Critical Content

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The winner of the 2001 Tony Award for best play and the Pulitzer Prize in drama, Proof is a significant text that explores character development, individual identity, and the importance of achieving one’s potential. Catherine fights many barriers in achieving her own potential: She silently combats her family, who has wordlessly assigned her to the role of caretaker of her mentally ill father and to a subsequently reduced mental state. Assuming the traditional female role of caretaker, Catherine secretly explores her astounding gift for numbers by working on a revolutionary new discovery of her own in mathematics. However, instead of sharing her discovery with the world, she acquiesces to the male-dominated profession that doubts her abilities, allegedly because of her limited education, but in reality because she has never shown outward proof that she has inherited her father’s gift for numbers. Not only does she face the barriers of family, but she also faces the stereotypes that society places on women and her own willingness to bow down to those limitations. Catherine finally shows her abilities and proves her talents as the play concludes, and the audience leaves the theater with an optimistic expectation that Catherine will be able to forge ahead and succeed in the field of mathematics.

Proof is significant for a number of reasons. First, it stresses the importance of being true to one’s identity and of pursuing one’s greatest potential, even in the face of almost hopeless odds in a biased society. Second, the play emphasizes the absurdity of discrimination: Even a person considered slightly “off” can contribute to society through a variety of avenues. Finally, the play illustrates the importance of trust and faith in helping all humans to achieve their identities and potentials through mutual and constant support.