In order to effectively display a certain discontent with society, an author must have the ability to illustrate the specific flaws that exist within that mainstream society. In What the Butler Saw, Joe Orton does an excellent job in illustrating how abuse of authority can have a subversive effect on an individual’s personality. Throughout the play, Orton uses authority as a tool to illustrate how it has the ability to alter a patient’s personality and provoke madness through psychiatric practice. Regarding Sam Shepard’s True West, Shepard is able to illustrate the exchange of personality traits between two brothers. Comparatively, it is evident that both authors effectively display their discontent with mainstream society. However, Joe Orton is more effective in displaying his discontent because his play illustrates a greater degree of personality shifts that exists between the characters. In essence, both plays exhibit traits that do not belong in mainstream society. These traits include the exchange of personality between characters and identity confusion. However, each of these traits is driven by a social catalyst introduced by the authors to illustrate the evolution of the characters involved.
In What the Butler Saw, Joe Orton places a strong emphasis on authority and how it plays into the characters development. The perception of abused authority is central to his play since it gives him the opportunity to illustrate the influence it has on the characters and the level of madness it provokes. Being set in a psychiatric clinic, Orton is able to submit each character under different trials of authority and allow the readers to observe the effect it has on them. In Orton’s society, psychiatrists are viewed to possess absolute authority. To challenge that, Orton attempts to subvert that authority. This is accomplished when the readers observe Dr. Rance and his examination of Geraldine. This examination is viewed to be unconventional since it ridicules proper psychiatric methods. Dr. Rance is convinced that Geraldine is a victim of incest prior to even examining her. He asks her if her father has ever sexually assaulted her, but Geraldine replies with a “No” (382). However, Dr. Rance refuses to acknowledge her responses and retorts by saying “She may mean ‘Yes’ when she says ‘No’” (382). As a result, Geraldine feels helpless in this situation since there is nothing Geraldine can say that will change his mind.
Orton uses this scene to illustrate how authority can be abused. In our society, a psychiatrist will listen to the patient and provide a response that will benefit the patient. Instead, Dr. Rance is portrayed as someone who interprets others words to fit his preconceived theories by asserting his authority over them, “The vehemence of her denials is proof of positive guilt” (382). Orton ridicules this psychiatric method as it leads neither to truth nor understanding.
In addition, Joe Orton uses Dr. Prentice’s attempt at seduction...