Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Proof involves themes of identity and gender, family, and trust. The central character, Catherine, struggles with her identity in several ways. First, she exhibits the mathematic gifts of her father yet she wonders throughout the play how much like him she really is. Second, she readily gave up her education to care for her father, thus subsuming her focus on self and career to the role of caregiver. These decisions emphasize her ambivalence toward the clear gender bias in the fields of math and science. While she knows she has the ability to succeed in the field, she readily gives up her goal (a college education) for her father’s care. Auburn is clearly indicating his recognition of professional gender discrepancies, that women are rare in the fields of math and science and that those biases are not always society-imposed but at times self-imposed.
Catherine illustrates the gender issue in the field of mathematics by pointing out the example of Sophie Germain, who had to reveal her mathematic discoveries through letters and under a male pseudonym in order for her thoughts to be taken seriously and finally recognized as a contribution to the field. Catherine further shows her own struggle with identity by hiding her original work, the revolutionary new proof, and by keeping it under lock and key until she finds someone whom she thinks she may be able to trust. However, once she finally reveals her work, she again struggles to establish her...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
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