Freudian analysis

The central focus of the play is on the patient–doctor relationship between Alan and Dysart. Through their dialogue, the plot and their characters unfold.

Dysart is presented as a Freudian psychiatrist, whose standard methods are to examine the childhood of his patients and to look at sexual and religious impulses. He believes that Alan’s problems are a result of his upbringing, but he is reluctant, at the end of the play, to destroy Alan’s need to have something to worship. His treatment is largely based on dialogue with his patient, using a variety of methods to encourage Alan to talk to him.


For Dysart, the psychiatric profession seems to be a placating tool with which to preserve the status quo and prevent children and young people from disrupting society’s norms. This is why Dysart talks about how the ‘normal’ is not necessarily a good thing. He accepts that psychiatry can’t always solve society’s problems, yet at the same time can destroy imagination and creativity. This is represented in Dysart’s dream about sacrifice.

Interrogation both ways

Alan claims to distrust Dysart and his ‘Nosey Parker’ analytical methods, as for example when Dysart offers him the tape-recorder to talk to. However, as their relationship grows and Alan comes to trust Dysart, it is clear that Alan thinks that psychiatry can work and enjoys the attention which his treatment allows him. 

Alan also sometimes turns the process around, and asks Dysart probing questions which expose how vulnerable the psychiatrist is. However, he does not have the experience to understand what Dysart can see – that a psychiatric dismembering may be more harmful than beneficial.


Though psychiatry is a major theme of the play, it does not, in the end, solve anything, since the final scene suggests that the ‘normal’ is not necessarily desirable for a full human life. Alan may be being treated for a psychiatric disorder, but Dysart’s conclusion is that Alan may be more sane than everyone around him.

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