Redemption in Wit
Margaret Edson uses the final hours of the life of Dr. Vivian Bearing to bring out the theme of redemption in Wit. Dr. Bearing finds strange solace on her deathbed and sees the opportunity to reflect on her own life. In several instances, the author brings out the positive side of ovarian cancer that has confined Dr. Bearing to a hospital bed. This narration reveals that the daily labors of humanity eclipse them from discovering and enjoying the silent pleasures of life.
Dr. Bearing faces severe pain because of ovarian cancer but uses the opportunity to reflect on her life. When Dr. Kelekian proposed experimental chemotherapy replete with eight rounds that make a full dose, Vivian agrees, and through the treatment period, she reconnects with her inner soul to obtain redemption. Vivian reflects on her experience with the English language and recollects the works of John Donne who exemplified the theme of metaphysical poetry. She recites Donne's sonnet, "Death Be Not Proud" in line with her condition of sickness. It is apparent that she envisions death from the near future and uses the poem to obtain inner peace (Shapiro 1523). Vivian observes the conduct of doctors at the hospital and realizes that they are only interested in her because of her intellectualism. Edson's seems to rely more on poetic intellectualism to bring out the redemptive theme as opposed to the apparent Christian connection to the play. Nonetheless, through thorough soul-searching, Vivian discovers that her love for kindness overrides her affection for intellectualism (Henley 858). In this regard, she obtains redemption from the vanity of human life that tends towards superficiality as opposed to the search for the beauty of humanity.
Dr. Vivian Bearing obtains a life of compassion during her eight months of socialization which starkly contrast with the working years when she cared less for human relations. Jawad proposes that it is her exposure to doctors who reflect her uncaring character as an English professor that causes Vivian to change her perspective to value humanity (Jawad 220). Vivian's love for Donne's poetry is a symbolic illustration of her redemption from a socially inert individual devoid of the virtues of human compassion. The callousness of her behavior is displayed in the way she treated her students with unkindness. During the flashback, she remembers an incident where she declined to give extra time for completion of an assignment to a student whose grandmother had died (Fowler and Sally 65). At the hospital, she comes face to face with the realities of death and begins to think about the noble the significance of life. Donne, on the other hand, was an individual who embodied emotional and physical magnanimity. It is through meditation that Vivian obtains redemption from her negative approaches to life based on intellectualism.
In her final moments, Vivian interacts with Nurse Susie Mohan who compassionately cares for her. Susie advises her on the option to determine her ultimate fate to press the "do not resuscitate" DNR if her condition gets worse and when she marks the DNR option, it confirms that she is prepared to face death and thus gain redemption from the bodily pain (Eads, 250). To further strengthen this theme, Vivian declines Dr. Ashford’s offer to read her Donne’s sonnet. Ashford decides to read The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise, a piece he had purchased for his grandson. Susie helps Vivian safely escape to the safety of the hereafter when her condition drastically deteriorates, and the medical team rushes to resuscitate her; she points to the DNR instruction.
The ending of the play, where Vivian is naked and walks to “a little light” shows the ultimate attainment of redemption. The hereafter manifests as existence without pain, shame and the baggage of life. Before divinity, Vivian appears just as she is without the illusions of life. In essence, she is clothed in righteousness (Elliot, 254). The act of walking away from the sick bed after death is symbolic of the resurrection promised to followers of Christ according to the Biblical doctrine. Whereas she was confined to the sickbed in life, she appears healthy in death signifying the ultimate redemption from the elements of destruction prevalent in human existence.
Edson brilliantly uses symbolism and irony to bring out the theme of redemption in Wit. Through the life of Dr. Vivian Bearing, readers encounter the occupations of man can deny him the opportunity to appreciate the greatest virtues in life. Edson thus admonishes individuals to care for human relationships beyond the quest for intellectualism in life.
Eads, Martha Greene. "Unwitting Redemption in Margaret Edson's Wit." Christianity & Literature 51.2 (2002): 241-254.
Elliot, Michelle L. "“It Is Not Wit, It Is Truth:” Transcending the Narrative Bounds of Professional and Personal Identity in Life and in Art." Journal of Medical Humanities 37.3 (2016): 241-256.
Fowler, Lauren, and Sally Bishop Shigley. "Feeling your Pain: Exploring Empathy in Literature and Neuroscience." Rethinking Empathy through Literature. Routledge, 2014. 61-72.
Henley, Ann. "The Patient as Text: Literary Scholarship and Medical Practice in Margaret Edson’s Wit." AMA journal of ethics 17.9 (2015): 858.
Jawad, Enas Ja'afar. "The Redemptive Vision of the Heart and Mind in Margaret Edson's Wit." JOURNAL OF THE COLLEGE OF EDUCATION FOR WOMEN 25.1 (2014): 215-227.
Shapiro, Johanna. "Commentary on Wit." Academic Medicine91.11 (2016): 1523.