How Does a Person’s Thoughts Evolve as They Draw Ever Closer to Death?

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How Does a Person’s Thoughts Evolve as They Draw Ever Closer to Death? Margaret Edson’s’ W;t explores the evolution of Vivian’s thoughts about life and death as she fights for her life, trying to beat the cancer that has reached stage 4 without being caught sooner. The drama production begins with a slightly formal Vivian and progresses from shock to fear and acceptance. Vivian is a very intellectual person and reflects as she goes through the process of examining her life to death, her relationships and her obsession with the work of John Donne that have made her familiar with death.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks and monologues. Vivian is a scholar through and through. She is a woman with sharp attention to details, who seems to understand the situation before it is explained to her. She has dedicated her life to the pursuit of knowledge, shown by her dialogue as her doctor is explaining the situation to her- she internally figures out the next steps she must take (pg.8) because she thinks that she’ll be tested about everything at some point in time. Vivian thrives from knowledge, so the fact that they are going to use her body as research would be a reward for her.

She has particularly focused on the works of the 17th century poet, John Donne. The references she uses of his are death obsessed, but in a way show her acceptance of what is to come and her fears. She believes that she knows all about life and death because of her scholarly devotion to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, literature that is uncompromising in every way. Where meaning has significance to the minutest detail, the placement of punctuation and the capitalization of a word. When her professor explains to her why she must rewrite the paper, due to ...

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... so much pain that no one seems to even care except for her nurse.

Vivian still fears dying and what comes after, but she is able die at peace because she accepts her fear. Early in the play, Professor Ashford quotes one of Donne’s sonnets, “And death shall be no more, comma, Death thou shalt die ” explaining that a comma is “nothing but a breath-a comma-separates life from everlasting” (pg. 14). And even though she dies, she will be able to live on through the students who remember her teaching. She dies with hope for her afterlife. Her death evolved from just dying to epitomizing the scholarly way she lived. By living her final eight months of life in extreme pain so doctors could gain more knowledge for future cancer patient, she learns that life is about humanity and not knowledge. She learns that death is not the end but just the next chance for beginning.

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