Students enter, and Vivian addresses them as a class. She singles out one student and asks him a question about a sonnet. The student is confused, and Vivian (after acknowledging to the audience something kinder she could have said) reprimands him sharply, telling him to come to class prepared or don’t come at all.
Vivian never valued kindness or empathy when it got in the way of rationality or excellence, but now she is finally learning that these qualities are also important to the human experience.
Vivian addresses the class again, commenting on how Donne doesn’t try to resolve the issues of life so much as “revel…in their complexity.” Another student asks her: why? Vivian lets the student follow his train of thought, and the other students seem to agree with him. The student says it seems like Donne is scared, and so he “hides behind this wit.” Vivian suggests that Donne might be “suspicious of simplicity,” but the student says that’s “pretty stupid.” Vivian tells the audience that the student has a good point here, but is unable to follow it all the way through. Indeed, the student starts to ramble and loses his train of thought.
This student makes an excellent point—one that Vivian herself is slowly coming to accept—but because the student is unable to properly articulate it, Vivian ignores it. In the flashback she still sees no problem with “hiding behind wit” or complexity for complexity’s sake only. It is only now, in the face of her own death, that she comes to value simplicity, emotion, and human connection.
Next Vivian says she remembers overhearing two students making fun of her after a lecture. She had been discussing the way to pronounce “expansion” in a poem, and as they are leaving the students use her pronunciation in a clever exchange. Vivian admits to the audience that they were being witty, but she was unable to appreciate it at the time.
Even Vivian’s appreciation of wit—a centerpiece of her intellectual life—was limited to the abstract and academic sphere. She disapproved of it as a part of spontaneous interactions between individuals.
Next a student interrupts Vivian and asks for an extension on an assignment. Vivian guesses that the student’s grandmother died, and the student says she’s correct—he has to go home. Vivian refuses to the grant the extension. The student leaves and the classroom disappears, and Vivian tries to describe what these scenes make her feel, trudging about silently on stage before giving up and going back to bed.
This is Vivian at her most cruel and naïve. She ignores the reality of death and grief for the sake of an assignment being on time. This final flashback thus shows all that she has had to unlearn over the course of the play—hiding from empathy behind intellect, hiding from emotion behind rationality, and hiding from death behind wit.