Edson’s play, Wit, is focused around a fifty-year old doctor named Vivian
Bearing who has ovarian cancer stage four. The story introduces the main
character Vivian, who was placed in the hospital, with the concept of irony
laid out throughout the play. It is explained that Vivian is a distinguished
scholar in the sonnets of Donne, whose literature focuses on death and mortality.
However, she finds herself in a role reversal, where Dr. Bearing the professor,
finds herself as a patient from one of her former students, Jason Poser, and
Susie Monaghan. Despite the fact that she acquired a high position in her
workplace as a teacher, the irony of the situation is that Vivian finds herself
at a lower institutional hierarchy by being a patient.
can suddenly occur at any moment in life, immediately or at a slow pace, life
is full of transformations. From the beginning of the story we can infer that a
major theme Edison showcases is crucial altering affairs. Once we learn that
Doctor Bearing has a life threatening stage of ovarian cancer, she immediately
has to undergo chemotherapy. This creates a shift where Vivian, who was an
individual independent on herself, now has to comply and rely on other people. However,
the irony itself has not been forgotten on Vivian. Where she once taught bodies
of text, now her own body has become what is studied. This understanding is
brought by the character once she understands new role. “They read me like a
book. Once I did the teaching; now I am taught. This is much easier. I just
hold still and look cancerous.” (Edson 32).
author showcases a comparison to this based on the language spoken between the
two fields of research. For example words like ‘test results’, ‘subject’, and ‘exam’
based on the language spoken. Vivian’s former student, Doctor Jason Posner, embodies
the empty rationality where Vivian herself portrayed. This mentality allows
Posner to think purely rational thoughts in his cancer research, but at the
same time it allows him to view Vivian as just another person with cancer.
Instead of seeing Vivian as an individual being with feelings or a person, they
become disillusioned by the fact that she exists as a patient now.
Jason: Wait till I get a lab of my own. If I can
survive this fellowship.
Vivian: The part with the human beings.
Jason: Everybody’s got to go through it. All the
great researchers. Like we have to hold hands to discuss creatinine clearance.
Just cut the crap, I say (Edson 46).
Posner’s significant recounting of his former professor’s reputation on the
school campus, in face of the cancer she is just another patient, a person who
undergoes a series of tests, a victim for various examinations and dehumanizing
treatments. The irony in the situation is Dr. Bearing understands death will
render all equal in the end, despite her social standing and previous
accomplishments. That the past cannot change the fact that she’s nothing more than a person who is
the entirety of Vivian’s stay in the hospital she is only visited by a single
person, her mentor and peer, Professor E.M Asford. Despite her reputation as a
school in the literature works of Donne, Dr. Bearing has ironically achieved
very little respect as a person outside of her workplace. And it’s Ashford’s
visit that brings about another twist. She cannot bear to listen to another
poem from Donne:
E.M: I know you do. I can see. (Vivian cries.) Oh,
dear, there, there. There, there. Let’s see. Shall I recite to you? Would you
like that? I’ll recite something by Donnie
E.M: Very well (silence). Hmm. (Silence.) (Edson 62).
her own mortality head on, and lost the real applications in her own body
suffering, the now patient Vivian Bearing hides away from Donne. To then
Ashford recites a children’s book.