As I read the play Wit by Margaret Edson, the fact that the poems that Vivian taught were by John Donne stuck out to me, since one of the first things we read in this course was a John Donne poem. A lot of Donne’s poems deal with themes like death and salvation, so they fit seamlessly into the narrative about an English professor dying from cancer.

Although you could compare the poems to Vivian’s life, one of the most interesting aspects of this play for me was how Jason essentially became what Vivian was. Vivian did not really care about connecting with her students on an emotional level – she just tried to get them to understand poetry. However, as she became weaker and weaker because of the cancer treatment and knew she would be faced with death soon, she regretted not being kinder, saying how she “ruthlessly denied her simpering students the touch of human kindness she now seeks” (59). Her entire life, she was dedicated to trying to solve the puzzle of poetry, and this caused her to not truly care about other people.

Jason even admitted that trying to solve the puzzle of anything complex, like poetry or research, was not really possible, when he said, “The puzzle takes over. You’re not even trying to solve it anymore” (76). He also conveyed this in his conversation with Susie:

Susie: “Where does it end? Don’t you get to solve the puzzle?”
Jason: “Nah. When it comes right down to it, research is just trying to quantify the complications of the puzzle” (77).

Even though Jason knew trying to solve the puzzle would not give him an answer, he got caught up in the complexity of his research, much like Vivian got caught up in the complexity of her poetry analysis. Rather than respect Vivian’s wishes to let her die when her heart stopped, he tried to get the team to save her life just so he could continue his research. Similar to how Vivian did not give her student an extension when his grandmother died, Jason did not respect the humanity of the person in front of him, and only cared about what was important to him.

Vivian rejected any connection with students, and this cost her the opportunity to become close with anyone as she died. Similarly, Jason initially ignored the final wish of a dying woman, which could cost him the opportunity to advance in the medical field.

I couldn’t help but notice these parallels as the play went on, and they really stood out to me as the play came to a conclusion. I also thought it was fitting that the play ended with Jason saying “Oh, God,” since many of the Donne poems deal with religion. Even though this play was a short read-through, I definitely think there’s a lot more you could analyze.

Source: Wit

1 thought on “Wit

  1. I didn’t really think about how many of Donne’s works have the theme of death. It is really fitting for Vivian to be a professor and love his work so much when she herself is dying of cancer.

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