Summary and Analysis Act II: Walpurgisnacht: Scenes i-iii


The subject matter of scenes i–iii concerns George's and Nick's views of their respective wives and other matters. It is briefly interrupted (less than a page) by Martha's appearance to report on the state of Honey's relative sobriety or drunkenness; otherwise, without this brief interruption, this should be considered thematically as one scene.

Act II begins with Nick reporting that Honey is "all right." George then inquires about Martha. In a comic interchange, there is a confusion (deliberate on George's part) as to which wife is being talked about. The confusion begins logically when George asks Nick about the whereabouts of Martha. Nick answers that "she's making coffee" and then in the same sentence says that "She [meaning Honey] gets sick often." George, preoccupied with Martha, takes this opportunity to deliberately misunderstand Nick and therefore puts Nick on the defensive. Because Nick has just witnessed George's humiliation, George wants to make Nick uncomfortable. The hostility between the two men increases as each expresses his antagonism by attacking the other's wife. Nick refers to Martha's and George's abilities to flagellate each other as being very impressive. George retaliates by referring to Honey's tendency to "throw up a lot."

Suddenly there is a startling switch from hostility to confidentiality as the two men begin to reveal things about their respective wives. If we remember, as Nick will later point out, that they have been drinking since 9 p.m. and it is now in the early hours of the morning, then we realize that in such a drunken state, there can easily be a switch from hostility to congenial confidences.

In the course of the conversation, Nick reveals that he married Honey because she thought she was pregnant. It turned out, however, to have been a hysterical pregnancy: "She blew up and then she went down"; that is, she had all the symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant and while she was in this state, they were married. Later on, however, we discover that it was not a forced marriage — there had been many other factors influencing the marriage: they had known each other since early childhood, it was assumed by both families that they would marry, Honey's father had a great deal of money, and they did care for each other very much.

George then confides in Nick by telling a story about a boy who accidently shot his mother and sometime later this boy was in a bar and ordered a "bergin and water," which caused the entire bar to begin laughing and ordering the same. Later the boy was driving a car with "his learner's permit in his pocket" and swerved to "avoid a porcupine and drove straight into a large tree" and killed his father. The boy had to be put into an asylum — "That was thirty years ago."

George's story of the boy who had accidentally shot his mother and then killed his father in an auto accident will be repeated twice again in the drama — it is the subject of George's novel which Martha's father refuses to allow George to publish and it is also the basis for the story of the death of George and Martha's imaginary child. Since the "narrated events" about this boy occurred about thirty years ago (at which time George would have been about sixteen, near the age of the "fictional" boy) and since the same is the subject of his first novel (most first novels are often thinly disguised autobiographies) we can assume that these events possibly happened to George himself. If so, we can use these events to explain George's silence (his refusal to publish), his general withdrawal from life, and his preference for an imaginary child — one who can't kill his parents — to a real child. We could further suggest that George tolerates Martha's disparagement of him because he feels he deserves it.

After the confidential talk, the conversation returns to the two wives. After George has mentioned again Honey's imaginary pregnancy, George casually asserts that "Martha doesn't have pregnancies at all." This statement should alert us (or Nick) that their son is an imaginary one. Yet, continuing in the line of "Fun and Games," George refers to their son as a "bean bag" — a type of object children play with and thus it is an appropriate label for an imaginary child.

After a brief interruption by Martha (scene ii) which includes their hurling obscene French words at each other, George discovers that Nick does have very ambitious plans about "taking over" matters at the university and one way might be for Nick to start sleeping around with certain influential wives. At first, this was part of the "fun and games," but suddenly both George and Nick realize the seriousness of the idea and it frightens Nick more than George. George honestly tries to warn Nick that there is "quicksand here" and that Nick will "be dragged down, just as . . ." but he does not finish his sentence, which implies that George knows that he has been dragged down. Nick refuses to listen and responds with a vicious "UP YOURS!" which prompts George to make an absurd speech about a civilization based on moral principles being reduced to "UP YOURS." After this absurd speech, applauded by Nick, Martha reappears, leading Honey.

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