At the opening of the play, George is seen as Martha's "house boy" — someone who will open the door, mix her a drink, listen to her tirades, and be her companion and her "doormat." During the years since George has taught at the college, he has apparently made no effort to take over and run things. Instead, he has been seemingly content with his life as it is. In fact, at one point Martha tells him that he "married her for it — that is, to be treated exactly as she treats him.
The night depicted in the play is a crucial night for George. Even though there are numerous indications that these types of late parties have occurred for many years and even though the witty dialogue and sarcastic things that are said indicate a highly developed wit, this night is the climax of George's life. Because of the events of this night and after it is over, George (and Martha) will have to develop a different type of existence.
The exact nature of George's background is either conjectured or unknown. If we assume that the novel he wrote (if indeed, he did write one) was based on biographical fact, then George's earlier life could have been bizarre — that is, he could have been the young boy who "killed his mother with a shotgun" and then later, while driving along a country road with "a learner's permit in his pocket and his father on the front seat to his right, he swerved the car to avoid a porcupine and drove straight into a large tree." George told Nick the story of the boy as though it were a remembrance, and said that it took place thirty years earlier. Since George is forty-six years old, this could be evidence that points to George as the subject of the story, and it would suggest why George has never attempted to force himself into the forefront of activity.
Later, Martha reveals that George wrote a novel with the same plot, and she goes on to make a rhyme suggesting that George used his own past as the basis of his novel. She also says that George told her father that the events described in the book really happened to George. Since Martha also refers to George's having at one time liked "bergin," there is convincing evidence for assuming that George and the boy in the story are one and the same.
Knowing this may shed some light on George's preference for the imaginary child over a real one. Certainly an imaginary child could never actually kill his own father, as George possibly did.
For years, George has gone along with and contributed to the myth that they have a child. This illusion is so completely developed between them that every aspect of the child's birth (from labor pains to the color of the eyes) can be described in detail. But until this crucial night, they have never told any outside person about their "kid." In the first act, George warns Martha three times "Just don't start in on the bit about the kid." At this point, George still sees the need of concealing their illusion — he is fully aware of the ridicule they would be subjected to. And since their life is bizarre enough as it is, George realizes the necessity of keeping their illusions to themselves.
After George has been thoroughly humiliated by Martha and after he is fully aware that Martha has talked about the "kid," he realizes that Martha is losing touch with reality, and that for their protection from public ridicule and, more importantly, to keep Martha from living completely in a world of fantasy, he must "kill" the child. On a superficial level, it would at first seem that he kills the child to get revenge on Martha for the humiliation she has subjected him to. If this were true, we would dismiss George as a petty, spiteful, revengeful person of no consequence. Instead, it is his attachment to Martha which prompts him to "kill" the child because he sees the necessity of destroying the illusions and fantasies which are controlling both of their lives and is about to destroy Martha's.
In the final scene, George realizes that they can't continue with their illusion, and even though he is also apprehensive, he realizes that they must attempt to create a new life for themselves. For George and as well for Martha, this is to be a frightening new experience.