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Posted on September 9th, 2012, by

Oleanna by David Mamet is a play that depicts the conflict of powers, where the main characters change their roles in the course of the play. To put it more precisely, the power shifts between the main characters, John and Carol, from one character to another that contributes to the dynamism of the plot and reveals the extent to which human life is vulnerable to change. In such a situation it is quite natural that the main characters undergo consistent changes in their personal philosophy, social position and, what is more they even re-evaluate their traditional set of values. The latter is particularly true in regard to John, who undergoes a remarkable metamorphose in the course of the play and this change does not really make him better.

The main character, John, is a protagonist of the play which is juxtaposed to Carol. At the beginning of the play, John is a successful representative of the middle class. He works as a professor at the University, he is planning to buy a house and to get tenure, which will open even better prospects for his further professional career. In such a context, it seems to be as if his life is ideal and it is practically perfect since the only problem that does disturb him is the choice of a house and failures of some of his students, such as Carol.

At the same time, John is not an idler, who is doing a routine job and is satisfied with. In stark contrast, he is an active character who is really concerned with his students academic successes. At any rate, when he talks to Carol in his office, he does want to help her to succeed in learning. Even though Carol blames herself for her failure because of her stupidity, John attempts to change her self-perception and increase her self-esteem. Moreover, he takes the blame for Carol’s failure because he believes it was his fault as a professor that his student does not understand him and the subject he teaches.

In such a way, the first impression of this character as about a strict and a bit rude professor fades away. Instead, it becomes obvious that John is truly humanistic and he is able to help students and to be supportive. In fact, his support is exactly what Carol seems to need at the moment because she is practically defeated by her failure and inability to keep studying at the University. Remarkably, the position of Carol is similar to that of John since John attempts to get his tenure and he has to pass through exam and gain the approval of senior professors.

Similarly, Carol also needs to gain academic successes to stay at the University. Probably, such a similarity between the main characters, encouraged John to start acting. He agrees to help Carol in her study, but she needs to attend his private office regularly to catch up and pass the exam successfully. John promises that Carol will get the A grade if she agrees on his offer to visit his private office.

In fact, this is a turning point into the play, because until the moment when Carol agrees to John’s offer, she followed his lead practically blindly, being absolutely helpless and it was John who had all the power. Paradoxically, as he attempted to help Carol, he starts losing his power. In such a way, his good intentions turn against him that eventually proves the fact that he is the protagonist and the truly positive character of the play. In spite of the fact that he is an experienced man, professor, he is deceived by Carol who practically blackmails him accusing of sexual harassment and attempting to make a deal with him on which he cannot agree. To put it more precisely, when she threatens to start a legal actions and appeal to police she offers John a deal to settle the case. However, John refuses from her offer because it contradicts to his professional principles. In such a way, John proves that he is an honest and good person.

At the same time, it is obvious that Carol has underestimated him since she expected to manipulate him using threats and blackmail to meet her goal. Nevertheless, John is apparently a positive character, for whom professional ethics, his principles are superior to his career. In such a situation, the difference between main characters becomes particularly obvious. John’s behavior is professionally correct, until the moment when he knocks Carol down. However, it was not really his fault but it was rather Carol who provoked his aggression, but such a situation is practically unimaginable in the real life, although in the context of the play such actions of John seem to be justified.

Thus, in conclusion, it is important to emphasize that John is a protagonist of the story, who is deceived by the antagonist, Carol. His desire to help his student leads him to the failure and loss of the job.

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