Equus

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Hoof-pick Symbol Analysis

Hoof-pick Symbol Icon
At the end of the play, Martin Dysart describes himself as “stand[ing] in the dark with a pick in [his] hand, striking at heads.” Here, he draws an explicit connection to Alan Strang, who blinded the horses in Harry Dalton’s stable using a hoof-pick. In Alan’s situation, the hoof-pick is a symbol of the brutality and irrationality with which he committed his crime. So when the psychiatrist depicts himself with a hoof-pick in his own hand, this symbol gains a whole new level of meaning. The tool comes to represent the profound irrationality of modern society: Dysart, as the self-described psychiatrist priest of “The Normal,” treats children that society has deemed “sick” or “bizarre,” but in the process sacrifices their individuality. The idea that Dysart is “striking at heads” in the dark implies that there is little rhyme or reason to Dysart’s practice; the doctor no longer knows why he does what he does, and he also doesn’t have a solution.

Hoof-pick Quotes in Equus

The Equus quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hoof-pick. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Passion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Equus published in 1984.
Act 2 Quotes

And now for me it never stops: that voice of Equus out of the cave—‘Why me? …Why me? …Account for me!’ …All right—I surrender! I say it! …In an ultimate sense I cannot know what I do in this place—yet I do ultimate things. Essentially I cannot know what I do—yet I do essential things. Irreversible, terminal things. I stand in the dark with a pick in my hand, striking at heads!

I need—more desperately than my children need me—a way of seeing in the dark. What way is this? …What dark is this? …I cannot call it ordained of God: I can’t get that far. I will however pay it so much homage. There is now, in my mouth, this sharp chain. And it never comes out.

Related Characters: Martin Dysart (speaker), Alan Strang
Related Symbols: Horses, Hoof-pick
Page Number: 108-109
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is the last one of the play, and it is one of doubt, despair, and hopelessness. Dysart is confessing his greatest uncertainties, and even his fear that he is doing evil. Dysart acknowledges his inability to know the meaning of his life or the morality of what he does, and he feels deeply that it is wrong, in light of his own unknowing, to tell anyone else (particularly in a way that is irreversible) who or what they should be. In this sense, he compares his own work to the crime for which he treated Alan: standing in the dark, blinding people violently (with a horse "pick," no less), irreversibly mutilating them by estranging them from themselves. Dysart ends the play by hoping for "a way to see in the dark" but acknowledging that, instead, he is guided through the dark by the bit in his mouth, which represents the social norms and pressures that dictate his life. It's an ending that leaves little hope for Dysart, or anyone else, to find their way to the "whole new track of being" that Dysart described at the outset.

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Hoof-pick Symbol Timeline in Equus

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hoof-pick appears in Equus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
Hesther proceeds to tell Dysart that Alan Strang, age 17, blinded six horses with a hoof-pick one night in a stable where he worked on weekends. Hesther remarks that the boy... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
...Dalton arrives with Jill, interrupting Alan’s reverie. Dalton cheerfully shows Alan how to use a hoof-pick to take a stone out of a horse’s hoof. He then entrusts Alan’s training to... (full context)
Act 2
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...walks around it, commenting that it is a large room with plenty of straw. He picks up a hoof-pick and drops it quickly. Upstage, he continues, there is a door with... (full context)
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...sex. But Alan yells at her, demanding that she leave, even threatening her with the hoof-pick. Jill insists that she is Alan’s friend and that he shouldn’t feel any pressure to... (full context)
Passion Theme Icon
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...closed.” However, after a pause, he steels himself and quietly says, “No more, Equus.” Alan picks up the hoof-pick and walks slowly to Nugget. He strokes the horse, talking to him... (full context)
Religion and Worship Theme Icon
Modern Society and Normality Theme Icon
Psychiatry, Repression, and Madness Theme Icon
...and of his own practice, Dysart describes himself as “stand[ing] in the dark with a pick in my hand, striking at heads!” Dysart sits down on a bench and reflects that... (full context)