“We Complete Each Other in the Nastiest, Ugliest Way Possible”: The Incorporation of Flawed Marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Great Gatsby, and Gone Girl
Marriage will always have its share of imperfections, subtle and explicit, but the espoused in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl suffer from a bundle of particularly damaging marital complications. While their imperfection as couples arise in similar manifestations, the effects their dysfunctionalities and desires for dominance bring upon the surrounding world are the differentiating factors. From simplistic cheating on one spouse to the promised demolishment of the other, each text exemplifies a set of matrimonial struggles and identifies the consequences of each. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Great Gatsby, and Gone Girl illustrate the theme of how imperfect marriage results in a discontented atmosphere and a struggle for superiority, which develops into a series of devastating repercussions that affect not only the couple, but also the characters they are involved with.
The imperfectness of Martha and George’s relationship in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? stems from a combination of marital dissatisfaction and a desire for supremacy from both partners. The bickering between these two characters ensues from the beginning of the very first scene, as Martha demands her husband to prepare her a beverage while crudely criticizing his laziness (Albee 3-5). This not only firmly establishes Martha’s high perception of herself in the marriage, but also reveals a deep, underlying bitterness that illustrates the rift between them. Only moments after their guests, Nick and Honey arrive, Martha displays her dissatisfaction with George’s inability to progress in his profession by saying, “somebody’s going to take over the history department, someday, and it ain’t gonna be Georgie boy” (Albee 34). This exemplifies how effectively Martha is able to diminish George, and additionally shows his difficulty in gaining power in both his line of work and over his wife. As their bickering grows more incessant and prevalent, George physically assaults his wife and begins verbally tormenting her about the death of their imaginary child, which she takes extreme offense to (Albee 137-140). This affirms the “undeviating pattern of recrimination and one-upmanship” that marks their union (Luere 51), and shows Martha’s ultimate dissatisfaction at George abruptly dragging her out of her idealistic fantasy that had been forged over several years of imperfect marriage.
A similar struggle for superiority between Nick and Amy, the espoused couple in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl ensues, but their marital imperfections are more heavily based on their dissatisfactions with one another. Upon meeting each other for the first time, both Nick and Amy wore masks of understanding and acceptance, but they “weren’t [themselves] when [they] fell in love, and when [they] became [themselves] – surprise! – [they] were poison” (Flynn 277). After five years of watching Nick gradually grow away from her and sustaining a lenient persona with him, Amy made the decision to turn to a stricter and more serious approach to save her floundering marriage. Nevertheless, the revelation of her true personality inadvertently draws out Nick’s and increases his dissatisfaction, which drives him to cheat on his wife with one of his former students (Flynn 256). Amy catches her husband in the act however, and subsequently chooses to embark on a meticulously evil campaign with the sole purpose of ending Nick’s life, which not only highlights a stark contrast to George’s blank, quiet reaction to Martha’s affair of similar nature, but also affirms Amy’s power in her relationship. After molding her husband into the villain she needed him to be, Nick attempts to expose his wife for her wicked lies, but relinquishes his intentions after Amy threatens him with aborting their child with the the hope that he learns to “love her unconditionally. Under all [her] conditions” (Flynn 425). This demonstrates the unhealthy amount of control Amy exerts over Nick, and though there was a short struggle for superiority, she planned everything in a manner that locked her husband into an inescapable marital misery.
Flawed marriage exists differently in The Great Gatsby; Daisy and Tom Buchanan’s wealth-based relationship lacks a passionate love that only offers them only an empty, materialized version of happiness which imperfectly binds the two together. In the first chapter, Daisy exclaims “I’m p-paralyzed with happiness” upon meeting Nick (Fitzgerald 9). Taken deeper than face value, this shows how Daisy is trapped into a relationship that is technically perfect with money and station, but lacks enough adequate passion to amass any actual happiness. Like Nick in Gone Girl, Tom cheats on Daisy with his mistress to make up for the dissatisfaction he feels in his marriage with Daisy (Fitzgerald 15). Unlike Amy however, Daisy merely resents the situation in silence; she does not lash out, nor does she plan to leave Tom, she simply accepts it, which further perpetuates her own dissatisfaction with the marriage in addition to her inability to escape its promises of wealth and status. Daisy made the decision to marry out of material worth, and in doing so, she has allowed herself to be “shaped forever by Tom’s money,” but soon discovers that “Tom’s world is hopelessly corrupt” (Person 253). This exemplifies how in marrying Tom, she was caught and entrapped in his shadow, forsaking her own individuality in exchange for the fulfillment of her tangible desires.
Every iteration of imperfect marriage has consequences of varying degrees; the constant battle for marital dominance between Martha and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? eventually results in the unraveling and revealing of the imperfections in Nick and Honey’s own relationship. After hours of absorbing the constant bickering between his hosts and with his wife out of the room, Nick reveals that he married Honey merely because of a hysterical pregnancy and a vast wealth (Albee 105). Like Daisy’s marriage to Tom, there was no actual love involved, rather there was a tangible means that allured them to their respective spouses in both cases, with money being a common denominator for each; at the beginning of the play, Nick and Honey’s relationship stood in contrast to the major imperfections of George and Martha’s, but as Nick becomes more absorbed with his counter-couple, he discloses more information that parallelizes their relationships. Once George begins to physically assault Martha, Nick attempts to intervene, which results in George telling an allegorical account of Nick’s reasoning for marrying Honey, who, although intoxicated, becomes distraught once she pieces the narrative together (Albee 148). This shows more of a collapse in their already-severed marriage, and gives way for it to unravel further. Martha eventually seduces Nick with very little effort, despite being described as“rendered biologically impotent by Honey” (Alder 68), and proceeds with an affair committed in direct view of her husband (Albee 162). With this act of adultery, Martha’s work, a cry for attention from George, has consequently made Nick’s relationship with Honey meaningless; his character is the very opposite of who he was to begin the play.
Nick and Amy’s matrimonial struggles created a chaotic short-term world for the family on the latter’s side, while creating everlasting despair for the former’s. Amy’s fake death was done so without her family’s concern in mind, but her parents in particular endured a period of unnecessarily intense distress (Flynn 120). Any desire Amy was harboring to take her family into account was immediately suppressed by her desire to address her imperfect marriage on the largest scale possible. Once Nick was securely fixed in Amy’s grip, his tear-ridden sister, Margo, distraughtly pledged to stand by his side against Amy (Flynn 415). Though she attempted to assist Nick in exposing Amy, she was completely aware that her brother would forever be held captive by his psychotically imperfect bride. Towards the end of the novel, Amy threatened to abort the child or raise it to view Nick as the evil monstrosity that she did, if he refused to comply with her demands (Flynn 425). Nick’s childhood was marked by an abusive and neglectful father, and he promised himself that he would not allow the faults of his marriage to deprive him of fixing his father’s mistakes.
Like Nick, Daisy was entrapped in an unfulfilling marriage, which provided for an unnecessary struggle for not only the bride to achieve true, passionate love, but Jay Gatsby as well. Jordan Baker, Nick Carraway’s partner, tells the story of Daisy’s relationship to Gatsby, and that, “despite the $350,000 string of pearls, (…) when Daisy receives a letter from Gatsby the night before the wedding, she [was] prepared to call the whole thing off” (Person 255). Gatsby harbors an appeal that Tom cannot match, yet she chooses to satisfy only conventional happiness. Gatsby and Daisy are incredibly fitting for each other (Person 255), but Tom’s wealth and her desire for more blinds and prevents her from ever being able to acknowledge Gatsby in the way that he acknowledges her.
The marriages in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Gone Girl, and The Great Gatsby suffer from a number of imperfections that establish destructive consequences for the characters they are surrounded by. Regardless of how minor their flaws may be, most of the partners in these corrupt couples are beyond miserable, and the anguish they spread across the world around them creates circumstances as corrupt and tragic as they are themselves. Though they are imperfect, they are all permanently bound; whether they thrive off their spouse or are caught in the other’s shadow, there is an underlying quality that unifies them together eternally.
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Marriage will always have its share of imperfections, subtle and explicit, but the espoused in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Gillian […]