The Character Who Wasn’t There: Daddy in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In the drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee meticulously constructs Daddy as a character who is both ever present and tied to the representation of major themes in the play. Albee uses the looming yet absent presence of Daddy to bring out traits in other characters and also depict their relationships in an especially stark light. Daddy is almost life-like in the relationship of George and Martha, while simultaneously serving as the supernatural, fictional presence that draws attention to the rituals, cycles, conflict and escapism, thus bringing about the ideology behind Albee’s theatre of the absurd.
On a superficial level, primarily, Daddy is revealed as a major factor in Martha’s life, supported by her talking of her “rapport” with him. The audience also sees his importance to her in Martha wanting her son’s eyes to be green, as “Daddy’s eyes were green, too.” Simultaneously, Daddy is Martha’s trump card, the final word in any given argument with George. When trying to sort a thing out between them, George is cut off with “Daddy said…” this signifies that Daddy stands as a third person in their relationship. In addition, Martha admits that George is the only one to make her happy, but in the contrary, because of George not living up to Daddy’s expectations, by being a “flop” and not being capable to take over, Martha’s I eternally dissatisfied with their relationship and disappointed by George. Thus Daddy hinders their relationship and looms large on them and also signifies the inability to love completely. This lack of satisfaction and inability to find happiness and untainted love links to the absurdity of the human condition.
Consequently, through the unquestioned authority and influence of Daddy, Albee portrays him an almost divine being. Daddy seems to have the last word. “Daddy wouldn’t let him” publish the book and “Daddy said we should be nice”: Daddy dictates what happens. The fact that Daddy is never seen in the play and yet has the highest authoritative status and can puppeteer the characters, further emphasizes absurdity. An unseen, unreasoned force controls the actions and condition of the characters, and of people everyday in life. This theme Albee explores is intriguing because of its universal nature and its relevance even in our society today.
What is also significant is the description of Daddy being a big, white mouse with red eyes. This gives him a fable character like quality and adds to the effect of the rituals in the second act. The ritual and curse is supported by the fact that he is ever present and being the mouse, carries the evil through the play. It must also be noted that there is no mention of him leading to, during or after the exorcism proceedings.
The sense of everything being cyclic, representing the futile state of mankind, is explored through Daddy. There is mention that he has a “sense of continuity” which is important because through the play, Albee brings up repetition, continuity and cycles. Furthermore, the cycle of sadness is brought about in that “you (Daddy) cry all the time” and Martha, the offspring, cries “allllll the time”. This emphasizes the continuity, sadness is passed on from generation to generation, unending and is extended to George and, further, in them freezing their tears to consume the later. Also along the lines of nothing being human choice, futility and foreign control of characters, is that Martha and George are never alone, besides the end of the play. They require their audience Nick, Honey and Daddy in order to carry out their game. When they are alone, moreover, they can barely carry a conversation. Martha cannot fully love George until Daddy is gone, after the exorcism. This suggests that the exorcism was not just for the child, but for Daddy. There are connected too with the same green eyes.
There is more absurdity in Martha, a 50 year old woman, referring to her father as “Daddy.” But since the audience sees through the play Martha’s tendency to play a child when the situation grows too serious and she is unable to handle something. It is striking as her reference to Daddy indicates her wish to escape the permanent daunting reality. She is then in a permanent child-state with respect to her father. This coupled with his white mouse appearance and her idealistic childhood, in reality quite darkly tainted by the death of her mother and her affair; she seems not to dwell on detail. Martha worshipped her father and the audience isn’t given substantial reason, which suggests that Daddy is merely another manner of escapism to Martha, as unreal as her child.
Albee creates a very significant persona in Daddy and through the play, effectively uses him, or rather the concept of him, to bring out absurdity of Martha and George’s relationship. This unseen character is also employed to explain Martha’s mind and explore the cyclic situations, the futility of relationship and the concept of choice. Through all this manipulation, the audience grasps the looming theme of escapism.
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