The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Oldest Living Graduate concerns an important week near the end of Colonel J. C. Kinkaid’s life. The audience is immediately introduced to him in the first scene through his exchange (“conversation” is hardly the word) with his daughter-in-law, Maureen Kinkaid, and their neighbor Martha Ann Sickenger. The setting, as it remains throughout the play, is the den of his son’s ranch-style house on the outskirts of Bradleyville, Texas. This dialogue is important not so much for the information it conveys as for the personalities it reveals. The colonel is seventy-five, wheelchair bound, cantankerous, and more than a bit dotty, his mind often moving through a series of associations to the most comical conclusions. However, he still has drive and spunk, along with an indomitable will that he tries to impose on others. Even in his dotage, his insights are often keen. Both likable and irritating, he is by turns admired and merely tolerated by Maureen, whose own personality at times resembles his.

Martha Ann is an empty-headed chatterbox who perpetually annoys Maureen. A few nuggets of information important to the development of the plot do appear among the humorous arguments and misunderstandings that ensue. The audience learns that the colonel was shell-shocked during the trench warfare of World War I; there is also mention of the Genet farm, which is dear to his heart. After he has left to have a look at this property, Martha Ann lets slip that her husband and Floyd Kinkaid, the colonel’s son, hope to capitalize on the farm as part of a lakeside development.

The husbands return, there is more banter revealing the essential barrenness of small-town life, and finally Maureen and Floyd are alone. Wealthy, childless, they have few aims. Maureen realizes that Floyd needs a challenge, but she is taken aback by his callous plans not only to develop his father’s cherished property but also to manipulate to his advantage the fact (it is now revealed) that his father is “the oldest livin’ graduate” of the Mirabeau B. Lamar Military Academy in Galveston. The school is moving to a new location, and its officials have decided to use the occasion to honor Colonel Kinkaid. Since the latter cannot make the trip to Galveston, the...

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The Oldest Living Graduate Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The story line of The Oldest Living Graduate constantly skirts sentimentality, which Preston Jones avoids through generous doses of comedy. The colonel is the primary source of much of the humor. One of Jones’s favorite devices is to let the colonel start an incongruous chain of associations that leads him further and further into fantasy, only to pull up short and shoot off again in a totally unexpected direction. For example, early in the play Maureen receives a telephone call from a preacher involved in the planned ceremony. Colonel Kinkaid intercepts the call on the den’s extension and decides, for some obscure reason, that it is an obscene call, whereupon he informs the caller that he has wasted a dime if he thinks that Maureen is sexually attractive. When Maureen finally makes the colonel realize that it is the preacher on the telephone, the colonel proceeds to denounce him for losing his religious calling. By the time Maureen finally grabs the receiver from the colonel’s hand, the minister has hung up. The colonel takes full credit for having shamed him, then declares, “Don’t like preachers anyway.” When Maureen demands to know why, however, Colonel Kinkaid denies having made such a statement and accuses Maureen of trying to get him into trouble with God in order to keep him out of Heaven.

Another comic device that Jones uses with both the colonel and Maureen is allowing them to tell the truth about a social situation when...

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The Oldest Living Graduate Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Anthony, Ole. “The Long Nights of Preston Jones.” Texas Monthly 7 (December, 1979): 180-189.

Bennett, Patrick. Talking with Texas Writers: Twelve Interviews. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1980.

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

Cook, Bruce. “Preston Jones: Playwright on the Range.” Saturday Review 3 (May 15, 1976): 40-42.

Kerr, Walter. “The Buildup (and Letdown) of Texas Trilogy.” New York Times, October 3, 1976, p. D3, D6.

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

Reynolds, R. C. “Humor, Dreams, and the Human Condition in Preston Jones’s A Texas Trilogy.” Southern Quarterly 24, no. 3 (1986): 14-24.