New Carthage has a symbolic significance in the play. Because it is a place dedicated to higher learning and hence to the progress of civilization, the name of New Carthage is particularly significant. The ancient city called Carthage, founded by the Phoenicians and later destroyed by the Romans, conjoins history and destruction ironically. George is a history professor, but according to Martha, he lacks ambition and so is stuck in a rut. Nick, who has been invited over for drinks with his mousey wife Honey, teaches biology, which implies that he belongs to a class of scientists who would reorder the world even at the price of rendering it mechanized and dehumanized. Therefore, there is an intellectual clash between the man of history and the man of science, along with other lacerating conflicts of a more personal nature. All outward signs of respectability and decorum disintegrate in a searing exposé of corruption.
George and Martha’s home. Private residence on a campus in New Carthage, New England. Martha drunkenly calls the house “a dump” as she and George fumble in the dark after returning at 2 a.m. from a faculty party. However, the setting expresses the anarchic state of her marriage to George, as well as pointing to a larger failure. The set design of the original Broadway production showed a wrought-iron American eagle, an American flag turned upside down, and antique American furniture, along with bookshelves, a stereo set, and a bar. These props and furnishings fortify the symbolism of the names of Martha and George, the names of the first U.S. president and his wife. Albee seems to suggest that the foibles and flaws of the characters are signs of larger flaws in American society.