While Mary copies lines from the play onto paper (since there aren’t enough scripts to go around), Wisehammer stops to listen as she speaks the words aloud. Every so often, he seizes upon a word and analyzes it. He explains to her that his father gave him a dictionary when he was young and that he read the entire thing up until the letter L. Because of this, Mary asks him the meaning of a number of words in the play, and he eloquently defines them. After a while, she tells him she has to stop talking because she needs to finish copying the script, and he mentions that he too knows how to write. Because he’s so literate, she suggests that he join the play, and though he insists that he’s too shy to do so, he decides to follow her advice.
At this point, the audience begins to see that Phillip was smart to stage a play in the penal colony. Although someone like Tench would assume that all the criminals are unintelligent and incapable of engaging in the artistic process, moments like this one—in which Mary and Wisehammer have an intellectual conversation about language—prove otherwise. By giving someone like Wisehammer an opportunity to put his mind to use, Phillip and Ralph encourage the kind of behavior that society typically respects, thereby transforming the nature of the colony.