Oleanna

Plot summary

Act I

Carol, a college student, is in the office of her professor, John. She expresses frustration that she does not understand the material in his class, despite having read the assigned books and attending his lectures. Of particular concern is a book written by John himself, wherein he questions the modern insistence that everyone participate in higher education, referring to it as "systematic hazing".

While talking with Carol, he is often interrupted by the phone ringing. John is about to be granted tenure, along with a handsome raise. Anticipating this, he is to about to close on a new house, but his wife repeatedly calls with last-minute issues, demanding that he meet her at the home as soon as possible.

After initially appearing insensitive, John eventually decides to help Carol, telling her that he "likes her" and that he also felt similar frustrations as a student. He takes the blame for her not understanding what he is talking about and agrees to give her an "A" if she'll return to his office several more times to discuss the material. At one heated point in the discussion he goes to put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her, but she violently shakes it off.

Finally, Carol has warmed to John and is on the verge of divulging a secret when the phone rings again and John's wife tells him that the realtor problems were all a scheme to get him back to the house for a surprise reception in his honor. He departs for home immediately.

Act II

Carol is back in John's office, but more poised than before. John's tenure is threatened because Carol has filed a formal complaint with the committee, accusing him of being sexist and pornographic. She has documented daily occurrences of John's sexist remarks toward his students and describes his offer of giving her an "A" if she agrees to meet with him privately in his office. His hand on her shoulder is described as sexual harassment.

John hopes to resolve the matter privately with Carol so that the complaint may be withdrawn from the tenure committee. He says he does not understand how his actions could have offended her so and attempts to convince her that he was only trying to help her without any ulterior motive.

Carol decides it's best that she leave, but John stands in front of the door and grabs hold of her. Carol screams for help.

Act III

John has been denied tenure and suspended, with a possible dismissal, and is packing up his office. He has not been home to see his wife and family, staying at a hotel for two days trying to work out in his head what has happened. He has asked Carol to speak to him once more and she has obliged.

Carol is even more forceful to name her instructor's flaws. She finds it hypocritical that a college professor could question the very system that offers him employment and gives him an academic platform to expound his views. She also makes reference to "her group", on whose behalf she speaks and from whom she seems to be getting advice and support as she files her complaints.

In passing, John mentions that he has not been home recently. Carol reveals that if he had, he would have learned that her charges against him now amount to attempted rape. Carol offers to drop her charges if John would agree to her group's list of books to be removed from the university, which includes his own.

John refuses. He angrily tells her to leave his office as his phone rings again. It is his wife, whom he calls "baby". Carol tells him not to refer to his wife that way. John savagely beats her, verbally abuses her and holds a chair above her head as she cowers on the floor. The play ends with Carol saying, "Yes...that's right."


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