Always Never the Same
“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.” In this quote, John Allen Paulos is referring to life’s instability. Life is always changing and no one has complete control of the changes in their life. This is the main theme of Proof, a play by David Auburn and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. Auburn contrasts the instability of life with the unwavering permanency of mathematics. Catherine, the mathematically gifted protagonist, struggles to accept the changes that occur in her life during the course of the play.
The first major change Catherine must face occurs one week before the events of Proof begin to unfold. Her father, Robert, a brilliant mathematician, dies of heart failure. It seems to be brought on by his long battle with an unspecified mental illness. Catherine had been caring for him since the illness first appeared. Robert’s untimely death leaves her feeling alone and lost. This is evident when she has a hallucinogenic conversation with Robert one week after his death, on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday:
Catherine: I feel old.
Robert: You’re a kid.
Catherine feels “old” because of the abnormal level of stress that is associated with acting as a primary care-giver at such a young age. His illness has drained her of some of her youth. Still, he was physically there and she focused her life on him. Even though the time spent taking care of him wasn’t always enjoyable, he was still a constant in her life. Her mathematic reasoning strains to accept that two plus two will always equal four, but her father, the one person she truly loved, is gone in the blink of an eye.
Catherine is confronted with another change when her sister, Claire, visits from New York. Catherine’s feelings for Claire are made clear when she says, “[Claire’s] not my friend, she’s my sister…And I don’t like her” (7). While Catherine took care of their father in their hometown of Chicago, Claire moved to New York City...