family masks the suppressed insecurity that characterized the social tension and dysfunctional realities of Albee’s conservative era. The motif of “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” being sung at the beginning was first in order to mock Martha at her inability to face reality, however in the last scene it is spoken softly as if in understanding of her situation. Like the intellectual reconciliation in which breaking down the social construct of gender allows for greater intellectual development. Albee examines through the context of the stifling 60’s how family and individual happiness can also be achieved through the shackles of gender expectations.

Both Albee and Woolf rebel against conformity and suggest reconciliation between genders whilst exploring the struggles between genders. Despite their differing eras they overcome their obstacles of conformity and repression in creative and concise manners. The necessity of context is highlighted through the author’s demonstration of how differing discourse shape common ideas relevant to their era in order to convey their messages effectively.


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