The Young Man from Atlanta
Play, 1995
American Playwright ( 1916 - 2009 )
Other Names Used: Foote, Albert Horton, Jr.; Foote, Albert Horton;
Drama for Students. Ed. Anne Marie Hacht. Vol. 20. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2005. p288-304.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
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The Young Man from Atlanta

INTRODUCTION
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
PLOT SUMMARY
CHARACTERS
THEMES
STYLE
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
CRITICAL OVERVIEW
CRITICISM
SOURCES
FURTHER READING

HORTON FOOTE
1995

INTRODUCTION

The Young Man from Atlanta was first performed by the Signature Theatre Company in New York City in 1995, as part of a four-play series of Horton Foote's work. It was the third play produced during the season, following Talking Pictures and Night Seasons. The year concluded with Laura Dennis. Publication of The Young Man from Atlanta followed in American Theatre magazine during the same year. Subsequently, multiple publishers produced copies of the play, all of which were as of 2004 out of print or required special ordering. Interestingly, three of the work's main characters, Will Kidder, Lily Dale Kidder, and Pete Davenport, are characters from Foote's earlier plays. All three characters appear in works that are a part of Foote's nine-play cycle called The Orphan's Home, which he concluded writing in the 1970s. Although Foote began writing The Young Man from Atlanta in the early 1990s, the play is often considered to be a part of the cycle because of the Kidders' and Pete's reappearance.

Foote's writing career began in the late 1930s, so The Young Man from Atlanta is obviously one of the later works in his oeuvre. As an experienced writer, Foote does not shy away from sensitive and contemporary themes. In The Young Man from Atlanta, Foote explores grief, religious faith, homosexuality, suicide, race relations, the American dream, and deceit. As Ben Brantley remarked in his 1997 review for the New York Times, Foote is "a sly, compelling quiet playwright" who "operates fromPage 289  |  Top of Article the assumption that life is a slow, steady series of unanswerable questions and losses against which there is finally no protection." According to Brantley, much of Foote's work is informed by the precept that "if you don't talk about the darkest aspects of life, then they don't exist." Indeed, Foote leaves much in this work unsaid, and for some, that is its greatest strength.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Horton Foote was born on March 14, 1916, in Wharton, Texas, to Albert and Hallie Foote. Foote is one of America's most prolific and well-known stage, television, and screen writers. As a young man, Foote pursued the stage as a performer and published his first play while he was working as an actor in 1939. From 1933 to 1935, he studied at the Pasadena Playhouse School of Theatre, and from 1937 to 1939, he attended the Tamara Darkarhovna School of Theatre. Foote later worked as an elevator man on Park Avenue and a teacher prior to starting a Washington D.C. theatre school and theatre with his wife and theatrical producer, Lillian Vallish. Foote married Vallish in 1945; the couple had four children.

Following their time in Washington D.C., the Footes returned to New York, where eventually Foote's career took off. Some of his plays are Laura Dennis (1996), Taking Pictures (1996), Night Seasons (1996), and The Last of the Thorntons (2000). Foote's more than sixty works have earned him great praise, including an Emmy Award nomination in 1958 for Old Man; a best screenplay Academy Award for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) as well as a nomination for Tender Mercies (1985). He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Young Man from Atlanta in 1995.

As Foote approached his seventies and eighties, he continued to earn accolades and numerous awards including an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay and an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for The Trip to Bountiful (1985), a Screen Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America (1993), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writers Guild of America (1999), a Master American Dramatist Award of the Pen American Center (2000), and the National Medal of Arts (2000). In addition, Foote was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1996 and into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998. Foote has also


Horton Foote

Horton Foote

received honorary degrees from Drew University, Austin College, Spalding University, and the American Film Institute.

PLOT SUMMARY

Scene 1

The first scene of The Young Man from Atlanta opens with one of the main characters, Will Kidder, having a conversation with his co-worker, Tom Jackson, at their office at the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery. While reviewing the architectural plans for his new house, Will boasts that his home is worth more than two hundred thousand dollars. Will becomes winded and tells Tom that his doctor told him that he has a slight heart condition. Tom asks Will why he wanted to build such a big house when there are only Will and his wife living in it. Will replies that it is because he grew up very poor after the death of his father and now only wants "the biggest and best" of everything. Their conversation then turns to the state of the company. Tom expresses concern that the company is no longer doing very well, while Will assures him that with Will's competitive spirit, the company will rightPage 290  |  Top of Article itself. Will then shows Tom a picture of his son, Bill, who has passed away recently. Will describes Bill as nothing like himself, but with a keen mind for math and education. After volunteering for the Air Force, in which he was a bombardier, Bill returned to the United States and took up work in Atlanta. Will recounts that during a business trip to Florida, Bill, who could not swim, walked into a lake and drowned. Will believes that his son committed suicide. During their conversation, Will's secretary interrupts to let him know that his son's former roommate from Atlanta, Randy Carter, is calling again. Will refuses to take the call and learns that Randy is in Houston staying at the YMCA. As their conversation continues, Will tells Tom that he is buying his wife a new car to celebrate the new house. Tom tells Will that their company has lost another three accounts, including Carnation Milk, which had been with the company since the beginning. Surprised that he was not told about the loss of Carnation, Will continues to assure Tom that the company survived the depression and that everything will work out. Will and Tom's boss, Ted Cleveland Jr., then comes into the office and asks for time alone with Will. Ted tells Will that the Carnation account left because of him and that the company needs younger men to do business successfully. Ted gives Will three-months notice. However, Will says that he'd like to leave right away to start his own business. Will cancels the order for his wife's new car and confides in Tom that his release from the company is coming at a financially difficult time. He trusts his relationships with the banks will help him with his new venture and that Tom will join him one day. Tom lets Will know that despite his efforts to help Will, Ted has given Will's job to him. The scene ends with Will contacting a bank to discuss financing.

Scene 2

Scene 2 opens the next evening in the Kidders' new den, where Lily Dale, Pete, and Will have gathered after dinner. Lily Dale recounts that during WWII, Eleanor Roosevelt organized the maids in Houston to not show up for work for new employers as a way to purposely "disappoint white people." Will argues that such a thing never occurred and then relinquishes his protest when Lily Dale assures him her facts are correct. Will, obviously affected by the previous day's events, tells Lily Dale that her new car will have to wait until he pays off the house and the new furnishings. Before Will goes off to bed, he tells Lily Dale that Randy is in Houston and that she should tell him that they want nothing to do with him if he calls. Lily Dale is perplexed by Will's attitude toward Randy and proceeds to admit to Pete that she likes Randy, has been in contact with him, and has given him money. Lily Dale and Pete also discuss Lily Dale's encounter with Alice Temple, an atheist friend, who asks Lily Dale how God could have allowed Bill to commit suicide. While recounting this event, Lily Dale insists that Bill's death was an accident. Just as Lily Dale tells Pete that Randy has been to the house twice that day, Will returns to the den unable to sleep and tells Lily Dale about the previous day's events. He tells her that the money ($100,000) he had given to Bill was spent and then asks to borrow the money ($75,000) that he had given to her over the past fifteen Christmases. Will goes back to bed, and after admitting that she had given $35,000 to Randy, Lily Dale asks Pete if she can borrow the same amount from him so that she can give the money to Will. Pete agrees; however, Will returns for a second time and requests to borrow $35,000 from Pete. Lily Dale begins to cry and admits to Will that she gave $35,000 to Randy as a gift. Will is very angry that Lily Dale lied to him and that Randy duped her with stories of his job loss, mother's surgery, and his sister's husband running out on their three children. Will storms out and Pete follows him only to quickly return to ask Lily Dale to phone Will's doctor. Will has suffered a heart attack.

Scene 3

A week later in the Kidders' study, Lily Dale tells Clara how horribly she feels about being deceived by Randy and about being dishonest with her husband. Clara assures Lily Dale that God will take care of her. The women are soon joined by Pete and Carson, Pete's great-nephew, who is just in from Atlanta. Will is up out of bed just as Tom Jackson rings at the door with flowers for him. To Lily Dale's delight, Clara confirms that her friend Lucille had heard about the Disappointment Clubs. Will tells Tom that he is not having any luck with the banks, but that he will not be able to work for some time anyway. Randy comes to the door and Clara is told to tell him that the family is busy and not to come again. Will tells Tom that he would rather not have Ted stop by the house, and Carson confirms that Randy is "bad news." After Tom leaves, Will admits that he has hard feelings for Tom and laments that he should have saved more money. Lily Dale tells Will that she put the money in his account and Will tells Pete that he does not need his moneyPage 291  |  Top of Article now. Will asks not to have Tom's flowers in his sight, and as the scene ends, he tears up the three-month's severance check that Tom left for him.

Scene 4

The next day, in the Kidders' study, Clara tells Lily Dale that she met Etta Doris Meneffree, a woman who used to work for the Kidders when Bill was a baby. Pete and Carson come down, and Pete tells Lily Dale that the doctor has told Will that he cannot work for six months. Pete also tells her that he is going to take a trip to Atlanta with Carson, and he is going to loan Carson's sister at least $5,000 and help Carson pay for school. When Will comes downstairs, he asks to have Carson drive him downtown to First Commerce Bank, who phoned him about his loan request. Will asks Pete for the $35,000 again and Pete tells him that he has promised some money to Carson and his sister because Will had said he did not need the money. Pete talks Will into accepting $25,000, and despite Lily Dale's protests that he should not go downtown, Will and Carson leave for the bank. At the same time, Clara enters to announce that Etta Doris has come by to say hello. Lily Dale heads out of the house to go downtown alone and says goodbye to Pete, who is leaving for Atlanta.

Scene 5

Later that afternoon, Will and Carson return. Will was denied by the bank and is surprised that he thanked his old boss for offering him a job. After making polite conversation with Etta Doris, Will calls Tom Jackson and tells him that once he is feeling better he may come in to talk with Ted about the position Tom mentioned. Pete and Carson depart for Atlanta after Carson helps Will back to bed.

Scene 6

In the final scene, Lily Dale and Clara are again in the Kidders' den. Clara tells Lily Dale that she talked with her friend again and that she had not heard that Mrs. Roosevelt was involved with the Disappointment Clubs. Lily Dale admits that she spoke with Randy again because he was waiting in the Kidders' driveway as she pulled the car out to go downtown. They drove all over Houston together and Randy refuted everything that Carson told the Kidders about him, qualifying his denial with the statement that Carson "is known as a notorious liar all over Atlanta." Convinced that he was telling the truth, Lily Dale hides Randy in her car in the hopes she can get Will to talk with him. Will comes into the den and apologizes to Lily Dale for his ill temper. Will and Lily Dale have a heart-to-heart talk and Will tells her that he believes that Bill killed himself. Will tells Lily Dale that he feels that he failed his son and that he never got to know him as he should have. In the midst of the conversation, Lily Dale admits that she once brought two men back to the house with her cousin, Mary Cunningham. She also confides in Will that Mary Cunningham and their other cousin, Mabel Thornton, claimed that Pete once made advances toward them when he was married to Lily Dale's mother. Will tells Lily Dale that he may swallow his pride and talk to his old boss about the position Tom mentioned, and Lily Dale says that she may start teaching music to help the family financially. In the end, Will still refuses to talk with Randy because he fears that should they meet he would have to make certain inquiries that he would rather not know the answers to. He also tells Lily Dale that in Bill's safety deposit box Will found canceled checks totaling $100,000 made out to Randy. Lily Dale sends Randy away, and Will calls Tom and sets up a time for the next day to come in to talk to him.

CHARACTERS

Carson

Carson arrives in Houston and tells Pete that he is his great-nephew. Carson is responsible for exposing what he claims to be the lies that Randy has told to Lily Dale about Bill. Primarily, he tells her that, having known Randy for his entire life, he is certain that Randy has no living relatives and that Randy's claim about Bill's religious fervor is false. Carson tells Pete and the Kidders that he lived in the same boardinghouse with Bill and Randy and that no one ever heard Bill praying and that Randy is "bad news." The Kidders and Pete believe Carson not only about Randy but about his claim to be Pete's great nephew. All of this comes into question, however, at the end of the play when Lily Dale has a final conversation with Randy. According to Randy, Carson is "known as a notorious liar all over Atlanta." This revelation, which may or may not be true, becomes interesting in light of the fact that Pete "wouldn't have recognized" his own sister in the picture that Carson brought to Houston and the fact that Carson and his sister stand to benefitPage 292  |  Top of Article financially from Carson's newly formed relationship with Pete. Carson says that he is twenty-seven years old.

Clara

Clara is the Kidders' maid and cook. She serves as Lily Dale's confidante throughout the play, offering her reassurance and comfort. As the Kidders' domestic help, Clara must also have direct contact with Randy Carter when he comes to call at the Kidder home. In all cases, Clara is asked to tell Randy that the Kidders will not see him—that they are busy or not at home. At Lily Dale's request, Clara also does research for Lily Dale about the Disappointment Clubs that Lily Dale believes Eleanor Roosevelt established in Houston during the war because of her dislike for the South. Clara's friend, Lucille, confirms that she had heard about the clubs but that she was not involved in them and did not know about Mrs. Roosevelt's participation in them. The 1950s were a politically and socially charged time in the United States due to the issue of civil rights for blacks. The characters of Clara and Etta Doris, along with Lily Dale's persistent inquiry into the Disappointment Clubs, play an important role in exposing one slice of life perspective on the day-to-day happenings between blacks and whites during this time.

Ted Cleveland, Jr.

Ted Cleveland Jr. is Will Kidder and Tom Jackson's boss at the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery. Ted's father originally hired Will, and together they grew the company through the depression and World War II. Following the death of his father, Ted took over the company. Not much of Ted is seen in the play; however, his actions reflect his desire to prevent his father's company from failing. Despite Will Kidder's loyalty to his father and the company for nearly forty years, Ted lets Will go for what appears to be performance issues with at least one of the company's largest accounts, Carnation Milk. Although Sunshine loses the Carnation account because of Will, Ted gives him three-month's notice and later extends an offer to him for another, albeit lower-ranking, position with the company. Ted appoints Tom to Will's previous position because he feels that more youthful leadership will be a boon for his family's company.

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MEDIA ADAPTATIONS

  • The Young Man from Atlanta is available on audiocassette. The unabridged reading, which stars Shirley Knight and David Selby, was published in 1999 by L.A. Theater Works. This reading can be downloaded from http://www.audible.com or purchased through online or local booksellers.

Pete Davenport

Pete Davenport is Lily Dale's stepfather. He is originally from Atlanta; however, he has lived in Houston for thirty years. Pete's wife (Lily Dale's mother) passed away ten years prior and Pete has just come to live with Will and Lily Dale. Through Pete's conversation with Carson, who claims to be Pete's great-nephew, the audience learns that Pete was a Southern Pacific Engineer and that he began working at the age of fourteen with just a seventh grade education. Pete says that he never had a drink in his life, and he appears to be a respectable, hardworking, honest man. He helps Lily Dale navigate her communication with Will about her financial dishonesty. Nonetheless, toward the end of the play, Lily Dale confides in Will that her two cousins, Mary Cunningham and Mabel Thornton, claim that Pete made passes at them while he was married to Lily Dale's mother. Likewise, although Pete appears to have sound judgment in his counsel to Lily Dale, his judgment about Carson is called into question by Randy Carter's claims that Carson is a known liar throughout Atlanta. Early in the play, Pete tells Will that Randy is certainly not a relation of his from Atlanta, even a distant one. If he were, Pete claims that he would recognize a likeness in him. Later, however, when Carson arrives in Houston with a picture of Pete's sister (Carson's grandmother), Pete says that he "wouldn't have recognized her." Pete's lack of recognition does two things. First, it calls into question whether or not Randy may be a distant relative of Pete's. Second, it calls into question whether or not Carson is truly his great-nephew or someone who is simply playing Pete for a gullible old fool.

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Etta Doris

Etta Doris is a past domestic employee of the Kidders. She comes by the Kidders' new house to see the family and to express her condolences regarding Bill's death. Through Etta's remembrances and conversations with Lily Dale and Will, the audience learns more about Bill as a child. She remembers him fondly as a friendly and polite boy, who despite his father's attempts, was not athletic.

Tom Jackson

Tom is Will Kidder's coworker at the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery who is given Will's job after Will is let go from the company. Foote describes Tom in the scene's opening description as a thirty-five year old "colleague and close friend" of Will's. Will hired and trained Tom and obviously feels close to him professionally and personally. In the opening scene, Will confides in Tom, telling him that he believes that his son's death was a suicide. Will also tells Tom that he thinks of him as a son. Tom demonstrates loyalty to Will when he tells him that their boss told him that there was nothing Tom could do to save Will's job. Tom brings flowers to Will after his heart attack, and despite his previous relationship with Tom, Will admits to his family that he has hard feelings for Tom. Nevertheless, in the end, Tom is the person whom Will contacts about possibly coming back to resume a new position with Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery.

Lily Dale Kidder

Lily Dale is one of the main characters in The Young Man from Atlanta. She is the wife of Will Kidder and the mother of Bill Kidder, their deceased son. She is also Pete Davenport's stepdaughter. In the wake of her son's death she is said to have become religious. Lily Dale's primary action in the play takes place offstage when she has secret meetings with Randy Carter, Bill's former roommate from Atlanta. During these meetings, Lily Dale gives the young man $35,000, money that she received as Christmas gifts from her husband. Lily Dale meets with Randy behind her husband's back and ultimately has to confess to the meetings, as well as to the amount of the financial gifts that she has given to Randy. Lily Dale's main moral dilemma revolves around her need to feel close to someone who professes to have been very close to her son and her need to be a dutiful and honest wife. Lily Dale has been financially well taken care of by her husband and appears to some readers and critics to be a spoiled housewife who is both gullible and naïve. In his review for the New York Times, critic Ben Brantley characterizes Lily Dale as "a woman frozen in the role of petulant, spoiled child bride." Despite the couple's dire financial situation, one of her main concerns during the play is to figure out if Eleanor Roosevelt was responsible for organizing civil disobedience among the domestic workers in Houston during World War II. In the end, Lily Dale comes to some understanding about their financial reality and offers to take up teaching music to contribute to the household's income. In another turnabout, Lily Dale puts her husband above her own needs when she sends Randy away, presumably ending her relationship with him.

Will Kidder

Will Kidder is one of the main characters in The Young Man from Atlanta. He is the father of Bill Kidder, who dies prior to the play beginning, and is the husband of Lily Dale. At the opening of the play, Will works for the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery, a company he has been with for thirty-eight years. In the first scene, he is let go from the company and rejects his superior's offer to stay for another three months. Instead, Will says he will leave the company immediately so that he can start his own business venture. Having just finished building and furnishing a $200,000 home, Will finds himself hard pressed for cash and asks his wife to give him back some of the money that he has gifted to her over the years. In the unfolding events, Will learns that she has no longer has the full amount because she has given it to their son's exroommate, Randy Carter. Lily Dale's actions are an affront to Will, not only because he has developed a strong inclination against Randy but because her actions were dishonest and contrary to his repeated requests that she not have contact with the young man.

Will is a proud and boastful man, who grew up in an impoverished life after the death of his father and vowed to only have the best of everything. In the beginning of the play, sixty-four year old Will believes that he is invincible—financially, professionally, and personally. As the play unfolds, however, the audience watches as he comes to face some difficult truths. Eventually, Will realizes that, insteadPage 294  |  Top of Article of spending his personal assets, he should have saved more of them. He also comes to terms with the fact that, at his age, his marketable skills and professional prospects are not what they used to be. Lastly, Will must confront the fact that his son's suspected suicide is likely linked to a lifestyle involving Randy that Will never wants to know about. While Foote never makes the statement outright, Will's reluctance to meet with Randy seems based in his belief that his son was gay. In the end, Will regains a bit of his earlier optimism, telling Lily Dale, "everything will be all right." While hopeful, even this final statement is measured by Will's new understanding of himself and his current realities.

THEMES

Dishonesty and Deception

Dishonesty and deception are central themes in The Young Man from Atlanta. In fact, all of the relationships between the central characters seem to involve one or the other. In some cases, it is clear that someone has lied to or deceived another. In other cases, the audience viewers must decide for themselves if someone is lying or telling the truth.

Lily Dale's dishonesty with her husband, as evidenced through her later confessions, is very clear. She lies to Will about having the money that he gave her over many Christmases, and she also lies to him about her having had contact with Randy.

Will's struggle with dishonesty and deception seems to be primarily with himself. From the beginning, one gets the feeling that he is deceiving himself about his career and his professional capabilities. While he is at first boastful and confident about his abilities, in the end he claims to have lost his spirit and his youthful outlook. Though he recovers his hope to a certain degree by the end of the play, his call to Tom about the position with his old employer reveals a man grounded in the reality of his circumstance rather than a man who is proud and naïvely optimistic about his ability to go into business for himself for the first time at the age of sixty-four. Despite Will's self deception on the career front, he seems to be more honest about his son's relationship with Randy and the nature of his death. Whereas Lily Dale convinces herself that Bill's death was an accident, Will admits that it was likely suicide. While Lily Dale never hints that there may have been a homosexual relationship between Bill and Randy, Will notes that there were things about his son that he would prefer not to know. Although Will's denial suggests his interest in continuing to live without knowing the truth about his son, his willingness to admit his denial proves him to be more in tune with the truth than his wife.

Randy Carter and Carson are also clearly central to the development of the themes of dishonesty and deception. Both characters claim that the other is lying to the Kidders and each can be seen as having something to gain from his deception. In Randy's case, the potential dishonesty about Bill comforts Lily Dale and encourages her kindly donation of thousands of dollars to him. In the case of Carson, his potential dishonesty allows him to forge an alliance with the Kidder family and prevents the family from unquestioningly believing Randy's revelations about Carson. Carson's new relationship clearly benefits him, as well as his sister, in terms of educational funding. Interestingly, the play ends without a clear resolution about who is indeed telling the truth and who is not, leaving the decision for the audience to ponder.

Suicide and Death

Suicide and death are pervasive in The Young Man from Atlanta. In addition to the central suicide of Bill Kidder, Lily Dale's friend, Alice Temple, and her husband both commit suicide. Additionally, Ted Cleveland Sr., Lily Dale's father, Will's father, and Pete's wife (Lily Dale's mother) also die. Interestingly, suicide and death act as catalysts for the action in the play. Bill's death puts Randy's contact with the Kidders into motion and enables Randy to benefit from Lily Dale's compassion. At the same time, his contact also inspires Lily Dale to be dishonest with her husband. Ted Cleveland Sr.'s death ultimately triggers Will's termination and puts him in a financially dour situation. As a result, by the end of the play, Will is forced to be more honest with himself about his professional prospects and capabilities. Following the death of his wife, Pete eventually comes to live with the Kidders. His presence in the Kidder home facilitates honestyPage 295  |  Top of Article and communication between Lily Dale and her husband. It also allows Carson to enter their lives, which in the short term unites the couple in the belief that Randy deceived Lily Dale. Later, the couple's conversation about Randy's assertion that Carson is a liar inspires Will to be more honest with Lily Dale, telling her that there are things about his son he would rather not know.

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TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY

  • Research Eleanor Roosevelt's stand on civil rights. Given your findings, do you agree or disagree with Lily Dale that Eleanor Roosevelt "took out all her personal unhappiness on the South?"
  • In 1948, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) ended its support of the separate but equal doctrine in favor of a policy of integration. One year later, South Africa instituted apartheid. These events reflect an international community with differing views on the treatment of black people. If the Kidders' had to vote for integration or apartheid, how do you think they would vote? Explain your decision.
  • Some critics believe that Bill Kidder is a homosexual character. What can you gather from the text that either supports or contradicts this opinion?
  • Honesty, and the lack of it, is an important thematic element in this play. In the end, it is difficult to know who to believe. Is there any evidence in the text that you can point to that would make you believe Randy Carter or Carson? Is it possible that they are both being dishonest or is it possible that there is some truth in the claims that they each make? Whom do you believe most and why?
  • Research the economy of the United States from 1940 through 1950. In your opinion, could the state of the economy have hurt the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery company's profitability, or was the company's downslide more likely a result of Will's failing, old-style business practices?
  • Read Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. How are Willy Loman and Will Kidder similar? How are they different?

Race Relations and Civil Rights

One of the more subtle themes in The Young Man from Atlanta entails race relations and civil rights. Lily Dale makes persistent and often inappropriately timed inquiries about the Disappointment Clubs, which she believes Eleanor Roosevelt started in Houston because of her strong dislike for the South and her desire "to disappoint white people." The clubs, Lily Dale claims, were set up to encourage domestic help to engage with new employers and then not show up for work. Interestingly, Roosevelt was in fact a strong proponent and advocate for civil rights who was known for her support of civil disobedience. In 1945, Roosevelt served on the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality and had a clear concern about race relations and employment. In fact, she took her concerns directly to the top and lobbied President Truman's administration to create a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). Roosevelt's involvement with these organizations proves that, contrary to Lily Dale's opinion, the previous first lady was not motivated by her dislike for the South, but rather by her strong belief in racial equality. Lily Dale's superficial understanding about the clubs as well as Will's somewhat curt demeanor with Etta Doris demonstrate the couple's less than progressive attitude toward the treatment of black people. Foote perhaps included this element to reinforce the idea that the Kidders are conservative people who are not likely to embrace change or values that are nontraditional. This characterizationPage 296  |  Top of Article of the couple fits well with Will's wish not to learn more about Bill's life and particularly his life as it involved Randy.

STYLE

Exposition

In drama, exposition is a technique that playwrights use to inform the audience about past events that are relevant to their understanding of the play. For example, exposition is common in the historical plays of William Shakespeare, where Shakespeare uses his characters early in each play to describe or discuss historical events that are pertinent to the action that ensues. In The Young Man from Atlanta, the clearest example of exposition occurs in the first scene during Will's conversation with Tom. Through this conversation, the audience learns about Bill's death and Will's belief that it was a suicide. The audience also learns that Will recently spent a significant amount of money building the Kidders' new home. This conversation also allows Foote to reveal some information about Will's tenure with Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery. Another example of exposition in The Young Man from Atlanta occurs while Lily Dale confides in Clara and Pete. During these confessional scenes, the audience learns about Lily Dale's personal and financial dealings with Randy.

Climax and Crisis

In drama, the climax of a play, or the point at which all of the problems and complications culminate, is brought on by a series of crises. In The Young Man from Atlanta, the crises begin with Bill's death and continue with Will losing his job and his discovery that Lily Dale has given a large sum of money to Randy. The progression of these crises is called the rising action. The climax in The Young Man from Atlanta occurs when Will has his offstage heart attack.

Denouement

Denouement is a French term that describes the unraveling or sorting out of a play's main plot problems or conflicts. In the case of The Young Man from Atlanta, much of the denouement involves Will and his realizations about himself personally and professionally. In the final scenes, Will comes to the understanding that he will not be able to start his own business and that, despite his pride, he will need to approach Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery for a lesser position. Another important moment in the play's denouement occurs when Will admits to Lily Dale that he believes their son's death was a suicide and that there are things about his son he would rather never know.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The 1940s and 1950s in the United States

Following the end of World War II in 1945, the United States found itself embroiled in a period of massive military demobilization. With 35,000 service personnel being discharged per day in 1946, the country faced short-term economic and social problems, including inflation, consumer goods shortages, and strained labor relations. On the political front, conflict continued despite the end of the war. By the 1950s, the Cold War was well underway. In 1950, the United States announced that it had the H-Bomb under development shortly after Russia touted its ownership of the A-Bomb. Tensions mounted between East and West, and on the home front, Senator Joseph McCarthy fueled the fear of communism by claiming that communists were not just abroad, but working side-by-side with America's best democracy-loving citizens. McCarthy even claimed to know the names of communists working in the State Department of the United States government. Investigations ensued and fear continued to grow as people began to suspect even their friends, neighbors, and colleagues of being communists. Despite such challenges and anxieties, Lois and Alan Gordon note in American Chronicle: Year by Year through the Twentieth Century, "a peacetime ethos of the pursuit of personal happiness replaced the wartime one of sacrifice." With an accumulation of personal savings, Americans began to spend and spend well. (The price of a loaf of bread in 1950 was fourteen cents and a pound of coffee cost fifty-five cents). Traditional values reigned, the suburbs grew, and the American dream took strong root in the nation's communal consciousness. By the spring of 1950, however, the United States was on thePage 297  |  Top of Article brink of another war. This time, communist North Korea had invaded South Korea. Despite President Truman's optimistic projection that the United States' involvement in the conflict would be swift, communist China (Russia's ally) came to the aid of North Korea and the war continued well beyond the nation's expectations. As a result of this turmoil, in 1952, according to Lois and Alan Gordon, "Dwight Eisenhower swept into office on a campaign against Korea, Communism, and Corruption."

In the eyes of many, communists were not the only threat to American security. Lizabeth Cohen and Mark Tebeau note in the Encyclopedia of the United States in the Twentieth Century,

In the context of the Cold War, supporters of traditional family norms cast homosexuality as a menace to the American moral order. In their eyes, not only were homosexuals moral perverts, they were also national security risks. In the 1940s and 1950s, homosexuals were clearly considered deviant and their lifestyle threatened traditional heterosexual family values.

During the 1940s and 1950s, civil rights issues were also heating up in the United States. In 1941, President Harry Truman, fearing a march on Washington, signed Executive Order 8802, which outlawed the prejudicial treatment of blacks working in the federal government and defense industries. With membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reaching 500,000 during World War II, the organization was gaining political clout. In 1948, Truman signed two additional executive orders (9980 and 9981), which prohibited racial discrimination in the civil service and required equal treatment and opportunity for all of the people in the armed forces. That same year, the NAACP endorsed a policy of integration rather than the separate but equal doctrine that had governed race relations since the late 1800s. All of this was of course laying the groundwork for the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in the Brown vs. The Board of Education case, which made the doctrine of separate but equal unconstitutional in public schools.

The 1990s in the United States

The early 1990s were a time of growing international political stability and declining economic conditions for the United States. In 1989, the Cold War ended, and in 1993, President Bill Clinton and Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin signed the Start II missile reduction treaty. Despite these successes, the United States had a new battle on its hands. Recession and high national debt were current concerns. Mainstay companies, such as the top three automakers, were posting record losses and corporate icons, such as the investment bank Drexel Burnham, were declaring bankruptcy. To the country's great dissatisfaction, George H. Bush raised taxes in an effort to reduce the deficit by $500 billion despite his earlier pledge that such taxation would not occur. Despite Bush's successful liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi invasion, Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992. By the mid-nineties, the economy was on an improved footing, posting the best economic indicators in close to thirty years.

On the social and cultural front, the country was still a nation divided. Rodney King's beating by four Los Angeles police officers in 1991 and the race riots that followed their acquittals bespoke a vehement demand for racial equality and justice in the United States. Civil rights had come a long way from the times of racial segregation, separate-but-equal policies, and integration efforts; however, for many, the struggle was still a day-to-day fact of life. For homosexuals, as with racial minorities, equality and acceptance were still not the status quo. Although the AIDS epidemic brought homosexuality into the popular consciousness of the nation, many in the United States were not yet ready to view the lifestyle as valid. In 1990, new medical studies suggested that the genetic and physiological basis for homosexuality, and topically, it was becoming more mainstream. In 1993, Angels in America, which explores homosexuality, AIDS, and politics, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, yet close to this same time, Clinton endorsed the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy about gays and homosexuals in the United States military. With the GOP's sweep of Congress in 1994, conservatives like Trent Lott continued to endorse a conservative picture of family values that clearly excluded homosexual lifestyle.

CRITICAL OVERVIEW

The Young Man from Atlanta was first produced off-Broadway by the Signature Theater Company in 1995 as part of a season dedicated to Foote's work. This performance, like those that followed in various locations throughout the United States, including a Broadway premier in 1997, received strong reactions, both positive and negative, from critics. On the positive side, Foote was praised for the strength yet subtle quality of his writing and for the play's emotional depth. Everett Evans, writing for the Houston Chronicle in 1996, noted that "YoungPage 298  |  Top of Article Man may not be Foote's sturdiest play, but with its elusive theme and autumnal mood, it is perhaps his most intriguing and deeply felt." He further commented that "The Young Man from Atlanta proves a thought-provoking study of family values—all the more haunting for leaving its most crucial questions not only unanswered, but unasked." Richard Christiansen, who wrote his review of the play in 1995 for the Chicago Tribune, would likely agree. He wrote that The Young Man from Atlanta "is a wonder of strong drama built through ordinary talk and everyday incident." Further, he noted that "the play is very strong and solid, its power carried by the author's remarkable writing skills and by his delicate probing of deep family truths." Dick Scanlan, writing in the April 1997 issue of the Advocate, summarized it best, perhaps, when he wrote that "at 81, Foote's artistic heart remains in good shape his instinct for truth intact."

While these critics and Foote's Pulitzer Prize for the work attest to the merits of this play, other critics have been perplexed by the praise. In a scathing review of the 1995 production, John Simon wrote in the New York Magazine, "How many times can he, as prolific as Miss Oates and nearly 80, keep writing the same sentimental, pathetic, oldfashioned, terminally boring play?" More sedately, Michael Feingold noted that same year in the The Village Voice that The Young Man from Atlanta is "a very sparse return for the ticket price, yet Foote's plays keep getting produced, applauded, praised." Critic John Lahr would concur. Writing for the New Yorker about the 1997 production, he notes that The Young Man from Atlanta "opened to high—and somewhat bewildering—praise. The drama is a house of cards propped up on the foundation of powerful performances by Rip Torn and Shirley Knight." He further commented that, "despite Foote's wry compassion, there's less here than meets the eye."

Writing similarly unfavorable critiques, critics Robert L. King and Greg Evans took issue with specific aspects of the play that they found lacking. In the North American Review, King notes that Boston's Huntington Theatre production was not well received, saying that "the Boston audience felt so put upon that many began laughing at the play's predictability, including Will's offstage heart attack." For Evans, writing for Variety in 1997, Foote's characters were the problem. He wrote that "Carson is a device, and an awkward one at that, his arrival in town too coincidental, his character too thin." He then goes on to say that Foote's other "disparate characters and their respective loose ends lend the play a rather meandering feel, and some of the encounters seem more padding than substance." Stefan Kanfer, writing for the New Leader in 1997, found fault with Foote for not exploring many of the plays compelling problems or questions and notes that sadly, "The cast far outshines this inadequate material." For him "inspiration, like the piano that Lily Dale refuses to play, is nowhere to be seen."

CRITICISM

Dustie Robeson

Robeson is a freelance writer with a master's degree in English. In this essay, Robeson discusses the ways in which Lily Dale and Will Kidder inspire compassion and disdain in audiences and readers.

In The Young Man from Atlanta, Foote explores the issue of death and its impact on the lives of parents. In the process, he delves into the lives of his living characters and seems to ask the question, what type of a life is worth living? For Will and Lily Dale Kidder, life seems divorced from many realities. Michael Feingold, who reviewed the play in 1995 for the Village Voice, posed an interesting question. He asked, the "desperate desire not to face reality is certainly very American, but does Foote want us to indict it or empathize with it?" In the end, Foote creates two characters who inspire both empathy and contempt from audiences and readers.

For Lily Dale, living a life that is not grounded in reality is the status quo. Ben Brantley, writing in the New York Times, calls her a "petulant, spoiled child bride." Indeed, Lily Dale's life is much like that of a spoiled child rather than a mature adult. She calls her husband "daddy" and tells Pete that "anything I ever wanted, Will got for me." Lily Dale so easily parts with $35,000 that one might easily criticize her for having a juvenile understanding of the value of money (particularly in light of the fact that the average annual salary in 1950 was less than $3,000). In addition to living a sheltered and pampered life that freed her from most adult responsibilities and thus adult realities, Lily Dale seems ill equipped to deal with some of life's larger and more serious issues, including civil rights and the nature of her son's death.

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As alluded to in earlier commentary about the play's themes, Lily Dale has a superficial understanding of race relations. This lack of awareness surfaces when she discusses the Disappointment Clubs that she believes Eleanor Roosevelt started in Houston during World War II. For Lily Dale, Roosevelt was motivated by her desire to "disappoint white people" and she "took out all her personal unhappiness on the South." In reality, however, Roosevelt was deeply committed to social justice and the rights of black people in America. Clearly, Roosevelt's cause and the plight of black Americans are lost on the self-centered Lily Dale. When it comes to the death of her son, much seems similarly lost on her. When her friend Alice Temple questions her religious faith in light of Bill's suicide, Lily Dale is shocked. She insists, "His death was an accident" and fails to grasp the very real possibility that Bill did indeed take his own life.

Despite Lily Dale's narcissistic and sheltered life, audiences and readers are likely to feel some compassion for her. It is often said that the death of a child is one of the most difficult losses that a person can experience. Lily Dale's grief is palpable in her raw vulnerability and is expressed in her uncontrollable need to connect with Randy. Of her conversation with Alice she tells Pete,

And she upset me so, Pete, that I couldn't stop trembling and my heart started racing so, I thought I would have a heart attack. And I just had to call that sweet roommate of his in Atlanta, even though Daddy had told me never to, and I told him exactly what Alice had told me. He said there was not a world of truth in it…. I felt very relieved after that, and I thanked God, got on my knees and thanked God for sending this sweet friend of Bill's to tell me once again of Bill's faith in God.

Lily Dale desperately misses her son and will do anything to touch a piece of him. In scene 2, she confides in Pete, "Every time I feel blue over missing Bill, I call his friend and I ask him to tell me again about Bill and his prayers and he does so so sweetly." Lily Dale's need to connect with someone that she believes was close to Bill is understandable. However, her actions are not without a cost—a cost that ends the empathy that most might initially feel for her.

Although Lily Dale's grief moves audiences to be somewhat forgiving of her childishness and self-centeredness, in the end, she does not inspire long-term empathy. Lily Dale's need to connect with Randy is understandable; however, her willful dishonesty with Will is not. Her relationship with


Playbill cover for The Young Man from Atlanta performed at the Longacre Theatre in 1997

Playbill cover for The Young Man from Atlanta performed at the Longacre Theatre in 1997

Randy and her donation to his questionable causes is damaging to her marriage, both emotionally and financially. For this, many audiences and readers tend to hold her accountable. Instead of looking vulnerable and grief stricken, her actions make her appear shallow, unintelligent, and gullible. Ironically, even when Lily Dale comes to grips with the error of her ways, it is difficult to feel compassion for her. She says, "I have been deceived, I have been so deceived it has broken my heart…. I feel so betrayed, so hurt, so humiliated." Although she blames herself for Will's heart attack, she fails to recognize that her feelings of betrayal must be nothing compared to those that her husband might be feeling about her dishonesty with him. In the end, Will's assessment of her comes through as absolutely correct: she had "been taken for a fool," because of her unwillingness to accept some difficult truths about her son and Randy. Because of her selfishness and less than admirable handling of her relationship with her husband, Lily Dale's lowest moment in the play, is likely the time that audiences feel the least amount of compassion for her.

While audiences and readers come to dislike Lily Dale as the play progresses, Will seems toPage 300  |  Top of Article inspire a somewhat different reaction. At first, he lives in a world outside of reality that makes him come across as boastful and overly confident, particularly as it comes to his perceptions about his career. Despite Will's claims that his clients respect him and that he is "a born competitor," he can no longer perform in the competitive marketplace. As his boss, Ted, puts it, "It's a new age…. It's a different ball game, Will. What worked forty years ago, or twenty, or ten, doesn't work anymore." Following his termination, Will's self-delusion persists. Although he left the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery to pursue his own business venture, Will is unable to secure funding from the banks. This is proof yet again that Will had an inflated, if not wholly inaccurate, understanding of his professional relationships. In this case, none of the financial institutions with whom he has worked over the years would extend credit to him for a new business.

In addition to the fact that Will has a professional life that is not grounded in reality, his personal life seems similarly tainted. In his initial conversation with Tom, Will boasts that he has "the best of everything." Will includes his career, his house, and his wife in this assessment. Sadly, as with his career, Will comes to find out that not everything in his life is what it appears to be on the surface. Not only does he realize that he has overestimated himself professionally, but the cost of building his house has put him in severe financial straits given his termination. Further, he learns that his wife, "the finest wife a man could have," has been dishonest with him. Ironically, these realizations help make Will a more likable character who is possibly more deserving of empathy than contempt.

As Will's world of artifice comes tumbling down, he becomes a more humble and honest man. In the midst of facing realities about his professional capabilities and prospects, he must also come to terms with his financial affairs, his marriage, and of course, the facts surrounding his son's life and death. Although Will comes to terms with all of these issues, one might argue that he falls a bit short when it comes to Bill. Although Will readily admits that he believed Bill's death was a suicide very early in the play, he refuses to explore the nature of his son's involvement with Randy. The unspoken assumption that permeates this play is that Bill and Randy were involved in a homosexual relationship. Of Bill, Will says to Lily Dale, "there was a Bill I knew and a Bill you knew and that's the only Bill I care to know about." He refuses to meet with Randy because he says, "there are things I'd have to ask him and I don't want to know the answers." One can read this final decision of Will's as the last vestige of denial that prevents him from living fully in reality. Were he to confront the issue of his son's sexuality, all that he had previously denied, ignored, or lied to himself about would be cleared up; however, he refuses the meeting and asks Lily Dale to send Randy away for the final time.

Interestingly, Will's refusal demonstrates his clear desire to stay in the dark about his son's sexuality, and in one sense this does indicate another way in which he will continue to live in a world that is not based in reality. At the same time, Will's admissions to Lily Dale indicate that he has to some extent already reached an understanding about his son's lifestyle and sexual preferences. By refusing to meet with Randy, Will demonstrates that he is indeed already aware that Bill and Randy's relationship was more than a simple friendship.

Lily Dale and Will inspire both compassion and disdain. They live within a shroud of ignorance and denial and are thus difficult to admire or even like. As the play progresses, however, each gives audiences and readers reasons to relate and empathize with them. But are these reasons enough to redeem them? In the end, Foote leaves that question for his viewers and readers to answer. Most likely, people who encounter this play will find themselves with divided opinions. Perhaps Foote's lasting pointPage 301  |  Top of Article is that one's ability to face reality is not a consistent trait, and thus progress and failure to do so are both an inherent part of the reality in which everyone lives. In this way then, Lily Dale and Will are, in fact, more of a reflection of reality than an exception to it.

Source: Dustie Robeson, Critical Essay on The Young Man from Atlanta, in Drama for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Tamara Fernando

Fernando is a freelance writer and editor in Seattle, Washington. In this essay, Fernando argues that Foote's play is a deconstruction of the American dream.

The Young Man from Atlanta opens with Will Kidder, age 64, sitting in his office at the produce firm for which he has worked since his early twenties, examining the plans for a luxurious new home he has just finished building for himself and his wife, Lily Dale Kidder. When his colleague Tom questions him about the extravagance of the new house, Will answers "I want the best. The biggest and the best. I always have. Since I was a boy. We were dirt poor after my father died and I said to myself then I'm not going to live like this the rest of my life."

This short bit of dialogue succinctly and clearly establishes Will Kidder as a rags-to-riches character—that is, a person who has moved from poverty to material wealth and, therefore, happiness and fulfillment. The rags-to-riches character is a type that is echoed throughout American folklore and history—from the true story of Andrew Carnegie to the wildly successful early twentieth-century formulaic novels by Horatio Alger—and reflects the ideal of the American dream, which is that anyone, no matter what his/her background, has the equal opportunity to attain financial success. Kidder has indeed attained the American dream of material success. His attainment of wealth is merely a prologue to the plot of the play: Kidder's complete loss of that wealth and financial security and how this loss changes his life. In effect, Foote creates a riches-to-rags story, rather than a rags-to-riches story, thereby accomplishing a deconstruction of that mainstay of American storytelling. By turning upside-down the rags-to-riches convention, Foote effectively deconstructs two intertwined ideologies that it presumes: the virtuousness of the competitive drive for the acquisition of material wealth and the value placed on material wealth itself as the ultimate form of happiness. The pursuit of the happiness promised by wealth has not necessarily made the Kidders happy and has instead led them to emotional losses in their relationships with each other.

The opportunity to compete freely for business is an essential component of a free market economy like that of the United States. In the formulaic American rags-to-riches stories, the equal opportunity to compete for wealth is an assumed constant, and, most importantly, the ability to make the most of opportunity is regarded as a moral virtue and is therefore rewarded with material wealth. Will is a wholehearted believer in opportunism and the free competitive economic system. In the opening scene, Will admires the plans for his extravagant new home, as if basking in the wealth he has managed to amass during his career at the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery. Will has been rewarded with wealth for succeeding in the competitive market. He says to his colleague Tom

We have the best products in the city of Houston, and those we don't have we just have to aggressively compete for. I'm a competitor, son. A born competitor. Nothing fires me up like competition…. My brother, may his soul rest in peace, wasn't [competitive]. He didn't have a competitive bone in his body. All he ever thought about was where his next drink of whiskey was coming from.

Will's belief and participation in the system reveals his unquestioned belief not only that the economic system is morally and ethically sound but also that subscribing to it is a guaranteed way to attain financial success. On the other hand, he blames a lack of financial success on a lack of competitive drive, which he places on par with the vice of alcoholism. He sees the failure to attain financial success as a direct indication of a lack of the virtue of competitiveness.

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Will's view of the competitive system is idealistic; it echoes the idealism with which other ragsto-riches stories exalt the opportunism of the competitive free market economy. But idealization, as is its nature, simplifies and narrows one's outlook. As soon as Will's idealization of the system is established, the play begins the deconstruction of his one-dimensional view of the competitive marketplace. The process of deconstruction is started when he is fired from his thirty-eight-year position at the Sunshine Southern Wholesale Grocery by Ted Cleveland Jr., the son of the first owner of the produce chain.

Ted says to Will: "It's a new age, Will. My father wouldn't recognize business the way it's done today. Very competitive." When Will protests that he is a proven competitor, Ted explains that he is no longer competitive enough: "My hands are tied, Will…. We're not competing any longer…. We need younger men in charge here."

In this conversation between Ted and Will, Foote employs a very blunt irony that contrasts Ted's particular language with Will's ideas regarding the competitive marketplace. This irony is a tool by which Foote begins the deconstruction of Will's unquestioning idealization of the economic system. In the quote above, Ted specifically cites the company's dwindling competitive edge—that very same competitive power that had brought Will his financial success—as the reason that Will must be fired from the company. Despite his belief that hard work and a competitive drive will continue to lead to financial success, Will gets handed a particularly brutal firing: he is 64 years of age and just months from retirement. He has just tied up all of his capital in the house he has just built, and he has just undergone another even more painful loss in the mysterious drowning of his son, Bill. Will now finds himself suddenly thrust from wealth and financial security to the brink of financial ruin. For the first time, the system has worked against him. And for the reader/viewer of the play, if not yet for Will, the virtue of this competitive work ethic that he extolled are directly brought into question by Ted's act.

Will's initial response to being fired is to stay optimistic and, rather than give up on the system he believes in, enter into competition against Ted's company by immediately opening his own produce business. He is, however, sadly set up for failure despite his experience in the business and, most importantly of all, despite his vision and competitiveness. Throughout the second and third scenes of the play, obstacles continually barrage him. It becomes obvious that he will fail to open his business. He has made the mistake of tying up his cash in his extravagant new home, and he is put in the humiliating position of having to ask his wife for her savings—only to find that she has been swindled out of most of her money by a con artist. Will is denied time and time again by the banks who he initially believed would "stand by me until I'm on my feet once again." Because of the stress of his sudden dire situation, Will has a serious heart attack and finds himself housebound, unable to work, for six months. By the end of the third scene, Will is transformed from the "burly man with lots of vitality" of the opening scene, to a housebound invalid facing sudden financial crisis.

He says to his family: "Thirty-eight years. Where did they go? … I saw the city growing all around me. There was no stopping it, I thought, and there is no stopping anyone with vision and competitiveness." The system has failed to reward him with riches for his years of hard work and, most of all, for his vision and competitiveness. Instead, the system has brought him to ruin, and the experience has shattered his idealism.

By the end of the third scene of the play, Foote's complete reversal of the rags-to-riches plot is complete. Rather than be rewarded with wealth by the system for his competitiveness and hard work, Will has been fired from his job and has lost his wealth in the name of that system of competition. The story could have ended here, at the end of the third scene, as a tragedy closing with the embitterment of a man whose illusions have been crushed. But even though those fairy-tales inevitably end on a happily-ever-after note, Foote resists fulfilling a complete reversal by taking the play to such a dismally opposite end. Instead, throughout the remaining three scenes of the play, Will is transformed from the idealist he was before to a realist.

This transformation is indicated by Will's slowly and quietly realizing that he will need to accept the menial job at the produce company that Ted Cleveland Jr. has offered him. The most powerful moment of Will's transformation from idealist to realist occurs at the closing of the last scene. In a moment of completely open and honest conversation between Lily Dale and Will, Lily Dale reveals that, despite being provided with extravagant material comforts and a life of leisure, she has been lonely and unhappy, even to the point of consideringPage 303  |  Top of Article unfaithfulness to her husband: "I get lonely, Will, you've always had your work, gone away so much of the time." Will confesses that, although their son Bill has recently died, Will had lost him long before his death, his long work hours not allowing him to ever get to really know his son: "I never tried to find out what he would want to do, what he would want to talk about…. I was never close to him, Lily Dale."

Although this closing scene is an eye-opening admission of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and failure for both Lily Dale and Will, the play itself does not ultimately end on a note of fatality. Rather, Foote closes the play with a simple statement from Will to his wife: "Everything is going to be all right. If I go back to work and you start teaching, everything will be all right." His words reveal, despite the tragedies of loss he has experienced, a heartening resilience of spirit, and Foote thus closes the play with a redemptive glimmer of optimism.

Source: Tamara Fernando, Critical Essay on The Young Man from Atlanta, in Drama for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Stefan Kanfer

In the following review, Kanfer calls The Young Man from Atlanta "inadequate."

As for Will, is he a sensitive soul locked in a massive, suffering body? Or is he really a loutish Texan who drove his kid to misery? And what of Lily Dale? Is she the long-suffering soul she appears to be? Or is she a pampered beauty gone to fat, weeping for the woman who was, rather than for the son who kept his distance?

Any of these problem might have made a compelling play; none is explored. Whether the son, the man from Atlanta and Carson were part of a gay cabal is hinted at—and then left for the audience to wonder about. We can see that the Kidder marriage, like their big house and its trappings, suffers from an excess of surface and deficiency of substance. But this is hardly a startling revelation. John Cheever anatomized the Good Life in suburban America more than 20 years ago; the sardonic title of his last book, Oh, What a Paradise It Seems, said more in six words than The Young Man from Atlanta does in two hours.

The cast far outshines this inadequate material. Torn specializes in windy, vulnerable types, and he gives Will a sad dignity that will not be found in the script. In the unrewarding part of Lily Dale, Knight


Playbill cast list from The Young Man from Atlanta performed at the Longacre Theatre in 1997

Playbill cast list from The Young Man from Atlanta performed at the Longacre Theatre in 1997

is believable if not interesting; and the supporting men—particularly McGuire—lend the proceedings an authenticity of place and period.

Even so, the two best performances are by black actresses in small domestic roles. They have nothing to do with the plot, but everything to do with the time. As Clara, the maid and cook, Jacqueline Williams exhibits a forbearance and dignity that her employers cannot manage, and as Etta Doris Meneffree, a former servant, Beatrice Winde purloins the show when she comes to call, speaking about the departed with an affection and understanding that seem beyond the reach of his parents.

Thomas Lynch's set evokes the 1950s in a way that makes one glad to be living in the 1990s. The same must be said for David C. Woolard's costume designs. Robert Falls' direction is a reflection of the play itself: never less than competent and never more than professional. For in The Young Man from Atlanta, inspiration, like the piano that Lily Dale refuses to play, is nowhere to be seen.

Source: Stefan Kanfer, Review of The Young Man from Atlanta, in New Leader, Vol. 80, No. 5, March 24, 1997, p. 22.

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SOURCES

Brantley, Ben, "Comfortable Fortress Suddenly under Siege," in the New York Times, March 28, 1997, p. C1.

Christiansen, Richard, "Foote's Young Man Wonderfully Detailed," in the Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1995, p. 6.

Cohen, Lizabeth, and Mark Tebeau, "Gender Issues," in the Encyclopedia of the United States in the Twentieth Century, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, Scribner, 1996, pp. 104–05.

Evans, Everett, "Foote Captures Couple Perfectly in Young Man," in the Houston Chronicle, February 23, 1996, p. 1.

Evans, Greg, Review of The Young Man from Atlanta, in Variety, March 31–April 6, 1997, p. 98.

Feingold, Michael, "The Normal Foote," in the Village Voice, Vol. XL, No. 6, February 7, 1995, p. 81.

Foote, Horton, The Young Man from Atlanta, Dramatists Play Service, 1995.

Gordon, Lois, and Alan Gordon, "The Fifties," in American Chronicle: Year by Year through the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, 1999, p. 473.

——, "The Forties," in American Chronicle: Year by Year through the Twentieth Century, Yale University Press, 1999, p. 379.

Kanfer, Stefan, Review of The Young Man from Atlanta, in the New Leader, Vol. 80, No. 5, March 24, 1997, p. 22.

King, Robert L., "Eastern Regionals," in the North American Review, Vol. 281, No. 2, March/April 1996, p. 44.

Lahr, John, "Husbands and Wives: A Triumphant Doll's House and The Young Man from Atlanta," in the New Yorker, April 14, 1997, pp. 86–87.

Scanlan, Dick, Review of The Young Man from Atlanta, in the Advocate, No. 732, April 29, 1997, pp. 61–62.

Simon, John, "With Blunt Tools," in New York Magazine, Vol. 28, No. 9, February 27, 1995, pp. 115–17.

FURTHER READING

Evans, Harold, The American Century, Knopf, 1998.

In this New York Times bestseller, Evans chronicles United States history from 1898 to 1989. Chapters ten and eleven span the years 1941 to 1956.

Foote, Horton, Beginnings: A Memoir, Scribner, 2001.

In this continuation of his first memoir, Foote catalogs his transition from actor to writer.

——, Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood, Scribner, 2000.

In his first memoir, Foote focuses primarily on his youth in Wharton, Texas, and on the people whose lives intersected with his, and hence, greatly influenced him and his career.

——, Genesis of an American Playwright, edited and with an introduction by Marion Castleberry, Baylor University Press, 2004.

In this autobiography, Foote tells the story of his life and career, including stories about his childhood in Wharton, Texas, and a dedicated concentration on the people and events that shaped the man and his craft. This book is essential for anyone looking to know more about Foote as a person and artist.

Klarmon, Michael J., From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Klarmon explores the issue of racial equality in the United States from the late 1800s through the 1960s through the lens of the Supreme Court's rulings.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition) 
"The Young Man from Atlanta." Drama for Students, edited by Anne Marie Hacht, vol. 20, Gale, 2005, pp. 288-304. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX3420400025%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dpoul45153%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3D08d55d6f. Accessed 27 June 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3420400025

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      • 20: 290
      • 20: 294
  • Dishonesty and Deception
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 294
  • Drama
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 288
      • 20: 296-298
  • Emotions
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 297
      • 20: 301
  • Exposition
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 296
  • Happiness and Gaiety
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 301
  • History
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 296
  • Homosexuality
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 288
      • 20: 294
      • 20: 297
  • Idealism
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 302
  • Killers and Killing
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 291
  • Landscape
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 288
      • 20: 290-291
      • 20: 294-296
      • 20: 298-301
  • Money and Economics
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 289-291
      • 20: 294
      • 20: 296-297
      • 20: 301-302
  • Morals and Morality
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 295-298
  • Nature
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 294
      • 20: 298
      • 20: 300
  • North America
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 290
      • 20: 296-297
  • Politicians
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 295-297
  • Politics
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 295-297
  • Race Relations and Civil Rights
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 295
  • Race
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 288
      • 20: 295
      • 20: 297
  • Sex and Sexuality
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 290-291
      • 20: 294-297
      • 20: 299-300
  • Success and Failure
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 301-303
  • Suicide and Death
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 294
  • Suicide
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 288
      • 20: 290
      • 20: 294
      • 20: 296
  • War, the Military, and Soldier Life
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 290
      • 20: 296-297
  • Wealth
    • The Young Man from Atlanta:
      • 20: 301-302