Proof

by

David Auburn

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Proof: Act One, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Claire is drinking coffee on the porch, where she has set out bagels and fruit. After a shower, Catherine joins her, and Claire remarks that she looks much better. When Claire offers her coffee, Catherine says she takes it black, but Claire adds milk anyway. She presses Catherine to eat some food, but Catherine flatly tells her that she hates breakfast.
This is the first time that Claire makes an appearance onstage. It’s immediately clear that Claire doesn’t heed other people’s requests. She pressures Catherine to do what she (Claire) thinks is best for her, instead of helping Catherine in the way that Catherine wants to be helped. In this passage, Claire demonstrates this tendency by putting milk in Catherine’s coffee and pressuring her to eat breakfast, even though Catherine explicitly tells her that she doesn’t want milk in her coffee and that she doesn’t like breakfast.
Themes
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Claire asks if Catherine has tried on the dress Claire got her or used the conditioner that Claire brought for her. But Catherine hasn’t done either. After a pause, Claire asks Catherine if she needs anything, but Catherine says she is fine and doesn’t need anything from Claire.
Again, Claire is pushing Catherine to do things—using a special conditioner and trying on a dress—that Claire thinks Catherine should do, even though Catherine isn’t interested. It seems as though Claire doesn’t trust Catherine to take care of herself; Claire’s skepticism may be the reason Catherine dislikes her and declines her offers to help.
Themes
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Claire wants to host some people after the burial this afternoon, but she offers to only invite people if Catherine feels up for it. Irritated, Catherine insists that she is fine and tells Claire to stop asking her the same question. As Claire explains her plans for the get-together, she keeps checking that Catherine is okay with everything, but Catherine unenthusiastically gives Claire the go-ahead. Pleased, Claire suggests that it’ll be a good way for Catherine to relax after such a difficult time.
Claire seems to want Catherine’s approval. She keeps checking in with Catherine after each decision, which suggests that she does want to be helpful. But Claire wants to care for her sister on her own terms. Instead of asking Catherine what would be best for her at the time, Claire makes decisions that suit her (like planning a party the day of the burial).
Themes
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Claire tells Catherine that Mitch says hi and then announces that they are getting married. Catherine barely reacts, although she does manage to congratulate her sister, who merrily chats about the details of the wedding. When Claire asks Catherine to be in the wedding, Catherine agrees.
While Catherine seems to be very alone—she doesn’t even have friends—Claire is getting married, which suggests that Claire has had time and energy to date and socialize. Catherine, on the other hand, has been taking care of Robert and hasn’t been able to have a social life. While the audience doesn’t know yet where Claire was during Robert’s illness, it seems that she didn’t pull her weight in taking care of Robert. This is likely another reason that Catherine resents her sister.
Themes
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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Cautiously, Claire asks Catherine how she is feeling about Robert’s death, but Catherine doesn’t elaborate beyond saying she’s fine. When Claire asks what she will do now that Robert is gone—whether she will stay in the house or go back to school—Catherine has no answers. Finally, Catherine snaps at her sister, demanding why she is asking these questions.
Catherine’s angry response to Claire’s questions suggests that she suspects that Claire isn’t asking her questions to discover how she really feels about things—Claire is likely searching for information that she can use to support her own arguments and opinions for what Catherine should do. Perhaps Catherine doesn’t tell Claire how she is actually feeling (like how she is anxious about possibly inheriting Robert’s mental illness) because she can’t trust Claire to listen to her plans to handle the situation. She knows that Claire will want to decide what’s “best” for Catherine if she finds out that Catherine is struggling with her mental health.
Themes
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Claire admits that some police officers visited while Catherine was in the shower to check up on a call from last night. Without emotion, Catherine says this was “nice” of them. Claire asks why she called the police, and Catherine says that she called them about a robbery but hung up because she changed her mind.
Claire, it seems, suspects that her sister may be mentally unstable—police officers have told her that Catherine behaved very erratically the night before.
Themes
Genius and Mental Instability Theme Icon
Family and Heredity Theme Icon
Confused, Claire asks a series of questions to which Catherine responds tersely, but eventually Claire pieces together the story about Hal and the notebook. She gently asks Catherine if she is dating or sleeping with Hal, which Catherine denies. Finally, Catherine realizes that Claire suspects Hal doesn’t exist, and she bitterly tells Claire to phone the math department at the University of Chicago to confirm her story.
Claire doesn’t believe what Catherine says because she suspects that Catherine is mentally unstable. Now it appears that Claire’s questions for Catherine were motivated by her trying to figure out whether Catherine would admit that her mental health has been poor. Claire is twisting Catherine’s words to fit a theory that she already has, that Catherine is mentally unstable. There is evidence to support Claire’s suspicions (after all, Catherine did hallucinate her father’s presence), but her doubting Catherine nonetheless harms their relationship. Catherine is frustrated and bitter that Claire won’t believe anything she says. Additionally, Claire shows herself to be an unreliable investigator. She says she wants to find out what happened the night before, but she isn’t diligent in looking for evidence. She could call the University of Chicago to check the validity of Catherine’s story, but she doesn’t—she simply continues to (mis)interpret evidence to fit a theory that she already has.
Themes
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Claire still insists that Catherine’s stories don’t add up: did she call the police on a creepy guy or was she partying with her boyfriend? When Claire asks if she was drinking with Hal, Catherine says no. But Claire points to the empty champagne bottle on the table and Catherine insists she was drinking alone.
Claire doubts Catherine’s reliability. Because Claire refuses to accept any information from Catherine, she constructs her own, incorrect version of events, which validates the importance of proof and evidence; without evidence, a person can jump to some very wrong conclusions. At the same time, the audience is reminded that they can’t trust Catherine when Catherine insists that she was drinking alone. The bottle serves as a reminder of Catherine’s hallucination—she didn’t think she was drinking alone when she opened the bottle, but she was.
Themes
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
After a pause, Claire says that the police claimed that Catherine was rude and aggressive with them, even hitting one of them. Catherine doesn’t exactly deny it, but she insists that the officers were condescending and disrespectful. When Claire says they were very nice to her, Catherine snaps that “people are nicer to you.”
Claire further damages her relationship with her sister by taking the policemen’s side. By refusing to believe Catherine’s version of events, Claire breaks Catherine’s trust and loses her credibility with her sister. Claire has proven several times that she will not believe or support Catherine so, as a result, Catherine has no reason to trust her sister, demonstrating how doubt breaks down a relationship. Claire shouldn’t expect that Catherine will trust Claire enough to tell her how’s she is really feeling when she has no reason to trust her.
Themes
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
Claire asks Catherine if she’d like to stay in New York City with her and Mitch. Catherine says no, but Claire insists that it would be fun, then she argues that it would be safer for Catherine. Increasingly irritated, Catherine insists that she’s not interested in fun and she doesn’t need a safe place.
Certain that Catherine is mentally unstable, Claire tries to convince Catherine to move to New York City so that she can look after her easily. Again, Claire is prioritizing her own desires over her sister’s; Catherine doesn’t want to move, but Claire insists that it’s the right thing because it is most convenient for her (Claire). It seems like Claire may even believe that moving Catherine is the right thing to do for Catherine, which shows how easy it is to delude oneself into thinking that one’s own desires are what are best for someone else.
Themes
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
As they argue, Hal calls out Catherine’s name and then steps onto the porch. Catherine victoriously announces who he is then furiously tells Claire that she doesn’t need her questions, criticism, or advice—she’s totally fine on her own.
Hal’s presence proves that Catherine wasn’t imagining him—Hal really exists. Catherine is so pleased at Hal’s presence that it seems like Hal is also proof to herself that she wasn’t hallucinating. She’s doubting herself and fears that her mental health is deteriorating, but she clearly doesn’t feel like she can talk to Claire about it because Claire broke her trust. Hal’s presence helps build Catherine’s credibility with the audience, demonstrating how building trust is an ongoing process—she must continue to prove to the audience that they can trust what she says.
Themes
Genius and Mental Instability Theme Icon
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
After an awkward silence, Claire calmly introduces herself to Hal, who asks if he can get some work in before the afternoon. Claire invites him into the house, and as soon as he’s inside, she coyly mentions that he is cute. Catherine scoffs and insists that Claire owes her an apology. Claire replies that while they do need to make some decisions, she should have waited for later in the day. When Claire asks suggestively whether Hal would want a bagel, Catherine leaves.
Claire has a chance to begin rebuilding her relationship with Catherine—she could apologize to her. But she doesn’t. She simply says that she should have waited with her questions. As a result, Catherine leaves the porch, signifying how she is uninterested in maintaining a charade of a relationship with Claire. Meanwhile, Claire continues to try to make decisions for Catherine by encouraging Catherine to flirt with Hal.
Themes
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon