Margaret Edson

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Themes and Colors
Poetry and the Limitations of Language Theme Icon
Kindness and Mortality Theme Icon
Rationality and Intellect vs. Emotion and Human Connection Theme Icon
Empathy vs. Professional Detachment Theme Icon
Wit, Death, and Meaning Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Wit, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Poetry and the Limitations of Language

Wit demonstrates that words, despite their ability to define, describe, teach, inform, and comfort, often fall short. Vivian Bearing has devoted her life to the study of the written word. She is a scholar of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry, which is famous for its complicated vocabulary and mind-boggling examinations of life’s “big questions” (e.g., God, love, death). She has lived her whole life under the impression that her rigorous study of Donne’s language has the…

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Kindness and Mortality

In Wit, Vivian is concerned with mortality—both the mortality of her physical body and of her body of scholarly work. Even as her health is failing her, she thinks of how her work will survive her, since she will be remembered for her contributions to the field of seventeenth-century poetry. However, as her death looms nearer, she must confront the fact that she has failed to make meaningful personal connections in her life, and…

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Rationality and Intellect vs. Emotion and Human Connection

Throughout most of the play and well into her cancer treatment, Vivian tries her best to be all business and never slip into sentimentality or weakness. This defense mechanism has clearly served her well all her life. Despite having no family or friends to speak of, she feels entirely fulfilled by her profession and her own self-sufficiency and intelligence. Further, the focus of her study—the sonnets of John Donne—centers around wit and intellectual puzzles more…

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Empathy vs. Professional Detachment

Wit is partly a critique of the medical profession and academia, as both pursuits encourage a focus on a narrow specialty at the expense of big-picture concerns and individual relationships. Vivian’s studies focus entirely on language and the mind, while her doctors’ work focuses entirely on the body, and the play argues that in their pursuit of knowledge, both Vivian and her doctors neglect the personal and emotional needs of those around them, remaining…

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Wit, Death, and Meaning

Wit deliberately does not come to an easy conclusion. Echoing John Donne, the play suggests that death, like life, love, and God, cannot be rationally understood—there is no “answer” to the big questions of life. Instead of trying to find an answer to death, Donne intentionally puzzled over it in his work, as if he were doing a Rubik’s cube with no intention of solving it. Vivian has achieved great acclaim in her field by…

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