Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dramatic Elements Found in Two of Lillian Hellman's Books

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Every play written uses dramatic elements. The main dramatic elements are plot, character, theme, and language. Lillian Hellman, who wrote The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forrest, incorporates these elements skillfully in both of her plays. The plays are set during the spring of 100 and take place in the Deep South part of the United States. The first one written, The Little Foxes, is actually set twenty years after the other play, Another Part of the Forest. Just as every other play, the Little Foxes has included the dramatic elements in her play, particularly the plot, character, and language that all incorporate an underlying theme of greed.

The character, which includes the physiological and psychological makeup of each person in the play, properly incorporated the greed and oppression of the time. Ben and Oscar are brothers who are possessive, scheming, and greedy individuals. These two characters make the play very interesting. Both brothers’ physiological makeup fit the play perfectly. This is because Ben tires to look like a nice guy on the outside but has only one motive that drives his character. This motive is money. He will do anything to get his cotton mill deal to go through. Then there is Oscar. He is also a lot like Ben, but on the surface not as nice. Because of these two characters, the rest of the characters feed of their hatred and ulterior motives. Another character is Leo who is a weak unprincipled son of Oscar and Birdie. This character is not emotionally strong compared to Ben or Oscar, but still has a very well written part. Birdie is then obviously Oscar’s wife. Birdie has one of the most complex characters in the whole play. Her psychological make up is very complex. Her character has very quick mood changes and subsequently does not seem like she has much power in the physiological makeup of the whole group. Next, there is Regina, who is married to Horace and a sister of Oscar and Ben. She undoubtedly has the most devious psychological makeup of all the other characters put together. She has a very cold heart towards her husband. This was the most thoroughly created character in the whole play although it was also the most troubled character. Every line that she said was written for a specific purpose and was usually only to help herself. Married to Regina is Horace. Horace’s character was a very weak and sick old man. Although his part was written beautifully, he should have been a bit wiser to what Regina was planning. He was almost too stereotypical of an old man to be interesting. For this reason, he became predicable by the end of the play. There were also two servants in the house, whose parts although small, added a real sense of the racial conflict of the time. These characters were perfectly created with their physiological and psychological attributes that added the extra tension for the time. Horace and Regina also had a daughter. Her name was Alexandra. Her character was also built really well, except that she was too passive and did not react as well as she should have while Regina mentally destroyed Horace. Lastly, there is the brief appearance of the character named Mr. Marshall. This character although very small was created extremely well. Just like Ben and Oscar, he had only one thing on his mind. Although his ulterior motive was greed, he hid that very well while he pretended to have a good time making friends with the family. Then when it came down to business, he was very keen and right to the point. Greed.

Not only are the characters created exceptionally well, but the plot of the Little Foxes was also very beautifully planed out and written with the underlying theme of greed showing up throughout it. This is a major strength of the play. This play takes place in a little picturesque home in the South of the US with a prosperous but oppressive family during the spring of 100. This is where the tension starts to build. The play starts out with a family gathering. The audience finds out at the end of this gathering that Ben’s ambition is to erect a cotton mill. Ben and Oscar have two thirds of the money and are looking for a third party to put up the rest of the money that they need. They are hoping though that the missing money will come from Horace, who was in a hospital for the past five months in Baltimore with a heart condition. After the dinner party, the men start to talk about their money problems with their sister Regina and try to get her interested in the deal. They figure that once she is hooked, that she would get Horace to come home and they would get their money. The brothers have said that they have tried to get in touch with Horace by writing him, but the letters Horace sends back never have anything mentioning the money. Regina then sends her daughter Alexandra to get her dad from Baltimore. Regina tells Alexandra that Horace is not sick anymore and is ready to come home. Although Alexandra goes, she is still real skeptic about his condition. She still doesn’t believe that Horace is strong enough to come home. Once Horace walks into the door at home, he is tormented by his relatives within the first hour about the cotton mill, but he refuses to commit his money. Desperate for the money, Leo and his father Oscar, plan for Leo to “borrow” eighty thousand dollars worth of bonds form Horace’s safe-deposit box. Leo is a banker at the bank where Horace keeps, therefore he knows where Horace’s safe deposit box is that contains all Horace’s money. However, knowing that his life would be short lived, Horace got the box brought home to him to check it out. Horace usually looks at the box only once every six months. If that were the case, then Leo could have put all the bonds back by the time that Horace was suppose to get the box because Leo would have made at least that much money back from the mill. However since Horace retrieved the box early, he discovered the theft and informed his wife that he willed the bonds to her so it would be her problem instead of his. He promises to say nothing about the theft, calling it a loan. Regina then starts talking about their painful and dysfunctional life together, causing Horace to have a very severe heart attack. Fumbling with his medicine, he drops it. Regina then refuses to get his other medicine from upstairs, hoping that the efforts of him climbing the stars would prove fatal, and sure enough, they did. Regina then blackmails her brothers into giving her 75% of the cotton mill shares for the money that Leo put up. This is instead of the brothers planned 1/%. If the brothers didn’t give her the 75%, then she would reveal the theft of the bonds. However, one final ingenious point was brought up by Ben asking Regina, “What was a man in a wheelchair doing on a staircase?” (The Little Foxes pg. 77) This ending is probably the plays biggest strength. The audience thinks that Regina will get away with her husband’s murder but then with only a few pages left Ben revels that line. Overall, the plot of this play is very well written. There is not a dull moment in the play, and all the action and every major plot point is positioned perfectly.

The Little Foxes is a very complex play, but the underlying theme is very simple - Greed and oppression. Firstly, the greed is seen from the very first scene when Mr. Marshall is at dinner with the family. Then when the men start to talk business, all anybody wants to do is to get rich. It is especially obvious for the character of Regina. She is very self-centered and greedy. This is why she watches her husband die. The main reason why Horace doesn’t want to give his money to build the cotton mill is because he’s “sick” of exploiting black people. Although he did before, Horace now feels that that it is wrong that he doesn’t want to have a part in it anymore. Horace feels that he has enough money, but Regina doesn’t care about anything except that she wants even more. Then Regina goes over the top and gets even more greedy and blackmails her own brothers for a bigger share of the mill. She attains the power to do this because once Horace died, she could then say that the bonds were stolen by Leo instead of what lent, which was Horace was going to say to save Leo the trouble. Although Leo did steal the bonds, Horace was going to say that he lent them to Leo so he wouldn’t get in trouble. Therefore, Regina now wants 75% of the mill for the money that she put up. The play’s strength is shown in this area because the underlying theme of Greed ties everything perfectly together. Although every play has an underlying theme, some are harder to see than others and therefore sometime the theme gets lost in the story. This play was well written because the theme did not get lost and there was no way that one could miss it. Secondly, the theme of oppression, although not as prominent as greed, was still there. Since the play takes place in 100, there were still parts of the south that used slavery. Since the blacks were still being oppressed in these areas there were still problems that the addressed. An example of this oppression was when Cal talked to Oscar about Oscar’s over hunting. Cal was stating how Oscar just shoots the animals and does not even take them home to eat them. He just shoots them for the fun of it, not for the necessity of food. Cal then states that the black people haven’t tasted meat since the cotton picking was over. Oscar replies by saying that if he finds any “nigger” hunting that Cal knows what would happen. In other words, the black person found hunting would be killed. The main issues of this play are greed and oppression.

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Lastly, the language of a play does not only include words, but it also includes gestures, costumes, sounds, lighting moods, intentions, and meanings that also further the theme of greed. The writing of the play is beautiful and is one of the major strengths of the play. The spoken language was written with a southern accent, which was also very well done. All the characters also speak in their different social class styles. For example, the servants speak with very poor grammar and then on the other hand, Ben or Mr. Marshall speak in a very dignified manner. Besides the spoken language, the play has many written stage direction which almost all highlight the characters’ ideas. Since though there are so many stage directions though, one has to be careful to make sure that they all further and enhance the plot of the play. The intentions and meanings of the language also came through exceptionally clear. From the very beginning of the play, the reader knows exactly what every character’s ulterior motive is and almost every character has one. Because of the very clear character makeup, this enhances all themes, meanings, and intentions of the play and characters.

Lillian Hellman, who wrote The Little Foxes, does a brilliant job of using the main dramatic elements in her play. Although there are a few weaknesses in the dramatic elements, there are not nearly enough to hinder the brilliance of the character, plot, theme, and language of the play.

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