Carson McCullers’s The Square Root of Wonderful opened to very poor reviews on Broadway on October 30, 1957. It closed a little over a month later, after only forty-five performances. In 1958, an edition of the play was published in the United States and Britain. In this edition, McCullers notes in the ‘‘Personal Preface’’ that, of all the various versions of the play, ‘‘the one which follows . . . is the most nearly the truth of what I want to say.’’
Today, the play is valued primarily as a window offering a view into the author’s unusual personal life. In the ‘‘Personal Preface,’’ McCullers writes that the play’s origins can be found in the difficult relationship she had with her husband, Reeves McCullers, before he committed suicide in 1953. According to McCullers, the play also deals with her beloved mother, who died suddenly in 1955. ‘‘So, unconsciously, the life-death theme of The Square Root of Wonderful emerged,’’ she writes.
The story takes place in a small town outside New York City during the 1950s. Phillip Lovejoy is an alcoholic writer whose early successes and more recent failures weigh heavily on his mind. He leaves the sanatorium where he has been recuperating from an attempted suicide and arrives at the house of his ex-wife, Mollie Lovejoy. Phillip is needy and in emotional pain. He soon discovers that Mollie is falling in love with John Tucker, an architect she recently rescued from car trouble, who is now living at the house. Phillip’s mother and sister are also visiting; their characters provide background inforT mation about Mollie and Phillip’s two marriages to each other as well as information about Phillip as a child in Georgia. Phillip, overcome by the probability of a life without Mollie, commits suicide by driving his car into a nearby pond. Mollie is now free to love John.