Six Degrees Of Separation Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “Six Degrees Of Separation” by John Guare includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 10 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Imagination and Family.
As the play opens, a double-sided Kandinsky painting revolves above the stage, alternating between a vibrant side and a somber side. Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, a rich, middle-aged couple, come on stage and frantically tell the audience about the events of the previous evening. They had invited an extremely rich friend, Geoffrey, to dinner so that Flan, an art dealer, could borrow two million dollars to buy a Cezanne painting.
Before they can leave for the restaurant, the doorman shows in Paul, a young black man who has been beaten and stabbed. Paul claims to attend Harvard with the Kittredges’ children and offers several details of their lives that seem to support this claim. He explains that he was mugged in the park and had his thesis stolen. He also claims to be the son of the famous actor Sidney Poitier and says that he plans to meet him in the morning.
Ouisa and Flan invite Paul to come to the restaurant with them but, instead, he insists on cooking for them. The group are pleasantly surprised by Paul’s excellent cooking and impressed with the subject of his thesis and his theories on the imagination. After such an enjoyable evening, Geoffrey is more than happy to front the money for the painting.
Ouisa and Flan are extremely grateful to Paul and, as he has apparently had his money stolen, give him fifty dollars and invite him to stay the night. However, when Ouisa enters the spare room to wake Paul the next morning, she finds him in bed with a naked man. Ouisa and Flan are outraged and force Paul and the “hustler” to leave.
When Ouisa and Flan meet another middle-aged couple, Kitty and Larkin, both couples say that they have stories to tell. It quickly becomes apparent that they have the same story, having both invited Paul into their home and then discovered a naked man in their house. They call the police, but the detective says there is no case against Paul, as nothing was stolen.
When a middle-aged man, Dr. Fine, reports a similar encounter with Paul, they realize that all of their children went to the same high school. They speak to their embarrassed, moody kids who decide that the person most likely to be involved is Trent Conway. They discover that Paul had been Trent’s lover for three months, during which time Paul had persuaded Trent to share intimate details about his old classmates which would later allow him to pretend to know them.
Sometime later, Ouisa and Flan’s doorman spits at Flan and tells him that he knows about his black son that he makes sleep in Central Park. The play jumps to Paul in the park with two young wannabe actors, Rick and Elizabeth. Paul tells them that Flan is his father but that Flan’s new wife, Ouisa, will not let him see or support Paul. They tell him that he should try and get in contact with Flan.
When Paul says that Flan has become extremely rich through selling a Cezanne painting and has agreed to support him if he can get to Maine to meet with him, Elizabeth says that they cannot afford to lend him money for the journey. However, behind Elizabeth’s back, Rick clears out their savings and gives the money to Paul. Paul takes Rick on an expensive night out, apparently using his own money to treat him. Afterwards, he seduces Rick and then leaves.
When Rick works out that Paul did not have his own money but was really spending Rick and Elizabeth’s savings, he is distraught and commits suicide by jumping off a roof. When Paul hears about Rick’s death, he calls Ouisa. She tells him to turn himself in and seek help, promising to visit him in prison and let him come work for them when he is released.
Paul asks Ouisa and Flan to take him to the police station so that he is treated with respect and not subjected to police brutality. They agree but are delayed by traffic. When they arrive, they find that Paul has already been violently arrested by the police. They cannot find out any details about his location because they are not his family and do not know his real name. The whole incident causes Ouisa to reevaluate her values and to try and live a more rewarding, active, and vital life.