Show how Mamet uses language and interaction in act 1 to present ideas about language and power
The fast pace, repetition and interruptions evident in the interaction between Carol and John are clear illustrations of the unwritten contest to have the last word and be right in act 1. The use of these dramatic and linguistic techniques are what make the interaction between the two characters so fascinating. Both are constantly struggling to keep their dignity and reputation. On page 11, Carol pleads ‘ teach me. Teach me’. Although this is imperative, the context in which it is said suggests that she uses it passively in quite a begging, pleading manner.
The active verb also demonstrates her impatience towards education and frustration with not understanding. In response, John pleads ‘I’m trying to teach you. ‘ He then becomes the passive subject in attempt to reason and level himself with carol. Page 10 shows Mamet cleverly using irony to show how John is so unaware of his behaviour, the language he uses and the effects of which. He says ‘I can’t talk now’. Demonstrating the fact that he is clearly an intelligent man who is unable to communicate or answer direct questions.
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Similar to that of a political figure, persuading the audience to associate him with power and authority. This is then confirmed on page 13 when he suddenly takes a very formal and authoritative tone with Carol. Because their meeting ‘was not a scheduled meeting’ John says he is unable to talk to her. Representing the hierarchy that is still firmly in place between the interactions of these two characters. The hegemony is quite clear here and is supported by Carol’s breakdown on page 14. Here it is as though Mamet is suggesting that language divides us. That language provides barriers from one culture to the next.
Carol exclaims she doesn’t understand John’s use of language, and as she raises her voice she begins to repeat her self. Here it would seem that both john and carol do not understand each other and, again, John is viewed as the more authoritative and powerful one. The interruptions present in act 1 are significant to the play’s agenda. Although the audience is meant to sympathise with Carol for her lack of understanding and the professor’s approach to teaching her individually, the telephone calls, interrupting the conversation at key points, represents a connection to the world outside of the room where the entire play takes place.
It gives the audience an immediate insight to John’s life so that we do not dismiss him for his difficulties with expressing himself or his arguments. Mamet, having then made John into a ‘3D character’ is then able to introduce him as realer person, showing his true emotions more and more towards the end of the play. Without this link to the outside world, which is often forgotten in a context such as this, John would seem pompous, intolerant, incompetent and unprofessional. Mamet has carefully constructed the interaction and language to show the power corruption between the two and is successful in balancing the two sides of the argument.
A watching audience would very easily be able to choose which side they believed right. It can also be viewed that Mamet uses language to oppress others. John is often seen using academic lexis, which unnecessarily complicates and blurs his point in case. This then confuses Carol and she is left feeling stupid and a failure for not understanding. Several times Carol asks “what does that mean” or “well why didn’t you say that? ” This is a clear indication of how language is used to oppress and confuse people, in order to feel in control or above them.
Having said this, Mamet has clearly shown the flip side to the hierarchal concept of education. Once John realises his errors in the use of his language and changes to lower himself to Carol’s level, she is outraged and files a complaint. When a teacher of professor does not speak with authority, Mamet has shown us that they will be complained about because it’s not professional conduct. And although it may seem as though universities are in place to test the students; professors and lecturers are actually more often put to the test.
It is this message that I believe Mamet conveys in act 1 through his use of ringing telephones, irony and symbolised hegemony. That because John will be penalised either way for his behaviour, whether it be obscured academic language, or inappropriate reasoning with students, he has no way out of his place in the hierarchy. And that because the audience will see this, the insight into his life allows us to pity and appreciate him and feel the awkwardness the educational society creates for everyone inside it, both the bottom and the top of the ladder.