The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
In Come Back, Little Sheba, Lola Delaney, fat, forty, and childless, has been married to Doc, a chiropractor whom she has driven to drink, for about twenty years. Doc seemingly had ahead of him a glorious future as a physician until he met Lola, a nubile beauty queen, whose father approved of few of her boyfriends. Doc was smitten but was slow to act; it took him a year to muster the courage to kiss Lola. Once he overcame his initial reticence, however, he promptly proceeded to impregnate her. Their marriage followed quickly, and Doc’s plans to become a doctor were scuttled for less ambitious ones.
Lola, too shy to go to a male obstetrician for her delivery, went instead to a midwife. The midwife botched the delivery, the baby died, and Lola was left barren. When the curtain rises, the main interest in Lola’s life has become her little white dog, Sheba, now lost. Lola looks for her and calls her, but Sheba does not return.
The Delaneys’ boarder, Marie, is an art student at a nearby college. Because her fiancé, Bruce, lives in another town, she has as well a casual sex partner, Turk, a brawny javelin-thrower, long on muscles and short on brains. Lola encourages Marie’s dalliance with Turk because she lives vicariously through their encounters.
Doc, replete with Oedipal hang-ups, is in love with Marie and uses her to feed his Madonna complex. He does not make any moves toward her, but he does pick up her scarf and fondle it, and his expression when he sees her reflects his love. (At such times, Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” 1825, is used by the playwright as background music to show Doc’s illusions of Marie’s purity.)
Much of the business of the play is accomplished during the slatternly Lola’s long talks with the neighbor, the milkman, and the...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Inge has been commended for the realism of his early plays, and Come Back, Little Sheba is a prime example of this realism. The play’s set is drab and, during most of the play, cluttered and sloppy. Lola’s dress and demeanor reflect that she has given up caring. The emotional tone of the play is reinforced by the set.
Inge has been criticized for the slow buildup to Doc’s drunk scene, which, to some viewers, is tiresome. Inge, however, planned this aspect of the play very deliberately. He likened the force of the drunk scene, which is the play’s center, to that of a tornado. He wanted the play to reflect that period of almost eerie quiet that precedes a storm. Then he wanted the “tornado” to burst forth in its incredible fury and to command the total attention that such a phenomenon does in nature. The drunk scene transfixes an audience almost lulled into lethargy by the preceding calm. As theater, this approach works well; Doc’s fury commands the full attention of the audience.
Some early critics questioned the psychological validity of the dream sequences. After he wrote them, Inge had them read by psychiatrists to check their psychological accuracy, and the scenes stood up to their scrutiny. They are now generally viewed as essential, psychologically convincing elements in the play.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Burgess, Charles E. “An American Experience: William Inge in St. Louis, 1943-1949.” Papers on Language and Literature 7 (1976): 438-468.
Diehl, Digby. “Interview with William Inge.” Behind the Scenes: Theater and Film Interviews from the Transatlantic Review, edited by Joseph F. McCrindle. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.
Herron, Ira Honaker. “Our Vanishing Towns: Modern Broadway Versions.” Southwest Quarterly 51 (Summer, 1966): 209-220.
Inge, William R. A Rustic Moralist. Manchester, N.H.: Ayer,...
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