The Self Doubt and Internal Conflict Created when Value Systems Clash


This theme is relevant throughout the play ¡§Equus¡¨ but is most prominent in the character Dysart because he doubts the validity of his profession and whether he is actually helping his patients instead of stripping them of their passion and what defines them. This internal conflict is brought on by the clash in value systems between Alan¡¦s faith in Equus, Dysart¡¦s own desire for a life that evokes the grandeur of Classical Greece and his commitment to the ¡¥cult of the normal¡¦ as a psychiatrist ¡K it becomes increasingly clear throughout the play that Dysart is part of a system with which he is rapidly growing disillusioned. These clashes are also significant because they make the audience more aware that there are competing value systems and one is not necessarily correct.


Other examples of this clash can be found in the contrast between the value systems of Alan¡¦s mother and father and it is this clash that ultimately prompts Alan to develop a value system which is a combination of elements taken from the competing ideologies that he is exposed to. In some ways Alan then can be viewed as an embodiment of the tension created when different value systems compete for prominence within an individual.


The clash between value systems is also present, albeit to a lesser extent, in A View From a Bridge. Here Alfieri can see the merits of both the rule of law associated with Manhattan, and the honor system among Brooklyn immigrants. Eddie also has trouble with his values, as his feelings for Catherine could easily be confused for paternal protectiveness and this is what eventually drives him towards betrayal of Marco and Rudolpho. A further, although very brief example of the clash between value systems, comes in Marco¡¦s discussion with Alfieri when he is in prison where he expresses bewilderment at the lack of ¡¥justice¡¦ that he sees following Eddie¡¦s betrayal.







¡§The thing is, I¡¦m desperate. You see, I¡¦m wearing that horse¡¦s head myself. That¡¦s the feeling. All reined up in old language and old assumptions, straining to jump clean hoofed onto a whole new track of being I only suspect is here.¡¨

The horse¡¦s head acts as a metaphorical symbol of control implying that even someone as insightful as Dysart is so ¡¥reined up¡¦ by the ideas that he has developed over the course of his normal life that he is unable to live (or even really conceive of) living another kind of life. The most interesting element of this quotation is that Dysart¡¦s language (perhaps representative of his thought processes and his whole understanding of reality) is associated with the ¡¥old¡¦, restrictive system. It is as if the tools of language and habits of thiought that he has picked up in his ¡¥normal¡¦ life are controlling Dysart to such an extent that he will never be able to break free of them.



The doubts have been there for years, piling up steadily in this dreary place. It¡¦s only the extremity of this case that¡¦s made them active. I know that. The extremity is the point!


Dysart confesses that the inner desire within him to abandon his inauthentic life in order to purse his personal passion and faith has been a burden for a long time but that the extreme and radical nature of Alan¡¦s case has brought these doubts to a head.




Then, with a surgical skill, which amazes even me, I fit in the knife and slice elegantly down to the navel, just like a seamstress following a pattern.

This dream represents the way in which Dysart has become increasingly disillusioned with the work that he has been doing as a psychiatrist. Initially (presumably earlier in his career) Dysart perhaps fancied himself as an expert with precise and well honed skills but now the fact that Dysart narrates his own actions almost from the perspective of an observer creates a set of distance which implies that he is no longer as at home in his role as he was previously. His discomfort becomes increasingly clear as the dream progresses and he becomes literally (suggesting metaphorically) sick of his job ¡¥carving up children¡¦.



¡§It¡¦s this unique talent for carving that has got me where I am... And with each victim, it¡¦s getting worse. My face is going green behind the mask.¡¨

This quotation shows the internal conflict that Dysart faces as a result of his profession. He struggles with the idea that ¡§fixing¡¨ children and transforming them into someone that society would view as ¡§normal¡¨. After Dysart begins working on Alan¡¦s case and familiarizes himself with Alan¡¦s value systems, he realizes that perhaps the ¡§abnormal¡¨ people are living lives that are in some ways more fulfilling or rewarding than the lives of ¡¥normal¡¦ people. As a result, Dysart seems to be coming to the conclusion that in order to transform his patients into ¡§normal¡¨ people he has to strip them of their passion.



¡§It¡¦s exactly like being accused. Violently accused.¡¨

This quotation is referring to the accusation in Alan¡¦s stare and is essentially what begins Dysart¡¦s self doubt about the validity of his profession. Dysart interprets Alan¡¦s stare as accusing him of not being passionate which shows the clash in value systems and the internal conflict evoked in Dysart as a result.



¡§if you receive my meaning¡¨

This phrase, which is usually associated with Frank, creates the impression that he is putting on a façade to impress the people around him. The phrase seems to be meant to imply a seriousness about Frank and his views and to invite agreement from others although ultimately the pompous sounding emptiness of the phrase actually reveals Frank¡¦s self doubt, perhaps as result of his working class background and the implied inferiority that he feels in the presence of Dora and her more upper class family.



ALAN [singing]: Double Diamond works wonders,

works wonders, works wonders!

The tunes that Alan sings from commercials suggest the clash between his mother¡¦s and his father¡¦s views about television. The fact that he seems to use these songs to bait and provoke people reflect the way in which they may have been a source of tension at home.



No one ever says to cowboys ¡¥Receive my meaning¡¦! They wouldn¡¦t dare! Or ¡¥God¡¦ all the time (mimicking his mother.) ¡¥God sees you Alan. God¡¦s got eyes everywhere-¡¦

Here we see how Alan truly feels about his parent¡¦s influence and there is a sense of internal conflict here as even though he adopts many of their beliefs and habits we see that their nagging and influence does bother him.


A further, more extreme, example of this conflict can be seen when Alan blinds six horses, because he is ashamed and worried that they witnessed him about to have sex with Jill.



"If I had a son, I bet you he'd come out exactly like his mother. Utterly worship-less."

This accentuates the sense of internal conflict associated with Dysart and his realization that the life he lives, lacks of passion in contrast to Alan. This quotation contrasts with his later admission to Hester that he is in fact a failure as a ¡¥pagan¡¦ and this moment in the play emphasizes his internal conflict as it suggests that, at this point, Dysart is unable to admit that his daydreams about Ancient Greece are no more meaningful or passionate than Margaret¡¦s knitting of socks.



¡§I wish there was just one person in my life I could show.¡¨

This emphasizes Dysart¡¦s own struggle to have his values acknowledged, in the light his wife¡¦s dismissal of his longing to live a life inspired by the epic histories of Ancient Greece. In some ways this suggests a parallel between Dysart and Alan as the value systems of both characters remain unvalidated by other people.



"You mean a normal boy has one head: a normal head has two ears?"

As a result of his exposure to Alan¡¦s value system (and presumably many others before) Dysart realizes that the difference between ¡¥normality¡¦ and ¡¥abnormality¡¦ might not be as clear-cut as we normally think. This quotation also suggests that, to him, normality is a concept that is as superficial and simple as having two ears and two eyes.



¡§The Normal is the indispensable, murderous God of Health, and I am his Priest.¡¨

Reveals the ambivalence of Dysart¡¦s attitude towards his profession, and the idea of ¡¥the normal¡¦. On the one hand, the derisory, condemnatory tone here suggests Dysart¡¦s awareness of the detrimental effect that ¡¥normality¡¦ can have on people but this is juxtaposed with the fact that ¡¥the Normal¡¦ is also described as being indispensible.



"He wants a way to speak. To finally tell me what happened in that stable"

The tension between Alan¡¦s reluctance to confide in Dysart and his desire to tell the truth implies that he too, like Dysart, is experiencing a kind of internal conflict, perhaps torn between loyalty to Equus and the longing to be ¡¥normal¡¦ and fit in with everyone else.



"He's a modern citizen for whom society doesn't exist."  

This quotation clearly suggests the way in which Alan¡¦s values and beliefs clash with those of everyone else. This tension is emphasized by the contrast between being a modern citizen and yet one who does not belong to society. The explicit reference to Alan as a ¡¥modern citizen¡¦ may also suggest that, to some degree, he is representative of all of us, and idea that may be being used by Shaffer to make the audience consider more closely the similarities between their beliefs and those of Alan despite the superficial differences.



whispering: ¡¥Mine!... You¡¦re mine!... I am yours and you are mine!¡¦... Then I see his eyes. They are rolling! [Nugget begins to advance slowly, with relentless hooves, down the central tunnel] ¡¥I see you.  I see you.  Always! Everywhere! Forever!¡¦


[in terror]: Eyes!... White eyes - never closed! Eyes like flames - coming - coming!... God seest! God seest!... NO!... Equus... Noble Equus... Faithful and True... Godslave... Thou - God - Seest - NOTHING!


Clearly the sense of terror and anger here suggests Alan¡¦s deeply disturbed state of mind and reveals the way in which, despite being devoted to Equus, he is also afraid of him. This is therefore, a clear example of how Alan is being torn apart by the demands that his conflicting value systems are placing on him.


The end of the play is also a clear example of how the play ultimately leaves us without an answer to the question of whether it is better to live a pain-free or a passionate life. Although Dysart clearly finds Alan¡¦s devotion to a strange god attractive, Alan, for his part, seems to wish to be normal and at points such as these, even seems to be terrified by the deity he has created. By the end of the play Dysart seems to believe in Equus more than Alan does and this leaves us wondering whether living a painful but passionate life is really as attractive an option as Dysart has made it out to be.



Comparisons with ¡¥A View from the Bridge¡¦






¡§Now we settle for half, and I like it better. I no longer keep a pistol in my filing cabinet. And my practice is entirely unromantic.¡¨


Although this quotation at first glance suggests that Alfieri is secure in his choice of value system, this sense of certainty is later undermined by his romantic depiction of Sicily and ¡¥some Caesar¡¦s time¡¦ and the sense that, at points, he is convincing himself that ¡¥it must be¡¦ better to live this kind of life rather than truly believing it.



¡§He¡¦s stealing from me!¡¨

This quotation demonstrates Eddie¡¦s possessiveness of Catherine, which suggests the confusion of value systems as this can be interpreted as both fatherly protectiveness and sexual jealousy.



¡§When the law is wrong it¡¦s because it¡¦s unnatural, but in this case it is natural and a river will drown you if you buck it now.¡¨

Alfieri understands Eddie¡¦s internal struggle between his two value systems and the powerful imagery of being crushed by a river suggests how destructive it can be when value systems conflict.




¡§gesturing with his hand - this is a new idea: Then what is done with a man?¡¨

One final, more subtle example of the conflict between values systems comes with Marco¡¦s comment which implies that he simply cannot comprehend the existence of a system of justice other than the Sicilian code of honor. His puzzled confusion here perhaps suggest how ¡¥obvious¡¦ each individual¡¦s own belief system seems to them ¡¥from the inside¡¦.