A Feminist Criticism Of 'Proof'

"Proof" is a play by David Auburn, modern American play -article writer. The play was produced for the very first time at May 2000. Five years later Auburn adapted the play for the display, and the movie "Proof" starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal was also produced. This research is targeted on the play but some personal references on the movie can be helpful also. The aim of this research is to provide the feminist criticism for the play.

"Resistant": feminist criticism

Feminist criticism is some sort of reader-response criticism reflecting the understanding of the proper interpretive community. The common opinion says that feminist literary critics favor texts helping feminist thinking, and the female heroes are of more interest than male character types and masculine images. This point of view has a good amount of sense but it doesn't correspond to the overall concept of feminist criticism. As the feminist movements generally, feminist literary criticism is concerned with the ladies rights as well as their representation and depiction on the literature. Feminist criticism examines nit only female people but their place in the books, the author's attitude to male and female characters, and cultural trends related to the ladies rights and shown in the fiction. The stereotypical interpretation of gender assignments in the marketing is also the thing of feminist criticism. The knowledge, especially the math, is one of the spheres regarded as a traditionally male field. The fantastic woman mathematician can be somewhat interesting personality for the feminist criticism and also other people in the "Proof".


The main personality of the play, Catherine, is a youngest princess of the amazing mathematician. At the beginning of the play she is just out of her twenty fifth birthday. Her life wasn't too long but she's experienced a personal play already. She gave up the college and the goals for individual success to be mindful about her father Robert, outstanding mathematician suffering from mental illness. That is an proof true wish to the daddy, which characterizes Catherine as a person with caring soul. A week before her 25th birthday Robert passed on. Here begins the new level in Catherine's life and the plot of the play. Catherine analyzes herself and finds she is emotionally drained with the long years of care of her daddy, besides, she regrets about her abandoned education. She put in several years aside with the modern culture and now she has to reside in the interpersonal life again. Two new people power Catherine to return to the modern culture: her sister Claire and the past university student and protege of her father, Hal. However, one thought dominates on all the issues: Catherine suspects she actually is as crazy as her dad was.

The main intrigue of the play is devoted to the brilliant, groundbreaking math proof within the records of the lifeless scientist: "a mathematical theorem about excellent quantities, something mathematicians have been seeking to establish since since there have been mathematicians, fundamentally. " Catherine cases she actually is an author of this confirmation, not her daddy. Really, Robert was the genuine mathematician in his young years: "He revolutionized the field double before he was twenty-two". However, during his previous years he was mentally unstable and could scarcely develop the new cutting edge proof. On the other hand, Catherine's qualification appears to be obviously insufficient for such evidence: her higher maths is totally self-taught. Claire and Hal don't believe that Catherine is an author of the new confirmation.


Michael Billington from "The Guardian" creates that "Proof" is a work of your craftsman not an designer (Billington, 2002). He means that Auburn uses many popular cliches and standard situation in his play, thus the play is mainly engaging. However, Auburn touches many important and profound designs and depicts them in abrupt, humorous manner. The theme of genius and madness in the play amounts between the image of nutty teacher and the tragedy of Dr. Frankenstein. The want to the math, especially to simple digits, brings the humor to the play. The perception in people when they are down, matching to Walter Kerr, is one of the dominating designs in the play. Finally, the passionate love of two gifted mathematicians helps the intrigue and provides the chance of happy-end in this history. However, the feminist criticism should take in attention two female character of the play.

Catherine and Clair: two factors of one talent

At the first look it appears that two sisters oppose in the play.

Catherine is a main figure, so she should be attractive for the audience for some reason. Sure, the audience feels sympathy to the girl, which sacrificed her education and future carrier to nurse the psychologically unstable dad. Her skill and prepared to profound knowledge also make her attractive identity.

Clair is the negative personality in the play, unlike Catherine. Clair is bossy, manipulative, selfish, narrow-minded bourgeois woman - at least on her behalf sister. Clair offers the house without consulting Catherine, she even dictates to put dairy in the coffee, so she behaves distracting.

It is interesting to investigate both characters in the light of traditional women functions in the patriarchal world. The sisters are more alike that it seems for the first look. Claire is also talented in math - enough to be the successful currency analytic on the Wall-Street. It is important that her financial support made the previous days of their father sooth and comfortable. She wasn't near his bed, but she paid the expenses. However, the author's frame of mind to this identity is mainly negative. Most likely the reason is the fact that Clair is an independent contemporary girl, who places the non-public carrier before the family.

Unlike her pragmatic sister, Catherine has all the sympathy by the writer and the viewers. Her role of voluntary nurse is more traditional for the patriarchal population. Despite her own ability, Catherine always needs male support - first from her daddy, then from Hal. She is weaker than Claire and it creates her positive identity in Auburn's play. Thus, it is apparent that strong and independent woman is more likely to be the negative identity nowadays than fragile and embarrassed one.

Catherine: girl mathematicians

The figure of Clair can't wonder the audience because this type of women is familiar for everyone. The female mathematician is more uncommon personality. Catherine (and her prototype Sophie Germain, famous mathematician) should confirm that mathematical ability isn't tied to gender. Despite the contributions of several women to the mathematics science, like the work by Sophie Germain on the Fermat's Previous Theorem, women are still seen as the exception rather than the norm in mathematics. Auburn made his main girl character a math genius but at the same time he depicted her poor and depressed. The reason why of such depiction can be firmly commercial. Carol Schafer in her article writes the next

"Despite his pseudo-feminist focus on women's capacity to comprehend higher mathematics, David Auburn offers only a feeble and shaky task to patriarchal specialist in Substantiation Any hazard to popular perceptions of women as being incapable of accomplishment in fields customarily dominated by men is deceptive, and the play's recognition and its own numerous awards expose a collective affirmation of patriarchal hegemony by the American open public. " (Schafer, 2006) Schafer shows that true feminist play can't achieve the commercial success among the list of conservative American population. The success of the movie "Proof" is really as indirect evidence of Schafer's thesis. The energy of stereotyped belief of the mathematicians is so significant that some critics even consider Jake Gyllenhaal to be too good-looking for the mathematician.

Thus, regardless of the try to reject the stereotypes, Auburn just suggested them in several form to achieve the commercial success.


The play "Proof" by David Auburn can be an interesting thing for feminist literary criticism. The primary persona of the play is the feminine mathematician genius. With the first glance it seems that Auburn supports the ideas of feminism and women similar rights. However, the indirect factor - the comparability of two sisters, strong and weak - makes the assignments of women in the play more traditional for the patriarchal world. The strong and unbiased sister is a negative character, while the main female persona is weak and requirements male support. It proves that traditional American modern culture can't appreciate the play about true feminist personas, so the electric power of stereotypes in the contemporary society is significant.

Also We Can Offer!

Other services that we offer

If you don’t see the necessary subject, paper type, or topic in our list of available services and examples, don’t worry! We have a number of other academic disciplines to suit the needs of anyone who visits this website looking for help.

How to ...

We made your life easier with putting together a big number of articles and guidelines on how to plan and write different types of assignments (Essay, Research Paper, Dissertation etc)