Why is Vivian uncompromising in Wit?

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In Margaret Edson's play Wit, Vivian Bearing is a scholar who has dedicated her life to intellect and to wit, led by her primary topic of study, John Donne's poetry. This is what makes Vivian so uncompromising with her students and herself. She sets high standards of scholarship, and she expects her students to meet them. If they do not, then they are mostly beneath her notice. She is not a person who forgives easily or who tolerates intellectual sloppiness in herself or others.

Yet in the play, Vivian must learn how to bend. She has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and she must undergo extreme treatment if she is to have any chance of survival. Vivian soon learns what it is like to be in her students' place. The doctors look at her disease, but they do not look at her. They ignore her fears and emotions. She is simply an object of intellectual study, just like John Donne's poems have always been to her.

Vivian becomes very sick as the play progresses, more from the treatment than from the cancer. Her main source of comfort is her nurse, Susie, who admits that she doesn't have much in the way of intellectual vigor, but she certainly has plenty in the way of compassion. From Susie, Vivian learns about human kindness and care. Susie understands and comforts Vivian as much as she can.

By the end of the play, Vivian has become uncompromising in another way. She is critically ill at this point, and it is clear that the treatment is not working and that she will die. She signs an order that she should not be resuscitated if she should stop breathing. She is ready to accept death now, having finally learned something about how to live.

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