Oleanna is David Mamet's study of power and gender in academia. Carol, a student who is struggling in John's class, comes to his office for help. John, a forty-something professor trying to make tenure, offers her an A in the class on the condition that she will visit him diligently and let him teach her everything he knows about the subject. Yet, while Carol is in John's office, he constantly interrupts her, either by lecturing her or talking on the phone. John's interaction with her is inappropriate -- he puts his arm around her at one point -- and condescending. Carol feels more and more powerless as their meetings continue, and she eventually accuses him of battery and rape. The audience never sees any physical violence or overt sexual harassment occur between the professor and his student, and we are left to wonder “Did a crime really take place? Is this charge Carol's only way of regaining power over John? Is the truth even relevant after such an accusation?" John knows that this incident will, at the very least, kill any chance he has at making tenure -- it may ruin his livelihood entirely, and even deprive him of his freedom. Even if he's innocent, will Carol's accusations drive John to commit the very acts of violence of which she accuses him?
Oleanna guide sections