Wit was written by Margaret Edson. This one-act play has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It is a story which deals with the medical profession as well as with the culture of education at universities. Both sides are brilliant in this story. Vivian Bearing is represents brilliant academic staff whereas, Doctor Kelekian and Dr Jason Posner represent the brilliant side of medical research. None of them have emotions when it comes to work. The only character which feels empathy for Vivian is the nurse, Susie. She is the only character who is acting humane.
Whereas Vivian is strict with her students, the doctors are harsh with their patients. However, these two standpoints cannon be compared because in Vivian’s case her life is at stake. The doctors are only interested in their research and treat her as the subject of their experiments. Vivian was also strict and emotionless towards her students, but her students were not terminally ill.
Furthermore, both Vivian and the doctors have similar work ethics which is related to showing no emotions and being strictly professional. They don’t have sympathy for the dying patients. Throughout the story it can be seen that Vivien was brought up in a family with a strict father. She is the protagonist in this play as well as the narrator. The story is told from her point of view. This play influences people’s emotions. There is much imagery used when Vivian is remembering her life from the point where she is in the hospital. Therefore, the audience finds out what kind of person she is. Her character was shaped by her strict family and her strict professor Evelyn Ashford. Her mother also died of cancer and she lost her father at a tender age. The imagery shows the setting and the atmosphere in the hospital as well as Vivian’s life prior to becoming ill. Donne’s sonnet Death Be Not Proud is the metaphor which is mentioned throughout the whole play. Vivian quotes several times the line :”Death thou shalt die” (Edson).
Vivian had a PhD in English literature with a specialization on John Donne. His works represent her state of being throughout the whole play. His thoughts of death set the tone in the play and Donne is used as a symbol of immortality of human soul. Vivian is described as a woman who dedicated her whole life to her career and when she gets ovarian cancer with metastases. She is brave but seems to be cold-hearted. The medical staff is also cold-hearted and she understands the, because they have the same ruthless approach to work as she does. However, their work includes dealing with people who are terminally ill, whereas she is only teaching students to appreciate great poetry while being very strict. They understand each other well.
There is also a coincidence that her former student is one of her doctors. From this it can be seen that the higher education includes studying both social sciences as well as natural sciences. Jason had to study Donne and biochemistry at the same time in order to excel in his studies. Vivian was the same kind of student who had a scholarship and was shaped by her strict professor Ashford.
The setting is in the hospital, but the readers find out about Vivian’s life from her reminiscences. There is a juxtaposition between the doctors and Vivian and the sensitive nurse. Susie is the only character who is not brilliant in her professional work, but who is sentimental and shows care for other human beings.
Life is tough and that is why both Vivian and her doctors developed behavior which seems to be merciless. When she is in hospital, she is treated like an object. She is their experiment and it is fine with her because she can relate to such professionalism. Her colleagues admire her and the colleagues of the doctors admire them. The whole situation seems emotionless and ruthless because it seems as if nobody cares about anyone. Vivian has no friends because that was her choice. She is learning medical vocabulary and she says: “My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary” (Edson). Her whole life revolved around words and it follows her until her death.
Consequently, wit is in this play the symbol of truth. All of the characters are true to themselves. They are not even trying to be nice and polite. Donne helps to set the atmosphere of conquering death with his metaphysical verses. However, illness is stronger than psyche and Vivian loses her intellect towards the end of the play. Susie is the only caring person and she is the least educated. It seems as if higher education has the culture of destroying the humanity in people making them insensitive. They are more amazed at the possibilities of cancer to spread than they are to find a cure for that. Their goal is to find an effective cure, but they do it through experimenting on different patients who usually die in the end. These doctors don’t care about the loss of lives, but about finding the cure so that they can achieve their academic goals.
Moreover, the ultimate truth doesn’t exist and these characters are only doing their jobs. It is sad that their lives revolve around their careers although it is their choice. Vivian was a student with scholarship and became a respected professor and connoisseur of Donne’s poetry. His work is enigmatic and metaphysical and therefore hard to understand. Similarly to that, cancer is also hard to understand because if defies logic. That is why it is a challenge for the most ambitious scientists. Their whole lives are dedicated to research. However, they also have good general knowledge, which can be seen because of Jason’s knowledge about Donne as well. His medical studies were difficult, but he also studied poetry as a challenge. The characters in this drama are intellectual individuals who like to go beyond their limits. They defy mortality in the same way as Donne was conquering it in his sonnet about death.
At one point Vivian says: ““Now is a time for, dare I say it, kindness. I thought being extremely smart would take care of it. But I see I have been found out” (Edson). Vivian is getting closer to death and she realizes that kindness matters. Being smart gives satisfaction in life, but kindness is forever, in life and in death. Donne is the symbol which connects Vivian and Jason and both of them are looking for the meaning of life and for immortality.
Subsequently, in the end poetry prevails because as Vivian dies, she is eternally liberated and death is conquered. Vivian says:” It is not my intention to give away the plot; but I think I die at the end” (Edson). She knows that she is about to die but instead of living the rest of her life enjoying it, she decides to help the doctors with their research. Maybe, she is also curious to see how far she can go physically and mentally. The treatment which is supposed to cure her makes her die faster and in pain. She doesn’t regret her decision at any moment.
There is also the aspect of rivalry because Vivian knows how many of her colleagues are anxious to take her place. On the other side, Jason is also fighting for his position. He is still learning practical treatments and he is very competitive and also excited because of his achievements.
The meaning of life is in puzzles in this drama. There are also different sides of this puzzle. One side is being human like Susie and the other side is being good at academic research. Vivian identifies herself with the doctors because she treated her students the same way as they treat patients. Her personality is irrelevant when she becomes as patient. Her knowledge concerns nobody and she doesn’t even have visitors.
In the end human kindness wins as it comes in the form of Susie who remains a person with feelings, able to get her ideas cross.
Edson, Margaret. Wit: A Play. New York: Faber & Faber. 1999. Print.