Vivian’s Wit

Of all of the literature that I read in this class, “Wit” by Margaret Edson stands out in my mind as the work that evoked the most emotion, made me laugh out loud, and allowed me to gain a new understanding of strength and determination.  The multitude and variety of occurrences in the play all contribute to the success and fulfillment of the play in regard to the appropriate amount of humor, sadness, awkwardness, and empathy.  Vivian Bearing, the character in which the play revolves around, has a personality that is very well developed in the play which allows the reader to gain a better understanding of the professor who is a scholar of Donne but who is also a woman who is living a life without a husband, family, or many friends other than a former professor and mentor.  This play contains the perfect amount of humor, sarcasm, and emotion.

 From the very beginning of the play, Vivian’s dominant and lofty personality is introduced as she is being diagnosed with fourth stage, metastatic ovarian cancer.  The dynamic conversation between Vivian and Dr. Kelekian about the meaning of words as he is diagnosing her and her sarcastic comments that are inserted during this conversation nicely establishes her as a stubborn scholar.  During this initial conversation with Dr. Kelekian, she is critiquing his word selection and speaking patterns.  She is mentally creating a checklist to gather literature and assemble a bibliography about cancer. She breaks down the meaning of the word “antineoplastic” by it Latin roots, making it apparent that she is first and foremost a scholar of English and not just a woman who is suffering from a chronic ovarian cancer.  From the very beginning, the reader understands that this play is ultimately going to be tragic, but the timeline from the diagnosis to the death will be entertaining, humorous, sad, and insightful because of the commentary by Vivian. 

 While this play focuses upon the strong character of Vivian, there are some major medical ethical issues that arise throughout the play.  The poor bedside manner demonstrated by Jason, Dr. Kelekian, and some of the nurses within the play highlight the mentality that is sometimes demonstrated by people within the medical profession.  They sometimes see the patient only as a medical case and not as an actual human being who just happens to be suffering from an illness or disease.  Jason, a doctor in his residency and one of Vivian’s former students, creates an awkward environment when he has to give Vivian a pelvic exam.  During the exam, he presents himself as disengaged when gathering medical information from Vivian.  One question he asks is if Vivian has had cancer, and her response is yes, that the reason is there is because she has cancer.  This demonstrates his lack of engagement and concern for Vivian as a person.  Due to the terminal state of Vivian’s cancer, she and her body were used as a medical research project with a new type of treatment.  This required Vivian to be treated with full doses of chemotherapy instead of modifying the dosages to the amount that Vivian’s body could handle. As a scholar, it seems that Vivian somewhat enjoys the idea of giving back to medicine and research because there is really not other option for her survival than if she participates in this new treatment.  However, as the highly aggressive treatments proceed, Vivian realizes that the treatment of her cancer is ultimately what is killing her and is making her life very miserable.  Another ethical dilemma occurs at the end of the play when Vivian dies.  Susie explains to Vivian about being DNR, and Vivian ends up signing the DNR.  So, when Jason finds Vivian and she has died, he calls the code to resuscitate her when in reality he should have done nothing.  He ignored Susie when she was trying to tell him that Vivian was DNR because it was her decision and her right to decide if she was DNR or not, regardless that she was medical research to the doctors. 

 Throughout all of this, Vivian’s character and personality are depicted highlighted upon and expanded throughout the play.  The audience sees Vivian as a small girl, learning new words with her father, they see her as a struggling college student, they see her as a strict and relentless college professor, and then as a dying woman who only wants someone to her.  Vivian’s body was conquered by cancer and the treatments that were given to her, but her spirit and determination and wit were not destroyed which makes her a survivor and heroine to a vicious disease.  While she may have been physically defeated, she was not mentally defeated, never once losing her sense of intellect and astuteness.

Lee Goatley


About Lee

I am a collegian who is in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue a career in the medical field. Because of the enormity of this pending decision I am going to utilize this blog as a medium for reflection and rationalization. I will combine two of my passions, literature and science into a blog. The content of this blog will be stimulated by medical literature that has been written throughout the ages.
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One Response to Vivian’s Wit

  1. Maureen Tuthill says:

    Vivian’s spirit seems to survive the play. You don’t get the sense that she believes in an afterlife, but the simple fact that she came to know herself better through her struggle with cancer is the beauty of her story. Sometimes at the end of a novel or a story we wonder how the character will move forward after being changed. In Vivian’s case, we have to be content with the knowledge that she sees her life with utter clarity. And as a devoted scholar, that is exactly what she would have wanted.

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