引用:http://www.enotes.com/drama-criticism/oleanna-david-mamet

INTRODUCTION
One of the most controversial plays of the 1990s, Oleanna provoked fierce debates about sexual harassment and gender politics. Written during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas sexual harassment scandal, this play about a female student accusing her male professor of sexual impropriety divided audiences between those who were angered by what they perceived as fabricated sexual harassment charges used as a tool to gain power and those who viewed the image of a scheming, manipulative woman as an attack on the right of women to defend themselves from improper sexual advances.



Major Themes
The most prevalent theme explored in Oleanna is that of power, and critics have identified several representations of power relations in the play. One view holds that the play demonstrates how academia thrives on faculty control of students. This is shown in John's exaggerated use of scholarly words to present an image of knowledge and superiority over his students. John is condescending to Carol, even in the second act when she has leverage against him; he feels he can dissuade her by using his superior ability to reason. Later, when he has lost all superiority and is debased, he lashes out physically, like an unthinking animal, whereas she is calm and her last words are almost a recrimination against him. Another aspect of the use of power in Oleanna concerns male/female relations. John is in the traditionally male position of power and Carol is the female supplicant whom he, at a whim, decides to help. This fuels Carol's anger and feeling of marginality. In the first scene, John doesn't hesitate to let Carol know where she stands in his priorities. He repeatedly cuts her off mid-sentence, he finishes her sentences for her, and, when she is about to reveal her deepest secret, he dismisses her by answering his phone. In the last two scenes he doesn't validate her feelings, only tells her that she misinterpreted them. In the final scene John equates rape with sexual desire rather than physical violence and resorts to objectifying Carol by using a crude epithet, reducing her to just a body part, not a full person. The power of language is another facet of the examination of power in Oleanna. Not only does Carol gain proficiency in language in the course of the play, but she uses her words to accuse John, thereby gaining power over him. For his part, John's power of language diminishes, as his outbursts become less and less effective. In their last two meetings, Carol clearly and calmly discusses the conflict with him and demands his subordination, using the same big words that he used with her in Scene I. John's language deteriorates into fragments and curse words. His final act represents a complete loss of language. Oleanna also delves into the misinterpretation of words and actions. Most reviewers agree that John's behavior in Scene I was not sexually harassing, and believe it was misconstrued by Carol. Mamet explores the effect of this misconception throughout the play, which results in the complete breakdown of communication between John and Carol. Although Carol's last words signify understanding, what she is agreeing with is not clear. In Oleanna Mamet uses language as a tool and a weapon, and leaves it up to the audience to assess how the protagonists use it.


Critical Reception
Critical response to Oleanna is sharply divided. One faction of critics censures Mamet for what they perceive to be a gross simplification of gender relations and harassment suits, while the other defends the play as an important and complex statement about the abuse of power in academic circles. During its debut production, many feminists charged that Mamet unfairly depicted women as manipulative, and protested that the characterization of Carol as devious alienated her from the audience—who often cheered when John started beating her. They also questioned the timing of the play, as it was written during, and appeared just after, the time of the hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, during which former employee Anita Hill charged that Thomas had sexually harassed her. Many felt that the play exploited the deep social and political divisions created by the Hill-Thomas controversy. Detractors contended that as a result of the thorough vilification of Carol's character, women may be less likely to press their own cases of sexual harassment. On the other hand, some commentators claimed that the play is less about sexual harassment than about higher education's prevalent patriarchal mentality and the abuse of power by professors over their students. Another group of reviewers maintained that Carol's character is far from one-dimensional. Through her dialogue, they noted, she gives clues to her troubled background and feelings of marginality. Although many expressed extreme dislike for the play's themes and characterization, most reviewers commended Mamet's use of language to signify power, pointing to John's mastery of language in the beginning of the play set against Carol's mumbling, followed later by John's incoherent sentence fragments and Carol's adept use of vocabulary. These commentators read Oleanna as an effective critique of the interplay of gender, power, and language in modern society.


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