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Extreme Apathy In John Guare’s Six Degrees Of Separation

3600 words - 14 pages

Extreme Apathy in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation

Many authors go to great lengths to explore the limits of human experience, testing realms beyond the imagination. Anything from physical boundaries to social boundaries are broken and thus redefined; Kafka explores the life of a man turned into a bug, Nabokov examines the life of a man ruled by a sexual desire that is taboo. With so much effort focused on the extremes of life, one work, a play by John Guare entitled Six Degrees of Separation, stands out. Certainly, the events are extraordinary; based on a true story, Six Degrees is the tale of a young con man, professing to be the son of Sidney Poitier, and his effect on the lives of several New York socialites. Paul is the Eliza Doolittle of the modern age, adopting all the skills, stories, and styles that make him the perfect houseguest. Paul's charisma ensures that at every encounter, his presence leaves its mark. One broke and broken young man named Rick, after losing his last dime and last shred of dignity to an encounter with Paul, throws himself from his third floor tenement apartment. From the way that the New Yorkers speak of their experiences with Paul, one would think that Guare has crafted yet another story exploring the range of human experience, probing the impact and significance of encounters among friends and strangers. However, as much as some incidents, such as Rick's suicide, suggest the extreme and most violent ends of the interaction, Guare's play leads us down a too familiar path to a rather harrowing conclusion: that the most unnerving edge of human experience is not, in fact, the most extreme and violent, but the most common and natural to human nature. Guare's play is peopled with characters whose reactions to an extraordinary event are extraordinarily complacent. Six Degrees of Separation is an opus of inertia, revealing that sometimes the boundary of human experience is bordered not by extreme emotions, but by apathy, and that there are those among us who regularly navigate this borderland, unmarked by life and unable to "keep the experience" (62).[1]

Although the play's two main socialites, Flan and Ouisa, break into an argument at the end when they brush upon admitting their own apathy, for most of the play they are only too vocal in asserting their deep shock at what is happening to them. Everyone in Six Degrees is quite vocal about their feelings, in fact. How then, do we go about proving that the experience does not mark them indelibly, as they claim it does? By examining the characters' entrances, the structure of the play, and the art within the play, we can more fully understand whether we trust the characters. Also, since there is one admitted con artist among the group, he serves as a valuable standard against whom we may measure the others. After we decide whether Flan and Ouisa have indeed experienced a life-changing event, the question that remains is whether there is enough depth, enough...

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