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Oleanna and Equus: A Comparison

This paper is an examination of two strong figures in contemporary American drama, both professional men who are faced with situations that cause them to question their choices and confront their weaknesses. John, in David Mamet=s Oleanna, is a college professor whose smug superiority is shaken by his encounter with a female student. Martin Dysart, in Peter Shaffer=s Equus, is a child psychiatrist who has already begun to doubt his powers when he takes on the case of a teenaged boy accused of a horrible crime. Both provide interesting examples of a tragic fall as outlined by a master playwright, and the contrasts between these two figures hold a mirror to modern man=s struggle to find meaning and purpose in present-day society.

Oleanna (1992) begins with an exchange between a college professor, John, and one of his students, Carol. He has given her a failing grade, and she is reluctant to accept his decision. He is constantly interrupted by phone calls about the pending purchase of a house, made possible by the pending decision of the tenure committee to award him the security and recognition for which he has worked so hard and to which he feels entitled. He defends himself breezily to the naive, inexperienced student, even offering to allow her to start over under his personal instruction. He obviously considers himself to be hip, knowledgeable, accomplished, and witty. He is gracious enough to concede that his student=s failure is actually his own but does not really believe that for a minute.

The second and third acts turn John comfortable world upside down. Everything he thought he knew about himself is suddenly put in a different and horrifying light. Carol is transformed from an insecure undergraduate into a powerful accuser, eliminating any chance of John=s gaining tenure, much less of even keeping his job. She takes his offhand characterization of education as being Aprolonged and systematic hazing@ of ...

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Oleanna and Equus: A Comparison. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:19, June 26, 2019, from