The characterisation of Alan Strang

The big ‘why?’

It is the examination of Alan Strang and the motivation which led to his violent crime which forms the dramatic impetus of Equus. Alan is clearly a troubled young man who has problems. It is Dysart’s – and the audience’s – job to assess whether these are the inevitable result of his nurture or, as his mother suggests, his innate nature.

Whatever’s happened has happened because of Alan. Alan is himself.

The effect of nurture

As the play unfolds, we start to see how Alan’s upbringing has fuelled his distorted attitudes:

  • His mother’s overt religious beliefs and his father’s negative reaction to them has caused some conflicts for Alan
  • He has inherited a complex and repressed attitude towards sexuality from both his parents
  • He feels trapped by Frank and Dora’s attitudes and lifestyle and wants to be free.

Relational difficulties

Alan clearly has trouble forming normal relationships, as we can see in his interaction with his mother and father, and also with Jill. However, over the course of the play he comes to trust Dysart and begins to form a relationship with him, perhaps because he can see that in some ways Dysart understands - and is sympathetic to – Alan’s situation.

Religious intensity

Alan’s early religious beliefs have been replaced by his interest in horses, which becomes unhealthy and eventually violent. However, Alan believes completely in his own ‘religion’, the rituals he invents to do with the horses, and his passion is something which Dysart admires.

Fit for society?

Although Dysart’s job as a psychiatrist is to make Alan better, we are left in some doubt at the end of the play about what this will really mean and whether it will be a good thing.

Investigating the character of Alan...

  • What is your first impression of Alan?
    • How does this impression change over the course of the play?
  • To what extent do you think Alan’s problems derive from his situation (his parents, for example)?
  • What is the impact on the audience of seeing Alan re-enact the situations described by himself and others?
  • What is the effect of Alan’s sense of humour and perceptive comments as the play progresses?
  • Do you think Alan can be ‘made better’?
    • Do you think he should be?
  • Do you think Alan is the ‘hero’ of the play? Justify your response.
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