Does Hellman's seemingly innocent title "The Children's Hour" have a relation to Longfellow's poem of the same name?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hellman's title "The Children's Hour" seems to be a direct allusion to Longfellow's poem by the same name.  However, the connection is quite ironic.  In Longfellow's poem, the innocence of little girls is portrayed as they pounce excitedly on the speaker wanting to hear an adventure story.  He speaks of the "patter of little feet" and "voices soft and sweet."  He then tells a story that captivates the children in much the same way that they captivated the speaker with their anxious desire for a story.

In Hellman's dark play, the children are far from innocent.  It is the children, specifically Mary, who tell the story that begins the rumor that the two teacher's of the school are in a "unnatural" relationship. This rumor ultimately causes the suicide of the Martha Dobie, one of the teachers.  While Longfellow refers to the children's plotting, whispers, planning to take the speaker by surprise in their hopes to hear a story, Hellman's young girl Mary plots, whispers, plans, and creates her own story that captures the attention of the adults and stains the reputation of the teachers "forever and a day."


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The Children's Hour

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