Redemption in Wit

April 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Margaret Edson’s Wit, Jason, Susie, and Professor Ashwood guide Vivian Bearing toward redemption, changing her into a person who can be both intellectual and compassionate. Jason’s cold intellectualism helps Vivian realize her own neglect of humanity; Susie’s compassion shows her how people should act; and Professor Ashwood, by embodying both intellect and compassion, brings Vivian full circle in her redemption so that she might die in peace. Jason begins Vivian’s road to redemption by showing her the error of her ways. At the start of the play, Vivian strongly identifies with Jason because he represents research and “uncompromising scholarly standards” (15). Being a scholar herself, Vivian feels at home with the anatomization and dehumanization of research. Just as Jason anatomizes her as research, she picks apart John Donne’s “Holy Sonnets.” She focuses on Donne’s use of punctuation, pronunciation, and scansion like Jason focuses on her anatomy, both completely missing the “psychological depression” (39) of their subjects. After one morning’s “Grand Rounds” (36), Vivian begins to equate her situation with her scholarly studies, noting “they read me like a book. Once I did the teaching, now I am taught” (37). This realization devastates and humbles Vivian because she has now been reduced to mere subject matter. Jason, much like Vivian, completely ignores the necessity of humanity in his job. He feels that dealing with people in a humane and caring manner is a “colossal waste of time for researchers” (55). Through Jason’s coldness towards her, Vivian realizes that she has “ruthlessly denied her simpering students the touch of human kindness she now seeks” (59). By becoming the recipient of Jason’s intellectual coldness, she can now see her own mistake in treating her students cruelly and inhumanely, not even acknowledging the death of a grandmother. Once Vivian grasps the importance of humanity through Jason’s lack of it, she turns to Susie as an example of compassion, which leads her closer to her own redemption. Susie reinforces Vivian’s newfound belief in the value of compassion and humanity towards those that are suffering. Before Vivian’s realization, she feels extremely uncomfortable with Susie’s kindness towards her. Yet as her suffering increases and becomes unbearable, she cannot refuse the soothing effects of Susie’s simple compassion. Susie invests herself deeply in seeing that Vivian is as comfortable as possible. Susie provides childlike comforts by calling her “sweetheart” (64), holding her when she cries, and giving her a Popsicle. Susie shows Vivian the “simple human truth” (15) that she could not grasp the meaning of before when studying Donne’s sonnets. Vivian sees now that death and life are no longer abstract but are very personal. Her and Susie’s discussion about resuscitation mirrors the correct punctuation of Donne’s Holy Sonnet Six. Vivian finally decides that she will end her life with a comma, peacefully passing from life to death without a struggle. Susie provides Vivian with proof that there is something more fulfilling outside of her intellectual world. Although Vivian comes to appreciate Susie’s compassionate personality, she cannot fully connect with her because Susie lacks the intellect necessary for Vivian to truly identify with her. Vivian still feels the need to be intellectual as well as compassionate; therefore, she cannot complete the unification of her soul without the help of Professor Ashwood. Professor Ashwood allows Vivian to see that intellect and humanity can coexist, thereby allowing her to be redeemed and die in peace. Throughout Vivian’s life, Professor Ashwood tries to ground her in the world of intellectualism as well as humanity. Even when Vivian is a young graduate, Professor Ashwood attempts to show her the delicate balance between intellect and humanity. Professor Ashwood uses Vivian’s paper on Donne as an example, telling her that Donne’s poetry “is not wit. . .It is truth.” (15). Although Professor Ashwood reveals from the beginning the secret of Donne’s poetry, Vivian continues for twenty years to search for its meaning, still completely missing its “simple human truth” (15). Because Vivian spends twenty years invested in her research instead of in humanity, she finds herself without friends or colleagues to come see her in her time of need. Unfortunately, Vivian cannot even grasp the importance of human companionship until she is about to die. Although Professor Ashwood has always been there as her friend and intellectual equal, she can only recognize that after she encounters both cold intellect and simple human compassion in their raw forms through Jason and Susie. After her experiences with the two extremes, she can fully be redeemed when Professor Ashwood comes to visit her at the end. Professor Ashwood compassionately crosses the lines of intellectual formality, comforting Vivian with a “little allegory about the soul” (80). Although she could quote Donne’s “Holy Sonnets,” Professor Ashwood allows Vivian to see the simplicity in God’s love through the bunny story. Once Vivian sees that humanity and intellect can coexist in a person that she admires, she can finally unify the two halves of her soul and die in peace. In Wit, Vivian discovers her past mistakes through Jason’s cold intellectualism, her need for compassion through Susie, and the possibility of intellect and humanity coexisting through Professor Ashwood. It is only after her encounters with Jason, Susie, and Professor Ashwood that Vivian can finally reconcile her soul to be both intellectual and humane.

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