The Value of Normality


The theme of .uncertainty about what is .normal・ and the value of normality in contrast to the value of individuality・ is fairly prominent in Equus and Shaffer seems to what the audience to question their definition of what is considered .normal・ in society. The theme of .what is normal・ is explored primarily through the abnormal structure of Alan・s faith in .Equus・ as this can be broken down in terms of the various influences that he has encountered in his life, such as his mother・s religious ideas and the cowboys that he saw in Westerns when he was a child. In this way, Shaffer may be trying to express the idea that these influences, de-individualise people by making them have unified beliefs, creating normality.


This reveals another aspect of normality, which is that it・s boring and monotonous. This aspect is primarily conveyed by Dysart, who is consistently portrayed as being envious of Alan・s vitality and passion, but is prevented from celebrating what he loves (Ancient Greek culture) because of his wife・s disapproval. This in turn makes Dysart question his profession as a psychiatrist. Clearly at points he seems to feel that by .curing・ these .abnormal・ patients - people who are passionate, free and are individuals - he is taking away their souls and making them boring, dispassionate people who can fit into society. As a result he seems internally torn: if he .cures・ Alan, he makes him normal and takes away his pain, but he also will end up turning him into a boring person so he fits into society. This dilemma is left unresolved at the end of the play as if this is a question that Shaffer wants us as the audience to be left with.







:Any literalism which could suggest the cosy familiarity of a domestic animal - or worse, a pantomime horse - should be avoided;

This idea of normality is firstly challenged through the costumes, in particular the horse masks that are worn by the Chorus members to represent a horse. Shaffer makes it clear with this quotation that the actors must make sure that they do not literally look or act like a horse. This .abnormality・ makes the audience question what is considered normal in the theatre as, clearly, this form of acting differs from the more common Naturalistic form of acting. This in turn may begin to get the audience thinking about what they consider to be normal.



:Yet I handle children・s heads;

Dysart・s monologue in the beginning of the play shows the audience his internal conflict. He doubts the purpose and affect of his occupation, as Alan shows that :he lives one hour every three weeks; (81), and what society considers abnormal, he considers life.



:Extremity's the point;

Social normality is a medium point, a kind of compromise that is inevitably going to occupy some sort of middle ground. However, although Alan・s behavior may seem psychotic to society, his extreme actions make sense within the framework of his own belief system and it is this coherence that make his beliefs such a successful challenge to what we usually consider normal. Through presenting a range of extreme actions (the blinding of the horses, Alan・s self-flagellation, Alan・s orgasmic riding of Nugget at the end of Act One) as comprehensible and not too divorced from actions that we consider normal, Shaffer seems to call into question our cosy definitions of normality and our confidence that we know what this word means.



:No - just a fifteen-year-old schizophrenic, and a girl of eight thrashed into catatonia by her father. Normal, really...You・re in a state;

This quotation from Dysart reveals how malleable our conceptions of the normal are. Shaffer begins the play by challenging the concept of the normal in a straight-forward way that we can all understand: being a psychiatrist, Dysart is engulfed in a world with patients who are deemed .abnormal・ by society but he has slowly become inured to the horrors that he sees around him. The tone of voice conveys a dry cynicism in him and the difference between Dysart・s .normal day・ and our own only serves to further emphasise the way in which our definitions normal may vary from situation to situation.



:That・s stupid. Horses don・t talk.;

This quotation from Alan occurs after Dysart confronts him about the tape recording where he reveals small details of his faith in .Equus・ and of the first time he rode a horse. From here, we can see that there is also internal struggle within Alan as it seems like he is aware of what is considered .normal・ by society and wants to be accepted.



:What am I trying to do with him?;

This quotation from Dysart in conversation with Hesther reveals how unsatisfying he finds his job as a psychiatrist. This is primarily the result of his growing internal conflict about whether .curing・ these patients who are socially unacceptable but passionate and and devoted individuals, is actually the right thing to do. Dysart questions the value of normality here as he admires the passion that Alan pertains.



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

This line is part of Dysart・s argument that it is not morally right to :treat; Alan in order to make him more .normal・ and thereby integrate him into society. Dysart is able to see that Alan is experiencing a level of passion that he cannot enjoy and here he is mocking the normal conception of .normal・. By focusing on superficial and obvious features such as the number of heads a normal person has, Shaffer seems to be implying that normality is a relatively superficial concept that misses the really core truths about what makes a person who they are.



:Spirits of certain trees, certain curves of brick wall, certain chip shops, if you like, and slate roofs - just as of certain frowns in people and slouches・ ... I・d say to them - .Worship as many as you can see - and more will appear!・;


This quotation suggests that the world is full of subjects fit for worship and implies that it is an impoverished society that believes in only one god. Ultimately, Shaffer seems to be suggesting that the thing that we have fixed on as the only acceptable for subject for worship is one among many equally valid objects of devotion.



:The Normal is the good smile in a child・s eyes - all right. It is also the dead stare in a million adults.;

This quotation further questions the value of normality as opposed to individuality. By personifying .Normal・, Shaffer makes it seem as if normality is a god-like figure that society believes in. With this quotation, he・s expressing to the audience that the free and individual minds of children eventually conform to society and become boring, and lack passion in their life, which further suggests the internal struggle that Dysart feels about his career.



:My compassion is honest. I have honestly assisted children in this room. I have talked away terrors and relieved many agonies. But also - beyond question - I have cut from them parts of individuality repugnant to this God, in both his aspects.;


This quotation is one of the moments that best reveals Dysart・s uncertainty about the value of the normal. The aggressive use of .cut・ and .repugnant・ suggests the violence that he feels he is doing to these children and yet he does admit that he does feel sympathy for them and he realizes that, along with their individuality, he has taken away their terrors and enabled them to live happier lives.


:Sacrifices to Zeus took at the most, surely, sixty seconds each. Sacrifices to the Normal can take as long as sixty months.;


By capitalising the .N・ in .Normal・, Shaffer personifies normality as a god, much like Zeus. The fact that sacrifices to the Normal take so much longer than to Zeus implies the long and drawn-out nature of the process and implies the suffering involved.


:His pain. His own. He made it.;

Alan・s religion is :the core of his life; (81), he created a religion that excludes him from the norm and while this is painful, Dysart sees sanity and individuality in Alan. Alan :has known a passion more ferocious than [Dysart] has ever felt in any second of [his] life; (82), and unlike Dysart, Alan has lived. Despite the suffering Alan undergone in society・s eyes, Alan created pain and can therefore :go through life and call it [his]; (82). Our normal response to pain is to avoid it but here Dysart seems to be telling us that embracing pain (in this case the pain of being an outcast) is of fundamental importance in order to fully live a life.



:[HESTHER speaks from her place.]

HESTHER: The boy・s in pain, Martin.


HESTHER: And you can take it away.


HESTHER: Then that has to be enough for you, surely? . . . In the end?;


Hesther is similar to many of the other mainstream characters in that she has a fairly conventional definition of .normal・. Although this contrasts with Dysart・s insightful and persuasive view it is hard to dismiss Hesther entirely as there is a simple and undeniable logic in the idea that taking away pain has to be an obviously good thing, no matter how much of the world is uncertain.


Ultimately, this leaves the reader uncertain at the end of the play. No matter how convincing Dysart has been, we are still left with the nagging assertion that Hesther has at least some kind of point. Thus the audience is forced to explore these questions for themselves with and we are left with a sense that, although Dysart has made a powerful case, the answer to the question of whether it is better to live a pain-free or a passionate life is still unresolved.