The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia Analysis

Preston Jones

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia opens in the meeting room of the Knights of the White Magnolia in the Cattleman’s Hotel. Ramsey-Eyes sweeps in preparation for the evening’s meeting, giving the audience time to take in the play’s single setting. The room is run-down, with stained walls and shabby furnishings. At one end is a podium decorated with a grimy painting of a white magnolia. Behind it, flanked by Confederate and Texas flags, hangs a cross ornamented with light bulbs. Opposite is the doorway, with a coatrack and tattered banners on the upper wall.

Rufe Phelps and Olin Potts enter arguing, setting the tone for the meeting, which will be marked by petty bickering. They totally ignore Ramsey-Eyes’ greeting and other pleasantries, as does Red Grover, who enters next. Ramsey-Eyes, snubbed, leaves to return to the hotel lobby and is thereupon accused of being “uppity.”

L. D. Alexander enters, and, after some ribbing, the men plan a practical joke on Skip Hampton, the lodge lush. When Skip comes in, they hide the bourbon provided by Red, claiming that Skip was to bring the “refreshments.” Skip is fooled only briefly, much to Red’s irritation. When Rufe and Olin leave to fetch Colonel Kinkaid, the rest discuss Floyd Kinkaid, his son, venting their resentment because Floyd has never joined the lodge.

Rufe and Olin, followed by Ramsey-Eyes, carry in Colonel Kinkaid, an invalid, and set him in a wheelchair. Once Ramsey-Eyes is dismissed, L. D. administers the oath and announces that instead of playing dominoes and drinking, the usual activities, the Knights are going to initiate a new member, one Lonnie Roy McNeil, from Silver City. The others manage to placate the Colonel, who damns all Silver City men as cowards, but Skip and Red break into a quarrel over Skip’s desire for a drink. Their wrangling is interrupted by the comic arrival of Lonnie, who enters held by Ramsey-Eyes like a captured spy. Red, with characteristic intolerance, sends Ramsey-Eyes packing back to the lobby.

Once underway, the meeting is frequently interrupted with abrasive confrontations. The audience does manage, however, to get a brief history of the organization, which flourished during the 1920’s and 1930’s but has since come on hard times. The...

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The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The principal theme of The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia is enhanced by visual symbols. Chief among these are the movement’s emblems: the cross adorned with light bulbs and the painting of the white magnolia. The stains on the latter suggest the degeneration of the brotherhood’s values, while the cross, the central symbol, suggests the movement’s fate. It shines brilliantly for a brief moment, then dies out, to be relighted by Ramsey-Eyes, who, ironically, possesses a generosity of spirit the brethren sorely lack.

Other elements suggest decay. The floor is splintered and warped and the walls stained and faded, creating the impression that the Cattleman’s Hotel is itself a relic, a shabby reminder of the agrarian myth. Symbolic motifs include the disappearance of the book and the degeneration of the initiation ritual into mere travesty. The book, finally carried off by L. D., is missing the scrap from which Ramsey-Eyes reads, with its “journey toward de truth” that the lodge members cannot make.

Although taking a tough if oblique look at racial bigotry, the play remains comic in perspective. The regional dialect of the characters is often amusing. Red’s cynical gibes, for example, are very colorful. He says of Skip that he “wouldn’t pass up a drink if he had to squeeze it out of an armadillo’s ass,” and that letting Skip have the key to his liquor store “would be like givin’ old L. D. . . ....

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The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Busby, Mark. Preston Jones. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1983.

Clurman, Harold. “Theatre.” Nation, October 9, 1976, 348-350.

Cook, Bruce. “Preston Jones: Playwright on the Range.” Saturday Review, May 15, 1976, 40-42.

Marsh, Annemarie. Preston Jones: An Interview. London: New London Press, 1978.

Prideaux, Tom. “The Classic Family Drama Is Revived in A Texas Trilogy.” Smithsonian 7 (October, 1976).

Thomas, Les. “A Star Rises in Dallas.” Southern Living 13 (January, 1978): 60-63.