What is the major conflict in the play Equus?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Equus is a 1973 play by Peter Shaffer about a young stableboy who is driven to madness by his emotional pain, insecurity, and his inability to face his past in a rational manner.

Alan Strang is a stableboy with a deep, emotional tie to the horses he tends. Alan's love and fear of horses is rooted in various childhood traumas, including his father's disapproval of horseback riding and his mother's fevered religion. After a failed sexual experience in the stables, Alan is finally driven to put out the eyes of the horse, feeling that they are watching him and judging him. He is treated by a psychiatrist, who is himself changed by the experience.

There are several major conflicts in Equus, but the major one is between Alan and Dr. Martin Dysart, who treats him for mental instability. Dysart believes that treatment will heal Alan of his emotional issues, allowing him to reconcile his religious love and fear of horses by forcing him to confront his past and his family's actions; his father equates religion with "kinky sex," and his mother believes that the Devil possessed Alan to commit the brutal acts against the horse. However, Dysart is pushed to a better understanding of his own life as a result of the treatment; Alan goads him into admitting his own emotional distance from his wife. At the end of the play, Dysart has made progress in treating Alan, but ehe conflict of love, sex, and abuse has spilled over into his own life, and he feels that he is now "chained" by his own emotional issues, which he will have to work out within himself.