What *is* Normal? An Equus Review

Less than five minutes ago, with the singing of Filipino men derailing my thoughts and rocking inside my head, I finished reading Equus. Perhaps because I am inexperienced, or well, lacking passion in my own life, I find myself at a loss for words. I realize I cannot empathize with these characters as deeply as I am capable of simply because they have their passions whereas I, again I say, do not.

But I will continue my critique out of complete respect for the elusive answer to the question Peter Shaffer poses in his play. Hopefully during the course of this review I will find an explanation (of which I’m sure there are many( to this question. Perhaps it’s like blogging, where I tend to come up with answers while writing.

The question regards the standards of society. What is normal? Or perhaps a better question: What right could anyone have to establish a standard and subject that same standard upon other people?

Dysart begins this chain of thought upon working with Alan Strang, a troubled teenager who had committed an unspeakable crime. The act performed manifests Alan’s dangerous passion for horses — a passion which Dysart must absolutely take away.

But “what then?”

The ultimate underlying question begets another question, and by the end of the play Shaffer points his metaphorical finger at every single member of the audience, demanding an explanation. When authors do this I often wonder if they know the answers themselves.

Dysart has every right to question the ethics of his career, though you would think normally when a man surrounds himself with the clinically insane, he would be able to understand why his job as society’s “repairman” is so important. And yet, the doctor himself may be diagnosed as abnormal, at least in the eyes of his wife who often criticizes his “pagan” obsession with Greek mythology.

Or take Dora and Frank, who in my  eyes, epitomize the stereotypical religious nut and invisible father figure. But when you think about it, isn’t calling one stereotypical just categorizing them under a different standard — a status quo normal in their respective categories, and yet strange in each others, or even my own? Such an issue reveals itself in the book: the power struggle between the parents, stemming from what they consider acceptable and what they consider not.

It is normal to watch television.

It is normal that exposure to television causes humans to vegetate.

Both are arguable.

Or consider a situation in which one finds a middle-aged man paying for a skinflick at the Cinema. People would expect any normal husband to get a free show from his wife. How about the idea of being the only adolescent girl watching a racy film in a theatre filled with aroused men? Not exactly normal behavior.

Yet these people are accepted in society. Dysart, though charged with maintaining what is normal, never set the standard for normalcy. As far as the reader knows, Hesther did the moment she sought Dysarts intercession with Alan. So, as Dysart questioned himself, why should a passionate though pitifully misguided boy sit in his office and be forced to be fixed? What demonizes his behavior more than the other characters in this book?

Legally speaking, Alan’s impulsive and vicious act would be reason enough to send the boy to psychiatric help. But Dysart’s justifications (which seem to be based on a higher morale) for essentially taking away parts of Alan that make him unique become lost in Dysart’s admiration for Alan’s freedom of expression.

The ending, where Dysart succumbs to the wild and unrestrained passion represented by Equus poses a possible solution to Shaffer’s proposition: people have no right. This idea of liberal expression started through the mind of a mentally unstable child, and perhaps gained its credibility when accepted by the good doctor. But still I find this explanation weak — though I find myself unable to offer anything better.

I suppose that this composition resembles nothing like a blog, since I have had no new realizations, no new interpretations of information while typing out my thoughts on this play. Just those unanswered questions remain with me, along with that invisible finger pointed directly at my chest.

I’m stepping back from this book reluctantly, completely enamored by its complexity and completely sure of my understanding of this entire story.

(featured image source)