As Lillian Hellman has remarked, The Children’s Hour concerns good and evil. Although lesbianism is the most sensational issue in the play, Hellman explores evil in the form of the effects of lying and the damage which so-called good people can cause. Two types of characters people the play: the actively evil, against whom Hellman raises the audience’s indignation, and the ineffectual good, for whom the playwright clearly shows sympathy.
After her unsuccessful attempt to convince Mrs. Tilford of the untruth of Mary’s accusations, Karen muses, “The wicked very young, and the wicked very old.” Mary’s evil, the most obvious in the play, takes the form of unreasoning malice against those who mean her no harm. She delights especially in lying as proof of her superior intellect. Her unmotivated actions cause even her doting grandmother to admit finally that she must be watched carefully.
Mrs. Tilford’s evil takes an entirely different form: self-righteousness. By assuming that Mary’s story is correct and by refusing to listen to the protestations of Karen, Martha, and Joe, Mrs. Tilford displays both arrogance and stubbornness. Although she finally relents when convincing evidence surfaces and immediately takes responsibility for the consequences of her actions, she has caused irrevocable damage by abusing her social and financial power.
The wickedness of the middle-aged woman, which Karen fails to include in her...
(The entire section is 510 words.)