The Prompt—A successful paper will address the following:
We all read differently. We read in different ways and for different reasons. Sometimes we read in order to learn
information; sometimes to experience people, places, and events beyond our own world; sometimes we read
for distraction, for fun, or because a professor asks us to. Sometimes we read because we want to learn more
about ourselves. And sometimes we do a mixture of the above, all at once. For paper #2. I want each of us to
analyze the different kinds of reading that our classmates’ have employed by members of our class. Your
essay should answer the following prompt question:
Prompt Question: Which character do readers respond most strongly to? Why?
The Process—A successful paper will:
1. Identify and analyze the reflections written by three of your classmates. Each of these reflections is available
and posted in the Discussion Board section of our course Blackboard site. You should begin the writing
process for this paper by reading through and identifying student reflections that you find particularly
interesting. The students you choose are entirely up to you (except you cannot choose yourself
the play’s protagonist, is a fifty-year-old woman with stage-four ovarian cancer. She is also an indomitable
force in the academic field of seventeenth-century poetry (particularly the sonnets of John Donne) and a
professor in a university English department. The play begins in the oncology unit at the university hospital,
where she is receiving an eight-week, experimental chemotherapy treatment. Her overseeing doctor is Dr.
Harvey Kelekian, who is also a university professor, and the two have a lot in common, including their
relentless work ethics and their bemusement at undergraduate students’ lack of academic motivation. Jason
Posner, the most accomplished medical fellow in the oncology unit, is charged with administering much of
Vivian’s care. He, too, has a work ethic and a passion for knowledge that mirrors Vivian’s. Coincidentally,
Jason was once a student of Vivian’s, during a semester in which he challenged himself to ace the hardest
classes on campus. Vivian admires Jason for his drive and sees her younger self in him, although she is often
uncomfortable with their odd role-reversal in the context of the hospital; this time, her fate is in his hands.
Vivian oscillates between narrating the action of the play and acting in the scenes. As the narrator, she knows
how the play—and her story—is going to end, but as her character-self, she does not. This separation between
Vivian’s narrator-self and her character-self establishes the play’s dramatic irony, in which the audience knows
that Vivian is going to die before her character-self does. As Vivian explains in various monologues, irony is
also a major theme in Donne’s work, which is concerned with life’s “big questions” like death and God, but
usually ends up losing itself in its own wit and intellectual quandaries.
Narrating the play also allows Vivian to present flashbacks of her life. In one flashback, she is diagnosed with
cancer by Dr. Kelekian. In another, she is being admonished by her graduate school mentor, E. M. Ashford,
about misunderstanding the punctuation in a John Donne sonnet. In another, her father, Mr. Bearing, is helping
her read a book called The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, which spurs her lifelong love of language.
Over the course of the play, Vivian gets sicker and sicker, both due to her extremely aggressive chemotherapy
and due to her worsening cancer. She is thus forced to face the likelihood of her own impending death. This
process is especially difficult for her because it requires her to change her mind about a few things, particularly
her assumption that the pursuit of knowledge and intellectual excellence is the most valuable part of life. At the
start of the play, she approaches her cancer diagnosis as if it were another intellectual problem to be solved.
After all, she thinks, she is a respected scholar on metaphysical poetry, most of which takes on mortality as its
theme—if she can conquer Donne’s poetics of death, she can handle the real thing. However, as her body and
mind begin to fail her, and her days become more and more painful, she struggles to remain tough and brave.
Vivian’s attending nurse, Susie Monahan, comforts her as her cancer worsens, but Dr. Kelekian and Jason
remain distant and only concerned with their research. They continue to insist that she receive the full dose of
chemotherapy, and they never address her comfort and pain-management. To them, Vivian is a body that they
can study rather than a human being. They are excited by the prospect of their research, which will be
groundbreaking in their field, and they prioritize that over Vivian’s dignity. Before her illness worsened, Vivian
admired this tenacity, but by the time she is nearing her death, she resents their coldness and detachment and
seeks out Susie more and more. In the final days of her life, Vivian calls out to Susie, who brings her a popsicle
and comforts her as she cries. They discuss what to do if Vivian’s heart stops, and she tells Susie that she
wants to a DNR: a “Do Not Resuscitate” order.
11/3/2020 Order 330022813
In the play’s final scene, Vivian is visited by her old mentor, E. M. Ashford. E. M. offers to recite Donne for her,
but Vivian (who is on morphine and barely coherent) groans a refusal. Instead E. M. reads a children’s book
she has with her called The Runaway Bunny. After E.M. leaves, Jason enters and sees that Vivian isn’t
breathing. He frantically calls a code team and gives her CPR, despite knowing her wish to not be resuscitated.
Susie tries to stop him and halt the code team that enters and starts frantically working, but they only stop
when Jason yells that he made a mistake. As the code team mutter to themselves about Jason’s grievous error
and Jason whispers “Oh, God” to himself, Vivian gets out of bed, undresses, and stands naked and reaching
for a distant light.
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