1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION A. Research Background Existentialism believes that philosophical thinking begins with a living, acting human being as opposed to society as a one organism (Macquarrie, 1973). Existentialism mainly finds its roots in the 19 th and 20 th century writings. Some of them are Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Søren Kierkegaard. Even though philosophers have many different ideas on how to define existentialism, existentialists believe in living their life and creating their own value. Existentialists may view existentialism in many different points, but what can be seen as a common thread is that all of them seek the most individual freedom for people in society, as can be seen in Jean-Paul Sartre s most famous idea, L'existence précède l'essence or in English, Existence precedes essences, which is the center of existentialism. On the literary front, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Frank Kafka are some of the most well-known authors whose works largely portray existentialism. Even though existentialist authors expound different stories, it can be seen that existentialism works always struggle with the same themes, such as existence precedes essence, the encounter with nothingness, anguish, freedom to choose and subjectivity, self-deception and authenticity. Large forms of existentialism in literary form tell stories about how the characters struggle with absurdity in the world. As explained by Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, The absurd is born out of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of
2 the world (Camus, 2000). This portrays a suggestion that humanity is forced to live in a world that will never truly care for humanity the way it seems to want it to. The humanity quest for purpose in an absurd universe is easy to highlight. Humanity will always strive to find a purpose or a higher reason for existence. However, every answer it finds will always draw another question, for example, if one thing has a higher purpose, then what is the reason for that purpose? This line of thoughts, of course, will end up in creating the most known theological question: if humankind is created by God, who or what creates God? The questions then lead to whether or not God exists and leads to several conclusions that there might be no God at all. Most of the philosophers are concerned with finding a proper way to live in the midst of an absurd universe. It is shown by revealing the basic truths about human nature and the universe, raising ethical questions about life and offering logical solutions that might help humanity find a meaning in life and explain the incongruity of the absurd universe in which humanity now exist. (Babalola, 2005, p. 4) Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was opened on Broadway on October 13, At the time, the world seemed to hover on a possibility of a nuclear war when the United States went against the Soviet Union over the presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is clearly a product of its time, even with the curse and hateful words between George and Martha, the characters in Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, that shocked audience in the 1960s, which still has the lingering value of 1950s optimism. At first glance, Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf seems to only portray a collapsing marriage of Martha and George while Nick and Honey, the young married couple, accidentally
3 stumble into George and Martha s marital battlefield. However, upon closer inspection, the play tells a lot more story than that. George, whose first name was taken from George Washington, is created to represent the old American Dream. However, instead of optimism, he is led by the Cold War to represent a much more cynical version of American Dream. George and Martha both reflect a cynical and pessimistic version of the old American Dream. Meanwhile, Honey and Nick are the products of the new era. Of course, Albee does not draw them as standards or perfection, but that they are flawed and hollow at the core. They are considered as the interpretation of the audience who gets absorbed into the chaotic world of Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Edward Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf portrays how the four main characters struggle to live in an absurd universe, in search for their purposes in life. The reason why I decided to use Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is because the play might not explicitly bring the theme of existentialism, but it is implied in it. Adopting Camus existentialism as the basis of the theatre of absurd, Albee discuses out the questions commonly found in literary works which main theme is about existentialism, such as existence precedes essence, anguish, freedom to choose, self-deception, authenticity, and despair. Through the play Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I want to illustrate how existentialism is shown in an absurd world through the use of events in the play that can be found in everyday life and society. It will analyze how existentialism shows in absurd play.
4 The aim of this research is to portray how the play reflects existentialism, such as Existence Precedes Essence and Man Creates Himself ; pain of existing; anguish; choice; death; authenticity; and despair. B. Research Question The research question is What elements of existentialism are found in Edward Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. C. Scope of Research Under the framework of English Literature, this research is intended to describe how Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee reflect existentialism. This research is limited on by using philosophical approach for literary works and theory of existentialism. This research only uses Edward Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. D. Research Objective Based on the research question above, the objective of this research is to describe what elements of existentialism can be found in Edward Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. E. Research Benefits Existentialism is not an old issue. It is still debated as a major questions in most of human s mind. Questions about one s value and essence in his life and the effort to define his own existence are still happening everyday around the world.
5 Personally as a researcher, I decide to conduct this research to satisfy my personal questions about on the matter of existentialism and the absurdity of the world. As a student in English Department, I hope this research will drive other people to conduct a deeper research about existentialism and the absurdity of the world as reflected in a play. For the other researchers who might be interested in researching the same theme, hopefully this research can provide information, input, or knowledge to support their related research. F. Research Methodology 1. Type of research The type of this research is descriptive qualitative research for the reason that this research answers its research questions by describing, analyzing and interpreting its qualitative data which consist of words, phrases, sentences from the play Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. 2. Data There are two kinds of data which are used in this research. a. Primary Data Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a three acts play written by Edward Albee, is the source of main data. The main data are words, phrases, sentences and dialogues, which are presented in the source of data
6 b. Secondary Data Secondary data come from books, articles, journals and other resources which give information about the research topic, such as information about how the dialogues and how the character acts can be linked to the interpretation on how the characters act according to the question in existentialism in an absurd play. 3. Technique of collecting data There are several steps of collecting data. The first step is reading Edward Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as the primary source of data comprehensively to discover some information related to the research. The second step is reading the supporting data to find out the further information which are related to the subject matter and which can be used to help analyzing the proposed problems. 4. Technique of analyzing data The technique of analyzing data in this research consists of series of stages. The first stage is classifying the data from the primary and secondary data. The second stage is analyzing the classified primary data using existentialism theory to answer the research question. The secondary data are used to support the analysis process. The last stage is evaluating the data which have been analyzed and discussed in prior stages in order to draw conclusion.
7 G. Theoretical Approach Sartre s frequently repeated statement, Existence precedes essence summarizes the basic understanding of the Existentialism. Sartre states in Existentialism is a Humanism that, What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exist, encounters himself, surges up in the world and defines himself afterwards. (Sartre, 2007, p. 22) This claims that man has to exist in order to have essence. Sartre also states, He will not be anything until later and then he will be what he makes of himself. (Sartre, 2007, p. 22). Bohlmann also points out that The world is utterly without absolute meaning and man is left to invent his own personal meaning for his existence (Bohlmann, 1991, p. 14). Sartrean existentialism argues that human defines themselves as a respond to challenges projected by their existence in the world instead of having a predetermined purpose or meaning. Life has no meaning or purpose unless man created it for themselves. This study also discusses other Sartrean existentialism s elements, such as nothingness. Sartre defines being-for-itself as a kind of nothingness and this nothingness brings negation into the world (Sartre, 2007). As nothingness, the consciousness is freed from determinism. Consciousness often ends up in a difficult situation of being ultimately responsible for our own lives, which can signify unbearable pain of existing under this condition. It is why, Man is condemned to be free and...without any support or help, is condemned at every instant to invent man (Sartre, 2007, p. 29). The consequence of the dread of the nothingness in human existence and the meaninglessness of it is described as Anguish. Existentialist believes that recognition of nothingness is considered liberating because men realize that they are free to choose for
8 themselves because he has no predetermined purpose or meaning. Existentialism believes that human have a possibility of choice (Sartre, 2007, p. 20). In other words: Sartre sees the origin of anguish in the feeling of a being which is not responsible for its origin or the origin of the world, but which, because of its dreadful freedom to choose one form of action over another, is responsible for what it makes of its existence. (Bohlmann, 1991, p. 32) Anguish takes its source from the statement that in choosing for oneself, man chooses for all humanity. Anguish especially appears when man has to choose even though not knowing whether the choice is right or not because the state of anguish clearly displays that there are many possibilities open to be realized in the choices. Sartre believes that God does not exist. That is the reason why he does not believe in absolute meaning in life, which is why man is expected to create his own meaning and values. Man is ultimately alone in trying to find his own meaning to life because God does not exist. We are left alone, without excuse (Sartre, 2007, p. 29). Choice is significant for human existence because every human makes choices which define him. In existentialists point of view, an absolute freedom is the freedom to choose. Sartre states, Man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being (Sartre, 1992, p. 52). Because man has absolute freedom, he has no excuse for anything he does, even the refusal to choose is still considered to be a choice. Subjectivity over objectivity is one of basic themes found in existentialism and also found in Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Sartre states, Man is nothing else, but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism. It is also what is called subjectivity (Sartre, 2007, p. 15). Human is never objective because everything always start from within the human or the subject itself. Sartre also points out, Subjectivity must be the
9 starting point (Sartre, 2007, p. 24). Subjectivity is uniquely owned by human. If a man makes himself think about how something should be done, he also thinks what human kind should do. For example, if one chooses a monogamous type of marriage then he chooses monogamous marriage as the type which is the best for all human. According Heidegger, there are two types of being, authentic being and inauthentic being (as quoted in Blackham, 1965, p ). Both Sartre and Heidegger think that the only way man can achieve his authentic existence is by realizing he has a choice and by forming his own values and meaning in life The existentialist says that the coward makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic; and that there is always a possibility for the coward to give up cowardice and for the hero stop being a hero (Sartre, 2007, p. 43). To interpret the meaninglessness of absurdity into a meaning for essence is essential for existentialism related to authenticity (Critchley, 2001, p. 149). Man attempts to attain authenticity by committing himself not as an essence, but as freedom. Authenticity is not an essence of human reality or consciousness. Authentic existence, like being-for-itself, is not easy to achieve because it requires courage and strength. It is necessary for rejecting society s morals and values, and not conforming to the existing norms. Authenticity means being able to be honest to one s essence. Man should be aware of his freedom and his task to create himself with its inevitable anxiety for him to be able to live authentically. This awareness also requires commitment. Self-deception, which is also called bad faith, refers to man s failure to follow his own essence. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre presents the idea of self-deception. According to Sartre, when one shows the signs of self-deception, it means he lies to himself. Even though it is
10 easy to understand when someone lies to another person, to lie to himself means that he knows the truth about himself, which he lies about. As Sartre explains; I must know my capacity as deceiver for the truth which is hidden from me in my capacity as the one deceived. Better yet I must know the truth very exactly in order to conceal it more carefully and this not at two different moments, which at a pinch would allow us to re-establish a semblance of duality but in the unitary structure of a single project (Sartre, 1992, p. 89). All elements of existentialism mentioned above have a great relation to Albee s Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf implicitly as well as explicitly. For example, Honey and Nick are stuck in trapped own self-deception. They know that they are playing a role as a happily married young couple, even though that is only how the society views them and it is actually contradicting with their own essence and meaning. H. Thesis Organization The research contains four chapters and each chapter includes several subchapters. The four chapters in the research consist of introduction, literature review, discussion, and conclusion and recommendation. The first chapter is the introduction of this research. It consists of the background of this research, the research question, scope of study, objective, benefit, methodology, theoretical approach and thesis organization. The second chapter is the literature review of this research. It contains reviews of previous study. It is separated into two sub-chapters. The first sub-chapter is Existentialism as Philosophical Movement. The second sub-chapter is about Albee s existential stand and its connection with the theater of absurd.
11 The third chapter is the analysis of this research, which plays as the main chapter in this research. It contains a deep analysis about the main issue of this research, what are elements of existentialism found in Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf portrays existentialism. It consists of seven subchapters, The Characters Quest for Their Essences in the Abandoned World of Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; The Characters Pain as the Result of Their Existences, The Characters Anguish as Manifestation of Their Freedom, The Consequences of Choice in Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Meaning of Death in Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Characters Search for Authenticity, and George and Martha s Despair. The fourth as the final chapter is the conclusion and recommendation. This chapter contains the conclusions as well as recommendation for the next research.