The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In Come Back, Little Sheba, Lola Delaney, fat, forty, and childless, has been married to Doc, a chiropractor whom she has driven to drink, for about twenty years. Doc seemingly had ahead of him a glorious future as a physician until he met Lola, a nubile beauty queen, whose father approved of few of her boyfriends. Doc was smitten but was slow to act; it took him a year to muster the courage to kiss Lola. Once he overcame his initial reticence, however, he promptly proceeded to impregnate her. Their marriage followed quickly, and Doc’s plans to become a doctor were scuttled for less ambitious ones.

Lola, too shy to go to a male obstetrician for her delivery, went instead to a midwife. The midwife botched the delivery, the baby died, and Lola was left barren. When the curtain rises, the main interest in Lola’s life has become her little white dog, Sheba, now lost. Lola looks for her and calls her, but Sheba does not return.

The Delaneys’ boarder, Marie, is an art student at a nearby college. Because her fiancé, Bruce, lives in another town, she has as well a casual sex partner, Turk, a brawny javelin-thrower, long on muscles and short on brains. Lola encourages Marie’s dalliance with Turk because she lives vicariously through their encounters.

Doc, replete with Oedipal hang-ups, is in love with Marie and uses her to feed his Madonna complex. He does not make any moves toward her, but he does pick up her scarf and fondle it, and his expression when he sees her reflects his love. (At such times, Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” 1825, is used by the playwright as background music to show Doc’s illusions of Marie’s purity.)

Much of the business of the play is accomplished during the slatternly Lola’s long talks with the neighbor, the milkman, and the...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Inge has been commended for the realism of his early plays, and Come Back, Little Sheba is a prime example of this realism. The play’s set is drab and, during most of the play, cluttered and sloppy. Lola’s dress and demeanor reflect that she has given up caring. The emotional tone of the play is reinforced by the set.

Inge has been criticized for the slow buildup to Doc’s drunk scene, which, to some viewers, is tiresome. Inge, however, planned this aspect of the play very deliberately. He likened the force of the drunk scene, which is the play’s center, to that of a tornado. He wanted the play to reflect that period of almost eerie quiet that precedes a storm. Then he wanted the “tornado” to burst forth in its incredible fury and to command the total attention that such a phenomenon does in nature. The drunk scene transfixes an audience almost lulled into lethargy by the preceding calm. As theater, this approach works well; Doc’s fury commands the full attention of the audience.

Some early critics questioned the psychological validity of the dream sequences. After he wrote them, Inge had them read by psychiatrists to check their psychological accuracy, and the scenes stood up to their scrutiny. They are now generally viewed as essential, psychologically convincing elements in the play.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Post-World War II America was a period marked by the shift of populations from cities to suburbs. Thanks to the G.I. Bill (which provided...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

An act is a major division in a drama. In Greek plays the sections of the drama signified by the appearance of the chorus...

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Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1949: Blue Cross Insurance programs cover thirty-seven million Americans, more than six times the number insured only ten years...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Research the history of Alcoholics Anonymous Most people did not speak freely of addictions in 1950. Consider whether Inge's play breaks any...

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Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Come Back, Little Sheba was adapted as a film in 1952 It was produced by Hal B. Wallace for Paramount Pictures and stars Shirley Booth...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Published in 1953, Picnic is Inge's second Broadway play to be set in the Midwest. The play is concerned with the relationship between...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Atkinson, Brooks Review of Come Back, Little Sheba in the New York Times, February 16,1950, p 28.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Burgess, Charles E. “An American Experience: William Inge in St. Louis, 1943-1949.” Papers on Language and Literature 7 (1976): 438-468.

Diehl, Digby. “Interview with William Inge.” Behind the Scenes: Theater and Film Interviews from the Transatlantic Review, edited by Joseph F. McCrindle. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1971.

Herron, Ira Honaker. “Our Vanishing Towns: Modern Broadway Versions.” Southwest Quarterly 51 (Summer, 1966): 209-220.

Inge, William R. A Rustic Moralist. Manchester, N.H.: Ayer,...

(The entire section is 129 words.)