Oleanna by David Mamet documents what occurs between a professor and his student over a period of three meetings in which trivial daily interactions and their meanings are interpreted the wrong way. The critics who call Oleanna "a parable about the tragedy of failing to listen" are absolutely correct. If John and Carol had actually listened to each other, they may have been able to communicate effectively and nothing bad would have come from their meetings. Instead, due to the nature of their characters, they ruin any sort of connection that could have been made between the two. However, neither John nor Carol are villains, they are flawed characters who represent "humans with the same human flaw a failure to communicate." Their failure to communicate ultimately leads to the accusations against John and his retaliatory actions against Carol.
Their "failure to communicate" can easily be spotted starting on the first page of the play. Their conversation is broken and neither person can complete a sentence without the other one interrupting. From the start, John is confused as to what Carol wants him to do. Lines such as "
what can I do
?" (12) and "What don't you understand?" (12) show John's confusion. In addition to this, John's telephone constantly rings, interrupting both of them at the same time. Mamet uses the telephone as a tool to grab John and Carol out of their conversation whenever they are about to make a connection. John constantly receives phone calls from Jerry and Grace throughout the play. Not only do these calls serve as a form of deus ex machina, but also his conversations with these two people are the only instances in the play when either of the two main characters is shown communicating with the outside world. This fact is also important because it helps to establish the idea that John is a normal person who has a life outside of the school. Since Carol is never actually shown communicating with anyone from the outside world, she is...
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