Wit

by

Margaret Edson

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Wit: Scene 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Professor E. M. Ashford, who is now 80 years old, enters Vivian’s hospital room. Vivian wakes up, confused, and speaks in a slurred way. E. M. says she was in town visiting her great-grandson and then went to see Vivian at her office and was sent here. “I feel so bad,” Vivian says, and starts crying. E. M. comforts her, takes off her shoes, and gets on the bed next to Vivian.
Vivian is reduced to the simplest of language, crying like a child in front of her old mentor whom she once tried so hard to impress. Yet E. M. doesn’t judge her, and meets her on her own level, getting into bed with her. She too has learned to value kindness and empathy.
Themes
Rationality and Intellect vs. Emotion and Human Connection Theme Icon
E. M. offers to recite some Donne, but Vivian moans “nooooooo.” E. M. then takes a children’s book out of her bag: The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. She starts to read it aloud as Vivian drifts in and out of sleep. The story describes a bunny who wants to run away from his mother and threatens to turn in to various other things if his mother runs after him. As she reads, E. M. comments on the text: “A little allegory of the soul. No matter where it hides, God will find it.” Vivian can only groan in response. Eventually the little bunny gives up and decides he should just stay home with his mother and “be your little bunny.” When E. M. finishes the story, Vivian is asleep. E. M. gathers her things, says “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” and leaves.
Vivian’s groaning rejection of Donne is humorous but also poignant—as she said previously, now is not the time for intellectual games, analysis of language, or wit. Now is the time for simplicity and kindness, and so the two great Donne scholars read a children’s book about bunnies together—an echo of Vivian’s first experience with the magic of language, and thus another symbol of her “unlearning” and return to a more childlike state. E. M. still can’t seem to resist analyzing the book somewhat, but this could also just be her approaching Vivian as a colleague who could appreciate such things, while also treating her with compassion. E. M. then quotes Shakespeare—whom she had previously disparaged as being too melodramatic—to bid farewell to Vivian, in perhaps another acknowledgment of the more emotional aspects of the human experience.
Themes
Poetry and the Limitations of Language Theme Icon
Kindness and Mortality Theme Icon
Rationality and Intellect vs. Emotion and Human Connection Theme Icon
Wit, Death, and Meaning Theme Icon
Jason enters, asking Vivian “How are you feeling today?” without looking at her. He checks her vitals and realizes that her kidneys have failed. He then looks at Vivian and listens for her breathing. There’s nothing, and Jason panics and calls a Code Blue. He frantically gives Vivian CPR as he waits for the code team to arrive.
After the poignant scene with E. M., Jason enters with his typical dehumanizing question. He then makes a crucial decision to give Vivian CPR and call a code team, despite knowing that she is “DNR.” The act of giving her CPR also makes his choice especially damning—he didn’t just blurt out a mistaken order, but continues to take action that he knows is going against Vivian’s wishes.
Themes
Poetry and the Limitations of Language Theme Icon
Empathy vs. Professional Detachment Theme Icon
Susie enters and yells at Jason for calling a code, reminding him that Vivian is “Do Not Resuscitate.” Jason protests, saying, “She’s Research!” Susie grabs Jason and throws him off the bed, saying that he saw Kelekian put in the order for Vivian to be DNR.
Susie is Vivian’s only defender against Jason’s attempt to totally dehumanize her into nothing more than “research.” Susie takes drastic action, violently throwing Jason from the bed, but she does so in defense of her patient’s humanity.
Themes
Rationality and Intellect vs. Emotion and Human Connection Theme Icon
Empathy vs. Professional Detachment Theme Icon
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The code team sweeps in, knocks Susie out of the way, and starts trying to resuscitate Vivian. Susie tries to stop them and cancel the code, but they ignore her. A loudspeaker in the hall announces that the code is cancelled, but the team continues. Susie and Jason now both run to each person and yell for them to stop, but they still administer an electric shock to Vivian to try and restart her heart. Finally Jason screams “I MADE A MISTAKE!” and the team stops.
The play’s climactic scene is a frenzy of action, culminating in Jason finally admitting that he acted wrongly and humiliating himself in front of the rest of the staff. Note that only Jason, as a clinical fellow and man, is listened to by the code team, while Susie is ignored and shoved aside.
Themes
Empathy vs. Professional Detachment Theme Icon
The code team head asks Susie “Who the hell are you?” and demands to see Vivian’s chart, and they realize that Kelekian indeed put in an order that she was no code. They discuss how this was a “doctor fuck-up” and is Jason’s fault, as Jason can only whisper “Oh, God” to himself. While all this is happening, Vivian gets out of bed and walks away from the scene, “towards a little light.” She slowly removes all her hospital equipment and gown, and stands naked, reaching for the light. Then the light goes out, and the bedside scene fades.
It’s implied that this is a turning point for Jason, as he realizes just how far he’s gone down the road of treating human beings like research specimens, though it’s unclear how his behavior might change after this (or how he’ll be punished for his error). Vivian, who has been stripped of her pride, her achievements, and even her words, becomes fully naked in death and reaches for an unknown, unknowable light—representative of Donne’s search for salvation, and also crucially lying beyond the gaze of the audience. Whatever conclusion Vivian might have found, it is not for us to know, yet.
Themes
Rationality and Intellect vs. Emotion and Human Connection Theme Icon
Empathy vs. Professional Detachment Theme Icon
Wit, Death, and Meaning Theme Icon
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