Everyone thinks that they are an authority on what is important in life until some unforeseen event comes along to shake things up. Then, no matter how stubborn, their view of life changes and they begin to see clearly what matters most. For the uncompromising Vivian Bearing, that life changing event is cancer. In Margaret Edson’s play Wit, a proud academic scholar takes the audience on a journey from the discovery of her illness, through the painful experimental treatments, to her ultimate untimely demise. Along the way, cancer transforms Vivian from an independent insensitive intellect to a humbled soul who learns to appreciate the power of humanity.
Vivian’s quest for knowledge was always insatiable, so much so that she often sacrificed her own humanity for scholarly research. She had no time or patience for silly social interactions or meaningless conversation. Once, as a college student, Vivian struggled with an analysis of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet Six. When confronted by her professor, Vivian proclaimed “I’ll go back to the library and rewrite the paper” (Edson 15). But Vivian was missing the point. The aloof student was too wrapped up in logic to see the truth in Donne’s writing. Kindly, Vivian’s professor tried to make her understand. “Vivian,” she said, “you’re a bright young woman. Use your intelligence. Don’t go back to the library. Go out. Enjoy yourself with your friends” (Edson 15). However, Vivian couldn’t let go that easily. Despite her professor’s advice, she went back to the library in search of answers.
Later in life, as a professor of seventeenth-century poetry, Vivian became even more callous and detached. She despised weakness and elevated the intellect above all other human qualities (Bregman 852). She demanded perfection from her students and accepted nothing less. Vivian would mock the stupid students and allow the smart ones to talk until they self-destructed (Bregman 852). When a student once asked for an...