Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
As are most of Henley’s works, this play is set in a small southern town. In Delmont, Mississippi, a beauty pageant, the Miss Firecracker contest, is held every Fourth of July. Carnelle Scott is a contestant in this year’s pagent, in which two of her cousins are also involved. The cousins have actually assembled because the aunt who raised Carnelle has died, and her two children, Carnelle’s cousins Elain and Delmount, have returned home to settle matters. The house has been left to Delmount, who has just been released from a mental institution.
In addition to violent behavior, Delmount is guilty of statutory rape, years ago, of some young girls. Elain is seeking asylum because she has just left her husband. Carnelle realizes that she will have to vacate the family home, but not before she leaves town in a blaze of glory as Miss Firecracker, a title won some years before by her beautiful cousin Elain.
While death or attempted murder might drive the conflicts in previous Henley plays, the tension here is in the preparations for the big pageant. The audience learns that neither Elain nor Delmount feels Carnelle has a chance, in part because of her previous habit of having casual sex with so many men, apparently seeking love because she was abandoned by her father after her mother’s death. Indeed, the local name for Carnelle is not Miss Firecracker but Miss Hot Tamales.
Two other characters soon appear: Popeye, the young...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
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