Summary and Analysis
Act III: The Exorcism:
This scene between George, Martha, and Nick concerns the discussion of Nick as "stud" or "houseboy" and ends when George announces there is one more game to be played and sends Nick to bring Honey back onto the scene.
This scene corresponds to or parallels the earlier scene in Act I where George "flings open the door" for Nick and Honey. Whereas earlier George (as the houseboy) had opened the door for Nick to the accompaniment of Martha's "Screw You," now Nick opens the door for George yelling "Christ!" Ironically, George appears in the role of a reverse- or Anti-Christ. But instead of bringing the message of an everlasting life and hope as did Christ, George appears with flowers ("Flores; flores para los muertos.") for the dead and he will assume the omnipotent role of declaring their son to be dead. Thus, as Martha's original "Screw You" had become the central metaphor of the play, now George's assuming a Christ-like authority in deciding matters of the life and death of their son brings about the resolution of the drama.
From the audience's viewpoint, George's comic behavior must seem to be both grotesque and in extremely bad taste since the audience knows that George is here to announce the death of their son. All of his horseplay, his falsetto voice in using a line from Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire ("Flores; flores para Jos muertos"), his choice of snapdragons (hardly an appropriate symbol for death), his comic pretense of mistaking Nick for their imaginary son, the derogatory innuendoes concerning their child, the mock-childlike bantering and imitation of courtship — all of this buffoonery must seem terribly out of place in view of the recent "death" of their son.
With his entrance, George brings up the main concerns of the drama and more explicitly, the major concern of this act: the idea of "truth and illusion. Who knows the difference?" — a concern which prompts Nick to later utter his most significant line thus far: "Hell, I don't know when you people are lying, or what." Essentially, the discussion centers on whether or not the moon can come up again after it has gone down. This discussion is interspersed with comments about whether or not Nick could get it up with Martha. Is Nick now the "stud," one who could perform in bed — or is he the "houseboy," one who failed to make it in bed? After Martha lies (we, the audience, know from the preceding scene that Nick was a failure in bed) and says that Nick is "not a houseboy," George is now not certain what is truth and what is illusion. He becomes vindictive by throwing snapdragons at Nick and Martha as though they were spears.
As George tells us, the games that they play are getting more serious. The game of this scene, "Snap The Dragon," carries overtones of viciousness. While this game is being played by George, Nick, and Martha, Honey is off stage playing her slick "solo" game of "peel the label."
George's vindictiveness could be interpreted (as it has been by some critics) as a desire to take out his resentment against Martha and Nick because they have "cuckolded" him. However, in terms of the larger structure of the "games people play," George has already conceded to the idea of Martha and Nick's sexual encounter at the end of Act II. But if one is going to play a game, certain rules must be followed. Therefore if Nick "made it in the sack" with Martha, then the rules of the game make him a "stud." If he didn't, then he is a "houseboy." What ultimately disturbs George is that "Someone's lying around here; somebody isn't playing the game straight." The audience knows that Martha and Nick are not adhering to the rules of the new game. As George tells Nick: "If you're a houseboy, you can pick up after me; if you're a stud, you can go protect your plow [i.e., Martha]." It is not that George has to know truth from illusion, but the game requires that "we must carry on as though we did." George then announces that there is one more game to play, "Bringing up Baby," and he sends Nick to "fetch" Honey.