Oleanna Summary

Oleanna Summary


Carol waits in her professor John’s office, sitting across from him as he is having a conversation on the phone. She has asked to meet with him without prior scheduling to discuss the fact that she is having trouble with the material taught in John’s class, in spite of diligently taking notes and completing the assigned reading, which happens to include a book John is the author of.

Though John apparently sympathises with her situation, he is eager to get back to his personal matters that require urgent attention - he is about to purchase a new house for himself and his family in anticipation of a likely promotion and a raise in his salary. Initially, he is cautious to take responsibility for Carol’s poor performance on an assigned paper, but Carol is visibly upset and he soon reconsiders, offering help in a rather personal and presumptuous manner. He finally decides that he will not fail her, and that she will have an “A” until the rest of the term, as long as she agrees to several more private meetings where they could discuss the material together. He even opens up about his own background and attempts to relate to Carol’s frustrations by explaining that he felt similarly as a student, but that he thinks she is an extremely bright girl who is simply angry at how the educational system puts her intelligence to the test. He is convinced that Carol has no real trouble understanding the material, though she repeatedly interrupts him by saying it’s difficult for her and that she considers herself stupid. Her frustration increases, culminating in an outburst. John attempts to calm her down by putting his hand on her shoulder, but she shakes it off.

Throughout their conversation, John has had to answer his phone several times. Finally, the phone rings again - it’s John’s wife, who reveals that the calls had been a scheme to get John to attend a surprise party organized in his honor, after which he leaves for home immediately.


Carol is once again at John’s office, but with an entirely different purpose. It is revealed that she has accused John of being sexist, elitist and pornographic and teaching inappropriate material in his classes, and has submitted a report outlining his behavior to the Tenure Committee, which has put at risk his opportunity to obtain tenure and close on his new house.

This time around, Carol appears much more eloquent and self-assured. Her report contains specific observations of numerous instances where John has made sexist remarks toward his students, as well as several questionable actions from their previous meeting, the most notable being putting his hand on her shoulder, which she describes as sexual harassment. John is in utter shock and does not understand what has brought on Carol's anger. His attempts to be understanding and helpful in order to resolve the issue privately, while Carol feels that his intention must be merely to bribe her.

John attempts to explain to Carol how important acquiring a good home is for him and his family and that her complaint to the committee, which will most likely be dismissed, will make him lose his house and his deposit. He questions whether a few politically incorrect remarks are sufficient to completely disrupt the flow of his and his family’s life and serve such a detriment to his career and lifestyle. Carol believes that it is. She sees his behavior as part of a larger pattern where certain individuals in power have the ability to taunt and mock students like her, who have worked all their lives to obtain a college education, by questioning the necessity of such a pursuit. Repeatedly, she emphasizes she is speaking on behalf of a larger group who is being exploited by a privileged and oppressive system. She also reveals that her efforts are being supported by an on-campus group who advise her actions.

John defends himself by pointing to the fact that human communication is imperfect, as human beings themselves are, and that though their interests are often conventional and frequently in conflict, it does not mean that they must immediately be persecuted and called "manipulative". He explains that by questioning the pursuit of higher education, he is merely expresing an opinion and beginning a conversation, which his students may or may not agree to. For a moment, Carol seems to be at a loss for words, when the phone rings and interrupts their conversation. It’s John’s wife again, whom John instructs not to cancel the deposit, assuring her that the deal will go through as he is dealing with the “complaint” at that very moment.

After the phone call, Carol tells John that she would rather discuss her report at the Tenure Committee Hearing. John become visibly panicked as Carol prepares to leave, and attempts to convince her to stay and resolve the matter privately, which she keeps refusing to do. He stands in front of the door to his office and grabs her to prevent her from leaving, causing her to scream for help.


Carol’s actions of reporting John to her university have resulted in John no longer being considered for tenure and being suspended from teaching, with the possibility of being fired from the university. John has asked Carol to his office again against, as he says, his better judgement. She agrees to stay and talk to him after he tells her it would be of great service if she would only hear him out.

Throughout the conversation, Carol often interrupts John to correct language that that she feels is not specific enough or improperly used; for instance, John refers to Carol’s report as “accusations”, she asserts that they should be called “facts”, as they have already been proven. In other words, Carol becomes John’s instructor in her mission to dethrone him from his position of power and educate him on how his views are corrupt and selective based on whether they protect him and the hierarchy which enables his privilege. She clarifies, however, that she does not want revenge, but rather, understanding. Still, John seems unable to grasp how much there is at stake for Carol, or to accept the charges of sexual exploitativeness, claiming that his actions were devoid of sexual content. He then turns her attention back to his job, which he is very close to losing. Carol offers to withdraw her complaint if John agrees to ban a list of books, including his own, from the university, due to their being questionable representative examples of the school. John is too furious to even consider this, claiming that he has a responsibility to the institution and must refuse her demands.

In passing, John mentions that he has not been home for two days, and Carol informs him that if he had, he would know that her charges against him now amount to attempted rape. He orders Carol to get out of the office. As she leaves, the phone rings, and it’s John’s wife, whom he refers to as “baby”. Carol objects to this and correct him just before exiting the office. In a violent rage provoked by this remark, John beats and insults Carol until she is cowering on the floor.

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