In Wit there are two different children’s books that are introduced into the play. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies and The Runaway Bunny play important roles in this play. I believe that each book signifies a certain meaning to the character that introduces them. I will attempt to give an interpretation of each of these books and the role that they play in the life of Vivian and Dr. Ashford.
Throughout the play Wit, Vivian’s character changes in a very short period of time. From the time that she enters the hospital to her death she is constantly fighting against the disease that has infected her. I believe that this fight for her life allows her to remember back to her childhood and take a closer look at things that have made her the person that she is today. She wants to understand the words that the doctors are saying to her so she thinks back to a similar memory. Her first memory about her 5th birthday makes her remember her father and how he always wanted her to read. She picks The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies to read first. She begins to read and cannot pronounce a word (soporific). Her father allows her to sound it out and eventually defines the word for her. At this moment she realized that she was amazed by words and she wanted to learn more.
I believe that this is important because she makes this her whole life. Her ability to speak and write is the quality that she defines herself by. When she is diagnosed with cancer, those abilities are taken away from her.
Throughout The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, the main theme is that parents are to provide for their children. The Flopsy Bunnies do not adequately provide enough food for their six children so the children sneak into Mr. McGregor’s trash in order to feed themselves. They almost get caught by him but a field mouse is able to help save them. I believe that the moral that Vivian learned, maybe not when she was five, but later on was that her father provided for her and she had a good childhood.
I also believe that Vivian attempts to devote this same theme in her work as a teacher. She learned it from her teacher Dr. Ashford and she tried to do the same for her own students. She didn’t always seem as though she was helping them as is evident with the memory of her classroom talking about the John Donne sonnet. She seems very difficult to learn from but I believe that she feels that to understand something you must be tough and not let someone off easily. This is the same practice that her father and Dr. Ashford used with her.
At the end of the play there is another children’s book that is introduced which plays an important role in the play. Vivian’s only visitor, Dr. Ashford comes to see her. Vivian is so weak that she does not want to talk about Donne, so Dr. Ashford reads her The Runaway Bunny. The imagery in this story plays an important role in the way that Vivian’s life ends. Throughout the story the young bunny says that he is going to run away and states how he will do it. The mother bunny always has a comeback as to how she will find the young bunny and bring him back. A major influencing factor of how the book is interpreted comes from the pictures. By interpreting the pictures it is possible to come to the conclusion that the mother bunny is actually the spirit of God and the young bunny is God’s child on Earth. No matter where the young bunny goes or what he turns into, God will always find him. Finally the young bunny just decides that he will stay with his mother.
I believe that the imagery in this story was in a way telling Vivian that it was alright to die. That she did not have anything that she needed to hold onto because no matter what happened, God would always find her and bring her home. Following the story, Dr. Ashford leans over and tells Vivian “It’s time to go. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” (Edson 80). I believe that Dr. Ashford was telling Vivian that it was her time to go and that God would bring her home to him. This final image would have been a peaceful image and would have alleviated Vivian’s fears of death.
I also believe that Vivian might have been thinking about John Donne’s Holy Sonnet V. In this poem Donne says “ This is my last scene, here heavens appoint my pilgrimage’s last mile;…and gluttonous death, will instantly unjoint my body, and soul, and I shall sleep a space, but ever-waking part shall see that face…” (Donne 61). I believe that this poem may also have put Vivian as ease as she was about to meet her maker and knowing that she would see him instantly.
Both Vivian and Dr. Ashford have lived similar lives in the fact that both of them are driven by their interest in words and their meanings. Both of these accomplished women have studied the work of John Donne and his work with poetry extensively. They have lived their lives in search of the meaning behind his elaborate use of words and phrases and this is what makes them alike.
Although there are many similarities between these two women, I believe that the most important feature of this play deals with the differences that exist in their lives. Throughout her childhood, Vivian was sort of a loner. She would rather have been surrounded by books than by other people. Her books kept her occupied and this is most likely the reason that she was able to excel in her field. I believe that Vivian’s father was a leading influence in her development as a child. It is not important to determine whether this influence was a good or bad influence but rather just that it existed. In her description of her 5th birthday it is evident that her father did not play an active role in her social development. Vivian describes her father as “disinterested but tolerant, never distracted from his newspaper” (Edson 41). This description leads me to believe that although he was a very tolerant father, he did not make much of an effort to develop social skills in his daughter. I believe this is a leading contributor to why Vivain is left with hardly any friends and family members who visit her while she is struggling to battle her cancer. This may also be a contributing factor to why she simply accepts her fate.
In conflict with the character of Vivian, is the character of Dr. E.M. Ashford. Dr. Ashford was introduced as Vivian’s teacher earlier in the play and she finishes the play as Vivian’s only visitor in the hospital. Although Dr. Ashford shares the same interests in area of study as Vivian, she is nothing like Vivian. Dr. Ashford has a family and friends who she is still in contact with. This is very sad to me simply because she is so much older than Vivian and in many respects she has lived a full life and is happy where her life has taken her. This is not to say that Vivian is depressed about her life, but I believe that many people would view her lack of social experiences as a downfall of her character.
Although there is no immediate connection between the two children’s books, I believe that Vivian picks the book The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies because it fits her character as a loner who would rather be surrounded by books than people. In the story The Runaway Bunny, the young bunny realizes that it would rather be surrounded by people. These two books clearly identify with the personality of the character that introduces them into the play.
Edson, Margaret. Wit. New York: Faber and Faber Inc., 1999
Donne, John. Selected Poems. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1993