Themes in David Auburn’s Play “Proof” Essay

August 22, 2022 by Essay Writer


Written in 2000, David Auburn’s play “Proof” is an example of the 21st century literal works that focus on the problems, which modern individuals focus, as well as institutions and societies, especially in the western world. Since its first presentation in 2001, the play has been performed many times in various theaters, especially in the US. In addition, it has been adopted into a film that was released in 2005. Why has the play become popular within a short time? The central themes and their focus on social issues in contemporary society provide the best answer to this question.

The theme of mental illness

First, the theme of mental illness is portrayed in the play. Robert’s mental condition is not depicted clearly in the play, but the audience learns that he had a disconnection with reality, which is most likely due to psychosis (Thomas 54). There is also a possibility that Robert was suffering from schizophrenia, especially when an in-depth analysis of his behavior is done from a psychological and medical perspective.

Although Robert’s mathematical genius and its possible correlation with his mental condition are not answered in the play, the audience learns that at the age of 25, he had completed all the work that could have taken him several years, providing an indication that his mathematical genius had caused mental deterioration(Thomas 59).

The theme of inheritance

Another significant theme in the play “Proof” is the issue of heredity. Catherine fears that she carries the same genes that caused mental illness in her father. In particular, she considers her level of mathematical skills at the age of 25 as well as the confusion she endures after the death of her father as a possibility that she inherited her father’s genes that cause mental illness (Clark 59). Auburn develops a question that leaves the audience wondering whether Catherine inherited both genes causing mental illness and mathematical genius. The question of whether Robert or his daughter wrote the mathematical proof that Hal discovers is a central question that drives the theme. Apart from a high degree of intelligence, it is evident that Catherine suffers from mood swings, indicating that her future is likely to be compromised because she has the same problems as Robert (Clark 59).

The theme of family and relationships

The issue of family and relationships is a central theme in the play. In particular, the relationship between Catherine and her father is elaborated. Catherine takes the crucial role of taking care of her father, which isolates her from her friends and the external world(Thomas 51). There is a great deal of love between Robert and his daughter, especially because they share many things, including mathematical genius and the way of expressing ideas. Nevertheless, Catherine’s love for her father is represented as a problem that complicates her future. Her sorrow after Robert’s death brings confusion and resentment, making her future complicated and uncertain (Thomas 54).

The contrast in the family

The theme of family contrast is also central in this play. For instance, there is a great deal of contrast between Catherine and her sister Claire. Claire believes that her sister is suffering from the problems affecting their father. She wants to intervene by taking her back to New York to save her life. Claire also believes that Catherine’s continued care for her father will cause mental damage. She wants to step in and take care of their father, which seems unlikely because Catherine’s bond with Robert seems unbreakable. Both sisters are trying to break the feelings that seem to have been neglected for a long time, but their approaches are different (Clark 61).

Works Cited

Clark, Leroy. Practical Playwriting: A Guide to Writing for the Stage. New York: Longman Publishing, 2007. Print.

Thomas, Paul Lee. Reading, Learning, Teaching Margaret Atwood. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Print.

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