Chemotherapy In Margaret Edson's Wit

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“It is not my intention to give away the plot; but I think I die at the end” (Edson 6). Margaret Edson, throughout her play Wit, compares ways of viewing the world through the eyes of Dr. Vivian Bearing, a middle-aged professor of seventeenth-century poetry at the university. Recently diagnosed with stage four metastatic ovarian cancer, she undergoes treatment at a major research hospital and knows the prognosis is not good. Over the course of the play, Vivian takes the audience to various scenes in the past and present that illuminate her achievements in the world of scholarship and show what happens to her as she is treated with aggressive chemotherapy for eight months. As one might expect, her outlook on life and death, heavily influenced by the works of John Donne, change as the treatment progresses.
Prior to
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Shortly after she’s admitted for her first cycle of chemotherapy and as she is being scrutinized by one technician after another, she remarks, “Now I know how a poem feels” (16). Furthermore, the doctors seem to take less and less notice of her pain and diminished capacity as the chemotherapy weakens, and she develops a growing awareness that she has become no more a series of signs, an object of “obsessively detailed examination” (40). Vivian, the author of painstakingly researched and widely heralded literary criticism understands all too well that cancer has made her little more than the object of a study that will bring celebrity status to Kelekian and Jason when the results of the study are published. But, she reminds herself, the article “will not be about me, it will be about my ovaries…What we have to come to think of as me, is, in fact, just the specimen jar, just the dust jacket” (53). Towards the end of her treatment, she derives no benefit, no extended quality of life from having undergone the full course of the new
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