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Written by Charulatha Pitigala
Mamet uses Oleanna as a platform to display how political correctness can be blown out of proportion and be taken to absurd lengths and means. He develops this through the interactions between Carol and John throughout the entire play. At the beginning of the play, Carol perhaps brings up a valid argument as John had prevented her from leaving the room and had made physical contact with her. However, this later accelerates into Carol accusing John of 'rape' as well as orders him to not call his wife 'baby' at the end of the play. This displays how dangerous political correctness can be taken advantage of if it is fueled with the right power and support. The playwright also shows that the severity of political correctness is perhaps rooted in misunderstandings between people. This is shown through the overlapping dialogue between John and Carol in Act 1, as well as the interruptions such as the telephone rings that occur over the space of the play which creates a barrier between the two characters. The portrayal of political correctness in this play is also one of the aspects of this work that makes it controversial among audiences as it is known to heighten tensions as some members side with John whilst others side with Carol.
Power of Language
Throughout the play, John and Carol have a power play that carries the weight of the two characters, which is firmly planted on their language skills. In Act 1, John is portrayed as more superior as he uses sophisticated terms and words that Carol has to ask the meaning of. For example, "hazing" and "predilection". However, as the play progresses, Carol becomes more confident and gains dominance which is displayed by her acquired language skills. This is also portrayed through the use of ellipses in the speech of the character; the more ellipses present, the less superior they are to their counterpart. In Act 1, Carol's speech consisted of ellipses as she stumbled over her words and was frustrated in the quest of finding answers. However, in Act 3, the frequent use of ellipses is present in John's speech whereas Carol's is more staccato.
The tensions present between John and Carol are brought from a central gender difference that drives the political correctness aspect of the play. Carol uses her position as a seemingly victimized woman to further support her case against John. It highlights the sexist mishaps into their society while also criticizing the extent at which is can be stretched to absurdity. This is also pivotal in the final Act of the play before the climax as Carol states "Don't call your wife 'baby'." to John which provokes a violent response. This also shows gender conflict as the term 'baby' could be perceived as being endearing or of a sexual nature. Mamet ties in gender relations to political correctness and displays the extent to which the two can balance on the same scale.
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