Oleanna Characters

Oleanna Character List


A college student of a presumably disprivileged socioeconomic background, Carol is frustrated because she does not understand the material taught in a class that she is failing, though she has supposedly done everything she has been told, from having taken notes and reading the assigned reading materials, which John, her professor, is the author of. She frequently falls into states of apparent self-pity and self-loathing during the play’s first act, though her attitude takes a somewhat unexpected turn later on, when she files charges of rape and harassment against John for teaching pornographic material and being sexually explicit. This makes it difficult to pinpoint her true motives and to characterize her as either the protagonist or the antagonist of the play. It is also difficult to say whether she undergoes what could be interpreted as character growth, evolving from a seemingly victimized and vulnerable position to taking on the role of a persecutor. Readers, depending on whose side they choose to take, may associate her with hypersensitivity, crazed political correctness and censorship, or see her as an empowered, brave young woman who selflessly uses her own situation to fight against the patriarchal society she lives in.


John is a university professor who teaches the class Carol is having trouble with. He is considered for being granted tenure, and is about to purchase a new house for his family. His book, which Carol struggles to understand, questions the purpose of higher education, an issue that he brings up during his first meeting with Carol, whom he offers to meet with privately in order to help her pass his class. In a supposed attempt to help Carol, he explains that he was described as stupid and incompetent when he was younger, and that he is able to understand the position that Carol is coming from. This can be read as patronizing, oppressive and ignorant, or rather, an act with the ulterior motive to make Carol the object that John exerts his power on. John, however, deems his approach honorable, as he attempts to make the issues that he speaks of in his writing more accessible, thus allowing him to cross the artificially-structured boundaries of student and teacher and breach the academic discourse that they are meant to abide by. In the end, however, it is Carol who defies the archetypal student-teacher dynamic, as she is the one to shed light onto John’s privilege and confront him by exposing his hypocrisy regarding the issues he speaks on. 

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