Sexual harassment is an issue in society that can occur in many situations. In the workplace, school, or just day-to-day life, sexual harassment can happen as long as there is human interaction. Usually the victim, whether a man or a woman, accuses another person of this act they are the one who feels vulnerable.
But when a sexual harassment claim is falsely used to the advantage of the accuser, the victim is the one accused. This takes place in David Mamet’s play Oleanna. The student, Carol, asks for help from her professor, John because she is failing his course midway through the semester. They converse for some time talking about their personal life and their educational burdens and he agrees to help her and give her an “A” in his class only if she met with him privately in his office.
Carol then gives John a sob story about her not understanding him and his class and John tries to comfort her by putting his arm around her but that was when he messed up. Carol makes a report to her professor’s superiors about what happened and this costs him his job and a house he was planning to purchase. In another meeting she would agree to retract her claim only if he removed his book from the syllabus. This situation is believable because sexual harassment is a sensitive subject that isn’t taken lightly in any situation.
From Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill to Kobe Bryant and his accuser, sexual harassment is used to get people what they want. Justice can be achieved but it is unfortunate that the claim can also be used to extort someone (such as Kobe). I think this is what happened to John in Oleanna because Carol basically threatened him with a rape charge to get what she wanted. She took advantage of his pretension and was playing a role of victim in order to get his book removed from inclusion. But John fed into the role she was playing and his cocky, chauvinist ego got him in trouble.
I cannot sympathize with either character because they both had personal issues and were too proud to put them aside to make the situation better. Carol was frustrated with the class and possibly frustrated in her personal life and John was just too incompetent to realize he was a sexist. I can, however, empathize with John because men are very vulnerable nowadays when rape is charged against them. But John should have been smarter and more respectful to Carol’s request for assistance. I would say the major theme in this play is power struggle.
John was on a power trip ever since he got into teaching because of his educational background. Carol knew about this with all the notes she was taking on him and wanted to shut his power trip down. Carol then was power tripping when she tried getting his book removed from the course with the sexual harassment claim. This play takes feminism to a different level showing how power can be viewed differently from both men and women.
To quote the professor John, “We can only interpret the behavior of others through the screen we create.” .