Character Tracking – Dora Strang


Character Description:

Dora is the mother of Alan Strang, wife to Frank, and is initially seen to be quite a loving figure. She is presented as a very religious Christian, and although she claims not to pressure Alan into following her faith it is clear that she constantly ‘feeds’ him religious ideas through reading excerpts from the Bible and in her attitudes to sex. She is also revealed to be a lover of horses, as she has come from an upper class and ‘horse-y family’. Finally, her actions and words throughout the play create the impression that she believes she has done her best as a parent and that she cannot be blamed for Alan’s criminal behaviour. This creates an obvious irony as it is clear to the audience that many elements of Alan’s faith in Equus are directly derived from the bedtime and Bible stories that she read to him as a child.



Quotations & Analysis:





“She’s an ex-school teacher, isn’t she?”

Being a teacher (ex or otherwise) comes with the duty of educating and informing young minds with an objective stance. Since Dora is a teacher, the same duty may be said to duty apply to her, which is ironic given the strongly religious influence she plays in Alan’s life.



“[She leads the way into the square. She is very nervous.]”

Dora is frequently portrayed as being guilty and nervous which may be used to suggest the shame she feels about Alan’s actions, either because they are socially outrageous or (less plausibly) because she is aware of her own role in shaping such an ‘abnormal’ child.



“Actually, they thought it must be a god.”

Through this anecdote which Dora shared with Alan when he was a child, Shaffer reveals how easily we can be influenced by the arbitrary and accidental influences that we are exposed to in the world as it becomes clear later on that the fusion of man and horse and the idea of the horse as God are both fundamental features of Alan’s faith in Equus.



"What the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve over"

This quotation, although presumably delivered with in a tone of motherly indulgence, may also be read more tentatively to reveal how she is possibly only worried about what she and others see, especially in relation to Alan. There is a sense that she is cold and potentially distant from the issues that Alan really faces. There is also a sense of hypocrisy here because while she says there is no harm in Alan watching TV, she also seems to mind when Frank tries to instill his beliefs in Alan. 



“Alan was fascinated by that word, I know. I suppose because he’d never come across one with two ‘u’s together before”

This quotation accentuates the fact that Dora is seemingly unaware of the effect her teachings are having on Alan and it also reinforces the idea that Alan’s faith has taken the shape that it has as the result of a series of accidents and arbitrary events, such as the (usually insignificant fact) that the word Equus has to ‘u’s. This once again reveals how Alan’s value system (and perhaps ours as well) is subject to chance and is not necessarily as well-founded as it seems ‘from the inside’



“something of an obsession with him”

The fact that Dora, a highly religious person, is calling Frank’s beliefs (in this case about whether or not Alan should watch television) “an obsession” implies an intolerance (albeit mild) of other belief systems and thus in turn suggests a degree of unintentional hypocrisy here as Dora seems to be unaware that her own beliefs could also be described as ‘an obsession’ as they are as deeply held as Frank’s and as influential in the development of Alan’s character.



Frank: Call it what you like. All that stuff to me is just bad sex.


Dora: And what has that got to do with Alan?


Frank: Everything!...[seriously] Everything, Dora!

This quotation reveals Dora to be a protective mother of Alan as, opposed to Frank who blames his behavior on her teachings of Biblical values, she insists none of this is related to Alan’s ‘insanity’. On the other hand, her protective actions could also be tentatively viewed as an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for Alan’s behavior. It is also clear that Frank in some ways has a better understanding of Alan as it is he who saw Alan thrashing himself in front of his picture of Equus and also he who caught Alan and Jill at the skin-flick.



“Sex is not just a biological matter, but spiritual as well. That if God willed, he would fall in love one day”

Clearly here we see that Dora’s teachings are strongly influenced by her faith and as such we see that Dora, like so many of the other characters in the play, are consciously or unconsciously influencing the development of Alan’s outlook on the world.


This quotation may also be read as expressing the hopes she once had for Alan’s future, as any hopeful (and subsequently disappointed) mother might.




“Frank - the boy’s hurt!”

“Frank, he’s bleeding!”

The initial interpretation of this quotation is that Dora is a far more caring parent than Frank as she is concerned with Alan’s well-being while Frank is more concerned with berating the ‘upper class riff-raff’ of a horseman who took Alan riding without permission. Dora’s attention to Alan contrasts positively with Frank’s pompous and ineffective attempts to scold the rider, which perhaps suggest his own nagging sense of inferiority having come from a lower class family.


However, it could more tentatively be argued that there is also a sense of coldness in her use of "the boy" rather than Alan’s name. In light of the quotation ‘What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over’ (31), it could be argued that Shaffer is here suggesting that Dora is concerned more with projecting the correct image of parental care than she is with Alan himself. Although tentative this is reiterated on page 45, when she chooses not to see Alan on her visit to the institute where he is staying. 


Finally, the repetition of Frank’s name also shows her dependency on him.



"Dora: [amused]"

This stage direction occurs just after Alan has been dragged off the horse by Frank. She is amused by the way in which he has been covered in sand and sea-spray by the galloping horseman and this amusement at her husband’s expense may further suggest tensions at home and the uneasy (at times) relationship between Frank and Dora.



“I can’t stay more than a moment. I’m late as it is. Mr. Strang will be wanting his dinner.”

This quotation reinforces the impression created of Dora as a housewife who has plays the typically subservient role in her family. However, we may also sense an air of guilt her as she proffers a convenient lie about being ‘shopping in the neighbourhood’ or having to get home to prepare dinner. This sense of guilt may arise from the fact that she is here without Frank, suggesting tensions at home, or the shame she feels for being the mother of a child convicted of such a horrific crime.



“I don’t believe in interfering too much with children, so I said nothing.”

There is a heavy irony here in that, although Dora seems to be very caring and lenient towards Alan does, it is clear that she has (perhaps unknowingly) has a very profound influence on Alan’s belief system. This quotation is in reference to the picture of Christ and it is clear that she was the one who introduced Alan to the idea of both Christianity and horses and yet when he fuses these two elements into his own faith acts upon it she seems to disown him. In addition, after introducing Alan to Christ she also fails to moderate his beahviour when he purchases a clearly provocative picture. In some senses Dora may be seen as avoiding some of the more difficult responsibilities of parenting as she is happy to talk about her own values (even in regards to sex) but unwilling to talk about issues with which she is uncomfortable.



 “Well, it’s most extraordinary. It comes out all eyes.”

This quotation does not necessarily add to the characterization of Dora but definitely adds an irony to the picture of the horse in Alan’s room as it is “all eyes”, implying it is always looking or observing Alan, in the same way that a Christian might claim that God sees everything. This obviously accentuates the parallels between Christianity and Alan’s faith in Equus and creates a sense of pressure that perhaps ultimately explains why he stabs the eyes of the horses in the stable.


Interestingly this also echoes the way that on page 46 Dysart says he feels real alarm and a sense that there is the shadow of a giant head across his own desk. This may simply suggest that he is just beginning to piece together what happened to Alan but it may also imply that Dysart also feels haunted by a similar God that is always watching him. Perhaps the alarm he feels is less for Alan and more for himself as he can sense his commitment to ‘the normal’ becoming increasingly challenged.




Dora’s Role in the play:

In Equus, Shaffer uses the character Dora to act as one representation of a socially acceptable belief system and also to demonstrate how easily influenced Alan (and all of us) are by outside beliefs and our upbringing as she began telling him stories from the Bible at a very early age, specifically excerpt from the book of Job about the thunderous horses and the bedtime story that personified the horse “Prince”. The unintentional nature of the effect that she has on Alan reveals how impressionable we all are and how all of our belief systems may be the result of such arbitrary and accidental influences.


Dora’s is also portrayed as an overprotective and over-caring mother for Alan and her Christian values contrast sharply with Frank’s fervent atheism and socialism. The presence of these two polarising forces in Alan’s life enable Shaffer to explore how individuals can be affected when they are torn between two competing world views.


Finally, there is also a sense in which she can be read as hypocritical and concerned more with appearance than with the actual difficulties of parenting and the fact that she clearly has had a role to play in shaping Alan and making him into the person that he has become.