David Auburn

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Themes and Colors
Genius and Mental Instability Theme Icon
Family and Heredity Theme Icon
Sexism Theme Icon
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
Caretaking and Sacrifice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Proof, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Genius and Mental Instability

David Auburn’s play Proof illustrates that there’s a fine line between genius and mental illness. The play focuses on Catherine, a young woman who may have inherited both her father’s mathematical genius and his mental instability. When her father, Robert, was alive, his delusion and genius were sometimes hard to differentiate—throughout his life, he was obsessed with math, but sometimes his work was groundbreaking and other times, in his periods of mental illness…

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Family and Heredity

Throughout Proof, Catherine compares herself to late her father, Robert. Robert was a mathematical genius who revolutionized his field, and she worries that she won’t live up to his example. She also compares her sanity to his; Robert suffered from mental illness, and Catherine constantly worries that any unusual thought pattern might be evidence that she shares his disease. This gives Catherine a mixed relationship to heredity: she wants to inherit her father’s…

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Proof depicts sexism in the field of mathematics, exploring its effects on two characters: the main character, Catherine; and the real-life mathematician Sophie Germain, an 18th century woman whose life story Catherine relates during the play. Sophie Germain’s gender locked her out of educational opportunities, so she advanced her career by writing to a famous mathematician under a man’s name and developing her work through their correspondence. She couldn’t reveal her gender until…

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Proof, Trust, and Credibility

In the play’s opening scene, Catherine and Robert are debating whether Catherine is crazy, and Robert insists that crazy people don’t ask if they’re crazy, so she must be sane. This reasoning seems compelling—until the audience learns that Catherine is currently drinking alone and talking to her dead father, either because she’s drunk or hallucinating. This undermines the audience’s ability to trust their own eyes: Robert initially seemed to be a flesh-and-blood person, but he’s…

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Caretaking and Sacrifice

By showing how one family deals with crisis, Proof explores the value of caretaking. The two sisters of the play, Catherine and Claire, have different ideas about how they should have cared for their late father, Robert. Catherine thought it was best to keep him at home where he was surrounded by the things he loved, even if this meant making personal sacrifices (such as quitting college) to care for him. Claire, on…

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