Proof written by David Auburn goes through the life of an esteemed mathematician plagued by mental illness. In the beginning of the play Proof we are introduced to a professor at a local Chicago College named Robert. We first are introduced to Robert through a delusion of Catherine’s, another main protagonist of David auburns play. Auburn shows Robert’s genius and madness at various stages throughout the play. Auburn goes on throughout his play to exemplify the impact mental illness has on everyday family life.
David Auburn introduces his two protagonist, Catherine and Robert through a delusion of Catherine’s late one night. We learn that Robert is a prestiged mathematician who was plagued with a rare mental illness. David Auburn hints at the idea that Catherine, Roberts’s daughter, was also gifted with the same mathematical skills as her father. In act 1, Robert and Catherine get into an argument over what are good days or bad days. Catherine seems to believe that the good days are those days when you just stay in bed all day and don’t leave, but Robert believes that those are days lost.
Robert shows his concern for Catherine when he states “ You sleep till noon, you eat junk food, you don’t work, the dishes pile up in the sink… Some days you don’t get up, you don’t get out of bed”(Auburn 9). Robert worries that Catherine is suffering from depression from witnessing her fathers prolonged illness. Robert thought everyday not doing mathematics was a day lost and couldn’t imagine “ the work you lost, the ideas you didn’t have, discoveries you never made because you were moping in your bed at four in the afternoon. ( Auburn 9).
Catherine and Robert seem to have different aspirations in life, Robert wants to discover new mathematical equations when Catherine wants to just relax. While we are lead to believe that Catherine is lazy we get glimpses of her talent for numbers. We see that Catherine is brilliant through the eyes of her father when he says “ Even your depression is mathematical. Stop moping and get to work. The kind of potential you have”( Auburn 10). Robert understands that Catherine has great potential to discover long elegant equations, but refuses to do so for some unspecific reason.
Auburn then changes the spotlight from Catherine to Robert when Catherine asks her father if his worked changed after he got sick. This is the first time David Auburn mentioned anything about an illness. Auburn leads us to believe that Catherine who recently turned 25 is worried that she might to develop this same debilitating mental illness as her father. Auburn shows this when Catherine asks Robert how old he was when it all started. Robert goes on to say “mid-twenties. Twenty- three, four. Is that what you are worried about? ” ( Auburn 11).
We see that Catherine is terrified that if she tries to do the same work her father did she to will go mad. Robert goes on to comfort Catherine by stating “ Crazy people don’t sit around wondering if they’re nuts”. ( Auburn 12). Catherine then goes to argue with Robert that his reasoning is incorrect because he was crazy and he admitted it, but Robert we then learn that Robert is also dead. This is the first time in David Auburn’s play that the reader’s feel that both Catherine and Robert are and did suffer from a unidentified mental illness.
David Auburn leads us to believe that his main protagonist, Robert, has a sever illness called schizophrenia, but we aren’t sure. We notice that Robert has isolated himself and is very much set-aside from the real world. We notice Roberts’s life change from his brilliant mathematician/ college professor to an insane “graphomaniac”(Auburn 15). Catherine goes on and explains to Hal that Robert’s work has no connections to mathematical greatness, but to the same level as a “monkey at a typewriter. ”( Auburn 15). When Hal says he is “ prepared to look at every page.
” (Auburn 15), Catherine says “ no. I’m not crazy”(Auburn 15). This is significant because we as readers question if Catherine is really saying that to Hal or trying to convince herself that she isn’t crazy. We get an idea that Catherine is crazy to. As Robert’s struggle with schizophrenia continues he starts to exemplify some bizarre habits. We aren’t introduced to Robert’s true madness until Catherine comes home from college to visit him. We get the image of a man sitting outside on a cold Chicago winter night without a jacket complaining that the excruciating heat inside the house.
We aren’t told specifically that Robert has schizophrenia but we are lead to believe that he is suffering from it. “Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that has affected people throughout history”(Schizophrenia). Schizophrenia impacts about 1% of the United Stated Population. Even though schizophrenia isn’t common it still impacts millions of peoples lives each year. Robert exemplifies a lot of the same characteristics a patient who is diagnosed with schizophrenia is having. Many people diagnosed with schizophrenia feel
that someone or something wants to harm them. They have a very hard time telling what is real and what is not. Many people with the disorder are terrified of the imaginary people that they withdraw themselves from day to day activity. In Proof Robert “believed that aliens were sending him messages through the Dewey decimal numbers on the library books. He was trying to work out the code. ”(Pg 19) Robert is showing how mentally unstable he is. He is having a hard time telling the difference from what is real and what is not.
Robert also struggled with his normal everyday to day routine, leaving a burden on Catherine. Catherine was forced to leave her brilliance based down from Robert and take care of him. When patients are diagnosed with schizophrenia they have a hard time retaining normal day-to-day activities so they rely on other family and friends for help, for Robert, his help came from Catherine. This leaving a terrible burden on Catherine. Robert clearly was mentally unstable and should have been placed in a mental institution with professionals that could have properly treated him.
If Catherine had put him in an institution she would have been able to continue on with her schooling and at her fathers brilliance to good work. Her father also may have been able to be cured because of the significant evolve of research on schizophrenia and other mental health issues. As a reader I question Catherine’s decision because I believe that she feared that if she placed her father in an institution Claire, her sister, would try and place Catherine in an institution also. Again that is the whole reason Claire wants Catherine to move back to New York City with her.
Auburn leads his readers to question if Catherine “ Dropped out of school” (Auburn 19) to stay and take care of her father, or because she was afraid that she was starting to develop similar symptoms her father had Even though we aren’t told specifically what Roberts’s mental disorder is, we are lead to believe that it is schizophrenia. Robert has exemplified most to all of the symptoms of schizophrenia in many ways. Robert should have been placed in proper care with proper guidance and treatment. With the proper help Catherine could have been able to continue with her studies and move on with her life.