Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1719
More than twenty years after Alfred Uhry arrived in New York with dreams of becoming a lyricist, he made a surprise hit with his first original play, Driving Miss Daisy. Uhry had actually made the decision to leave the theater for good when, as he told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, he suddenly decided to write a play about his grandmother. Lena Guthman Fox was a former schoolteacher who insisted on driving long after she could safely do so, so her family hired Will Coleman, an African-American chauffeur. Uhry believed that exploring their friendship could, at the least, counter misperceptions about racial relations in the South. Driving Miss Daisy took New York's theater-going crowd by storm and played Off-Broadway for three years.
Daisy Werthan is the play's title character, but she shares the stage and the audience's respect with Hoke Coleburn, the illiterate African-American man, twelve years her junior, who nevertheless becomes her ''best friend.'' The two older people, though of vastly different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes, are able to establish a valuable relationship. They share crucial similarities, yet their differences allow them the opportunity to learn from each other and enrich their lives.
The play opens with Daisy's refusal to acknowledge that she is no longer capable of driving safely. ''It was the car's fault,'' she declares, speaking of her accident. She longs for her old car. ‘‘You should have let me keep my La Salle ... It never would have behaved this way,’’ she tells Boolie. Daisy wants to be in control of her own life. Don Shewey, writing in American Theatre, points out some of the reasons for Daisy's stubbornness. ''Her physical and social vulnerability, because of her age and because she's Jewish in an overwhelmingly Christian society, only exacerbates the sharpness with which she hides her fear and fragility.’’
Hoke also suffers the same vulnerability, because of his age, but primarily because of his racial background. Unlike Daisy, he admits to this insecurity. When Boolie comments that Hoke has been out of work for a long time, he frankly replies, ''Well, Mist' Werthan, you try bein' me and looking for work. They hirin' young if they hirin' colored, an' they ain' even hirin' much young, seems like.’’
Though Daisy is white and Hoke is black, they both have preconceived notions of race. Daisy holds deep-seated prejudices against African Americans, but she does not acknowledge them, for they are simply the fabric of her society. For instance, a missing can of salmon provides all the opportunity she needs to denounce his race: ''They want something so they just take it,’’ she says to her son, Boolie. Over the years, Hoke's quiet honesty and dignity force Daisy to rethink her ideas.
Hoke also has strong notions about Jews. Unlike Daisy, however, his prejudices are positive. ‘‘I'd druther drive for Jews,’’ he tells Boolie during his interview. ''People always talkin' 'bout they stingy and they cheap, but doan' say none of that roun' me.’’ He holds Jews in higher esteem than their Christian counterparts for no truly valid reason—the same way that Daisy's prejudices have no basis.
Both Daisy and Hoke are formidably stubborn, but they have different ways of showing this trait. Daisy tends toward verbal protestation, as when Boolie tells her that he is going to hire a driver. Though she speaks loudly and vehemently, the play aptly demonstrates Daisy's habit of eventually succumbing, though she acts like she is not doing so even while it is happening. She also attempts to maintain control of her own life by placing herself in charge of the unimportant details that comprise her surroundings, including the speed at which Hoke drives. Hoke, in contrast, speaks little but takes firm action. He...
(The entire section contains 5227 words.)
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