Oleanna Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In this play, sexual harassment is at the epicenter, but the harassment is dubious, interpreted, skewed, absurdly subliminal if even present, as each of the two characters—John, a professor about to take tenure, and Carol, a student struggling with more than grades—defend their interpretations of the language of the student-professor dynamic.

Confused and at the end of her academic rope, Carol comes to John’s office to express concerns about failing his course. A male arm around female shoulders, a bargain to come to the office to learn all she can from all he knows, and the grade will become an A, and a tension is established that carries the play. Yet all is not quite so simple as an offer to show that she can study hard and prove herself deserving of the almighty A. With each well-intended appointment, Carol arrives, but John is on the phone, or takes a phone call, or makes a phone call. In the middle of Carol’s sentences, the phone will ring. John will put her off at key intellectual moments to talk to his wife about the new house that they plan to buy (once he is tenured). John makes Carol wait while he finishes phone discussions regarding logistics of the house. John stops their study sessions to answer the questions that the caller has about the house.

So the phone—clearly the symbol of the power of language and the power to interrupt, intercept, interject, or mute the language of the less important student—ushers in the...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Oleanna Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bigsby, C. W. E. Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. London: Methuen, 1985.

Cohn, Ruby. New American Dramatists: 1960-1980. New York: Grove Press, 1982.

Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

Mamet, David. Writing in Restaurants. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

Ruas, Charles. Conversations with American Writers. London: Quartet Books, 1986.