Driving Miss Daisy

by Alfred Uhry

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378

Although friendship between two unlikely persons—an elderly, wealthy, white Jewish widow and her black chauffeur—is the predominant theme of the play, race relations, human dignity, integrity, and trust are other important themes in the play. It takes a man of great personal integrity like Hoke to lessen and eventually to eliminate the subconscious prejudice harbored by Miss Daisy. Although Miss Daisy compares African Americans to little children and makes snide remarks about Christians, she asserts to Boolie throughout the play that she is not prejudiced and he knows it. Miss Daisy’s subconscious bigotry is also depicted in her expression of utter displeasure at her daughter-in-law’s elaborate Christmas decorations and her socializing with Episcopalians.

Hoke, honest and protective of Miss Daisy but never subservient, is also not free from prejudice. He successfully negotiates a raise with Boolie while at the same time making a disparaging comment about Jeanette Harris, Boolie’s cousin’s wife, who tried to hire him away from the Werthans as her chauffeur. “Now what you think I am? I ain’ studyin’ workin’ for no trashy somethin’ like her.” When Miss Daisy extends a backhanded invitation to Hoke for the Martin Luther King Day celebration, the audience can see that her prejudice is ebbing but is still present. Hoke establishes his integrity and personal dignity when he responds to the invitation, “Nevermind baby, next time you ask me someplace, ask me regular.” It is only after Hoke cautiously and lovingly talks to her during her lapse into senile dementia that she brings herself to say, “You are my best friend, Hoke.”

The personal drama of Miss Daisy and Hoke draws its sustenance from the larger context of changing race relations in Atlanta, Georgia, and throughout the United States. Sporadic allusions to segregated bathrooms, Boolie Werthan’s hesitation to attend the Martin Luther King dinner for fear of being branded as “Martin Luther Werthan” behind his back and subsequently losing his business contacts, and Hoke’s granddaughter teaching biology at Spelman College are examples of the lack of progression in transforming the racial landscape. It is Uhry’s brevity and the suggestion of the possibilities of multicultural friendships that lend the play its full meaning and save it from being a sappy melodrama.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1001

Race and Prejudice Race and prejudice are important themes in the play. Prejudice is demonstrated against both African Americans and Jews. Several brief statements remind readers of the situation for African Americans in the South. Hoke tells Boolie that he has had a hard time finding a job, for ‘‘[T]hey hirin' young if they hirin' colored.’’ Years later, Hoke refers to the fact that African Americans cannot use white facilities. Prejudice against Jews is demonstrated through the bombing of the temple and Boolie's reference to businessmen who dislike and stereotype Jews. He recognizes their belief that "as long as you got to deal with Jews, the really smart ones come from New York.’’ Hoke also specifically mentions the way many Southerners feel toward Jews: ‘‘People always talkin' bout they stingy and they cheap, but doan' say none of that roun' me.''

Daisy, herself a Jew, feels prejudice against African Americans, though she denies it. When the play opens, Daisy refers to African Americans as "them," which does not escape Boolie's notice. After she is convinced that Hoke is stealing from her, she becomes more aggressive in her accusations. ‘‘They all take things, you know,’’ she tells Boolie. Later in the same scene, she even says, ‘‘They are like having little children in the house. They want something so they just take it....

(This entire section contains 1001 words.)

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Not a smidgin of manners. No conscience.’’ She also mimics the speech of uneducated African Americans like Hoke: ‘‘'Nome,' he'll say.’’ Daisy's accusations, which indict all African Americans, backfire when Hoke brings her a new can of salmon. She can no longer hold his actions against an entire race. Throughout the course of the play, however, Daisy begins to lose her prejudices. She even argues with Boolie about their presence at a banquet honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Despite this change, she still does not see the prejudiced world around her clearly, and does not understand that some white Southerners dislike Jews as much as they dislike African Americans. When the temple is bombed, she is certain it must be a mistake—‘‘I'm sure they meant to bomb one of the conservative synagogues or the orthodox one. The temple is reform''—or that Hoke misheard the police officer. Hoke, however, understands better than Daisy. ‘‘It doan' matter to them people,’’ he says. ‘‘A Jew is a Jew to them folks. Jes' like light or dark we all the same nigger.’’ Daisy refuses to believe this, for even though she makes great strides in combating her prejudice, she still feels superior to Hoke, for many reasons: she is wealthier, she is his employer, and she is white. Because of this innate feeling, she does not invite Hoke to attend the King banquet with her until virtually the last minute. Hoke pridefully refuses, knowing that it is only because she takes him for granted that she did not speak with him about it sooner.

Friendship The relationship between Daisy and Hoke is at the heart of this play. When Daisy first meets Hoke, she dislikes him, both because he is African American and because she resents his presence in her home. Over the years, she comes to grow fond of Hoke, though her gruff speech would not indicate this. Both Hoke and Daisy, however, understand the feelings that they share. On the day of the ice storm, Hoke drives to her home despite the slick roads. He wants to be there for Daisy, whom he knows will be alone. Although Daisy is "[T]ouched’' and calls his actions "sweet,'' she still reproves him for tracking dirt into her kitchen. Hoke says, "Now Miz Daisy, what you think I am? A mess?’’ Though Daisy responds in the affirmative, the stage directions note, ‘‘This is an old routine between them and not without affection.’’ It is not until Daisy is much older—and getting occasionally confused—that she puts her feelings into words. ‘‘You're my best friend,’’ she tells Hoke, and she takes hold of his hand. It seems likely that she wants to express her feelings for Hoke while she is still able to do so.

Growing Old An important theme in the play is growing old. The play spans twenty-five years. By its end, Daisy is ninety-seven, Hoke is eighty-five, and Boolie is sixty-five. The characters all experience changes over the years. Daisy becomes more liberal, while Boolie becomes more conservative. Daisy and Hoke also become good friends. The two share the knowledge of the difficulties of aging. When Daisy grows confused, thinking that she is still a teacher, she says to Hoke, ‘‘I'm being trouble. Oh God, I don't want to be trouble to anybody.’’ She realizes that her aging is making her more difficult, and she is afraid that she will become a burden. Hoke points out that she at least has the benefit of aging in comfort. "You want something to cry about, I take you to the state home, show you what layin' out dere in de halls.’’

Eventually, Boolie puts Daisy in a nursing home. The stage directions note that "[S]he seems fragile and diminished, but still vital.'' Her aging has not made her unwilling to speak her mind. "Go charm the nurses,’’ she tells Boolie when she wants him to leave. Though she is unable to feed herself very well, she still has her mind.

For his part, Hoke has changed too. He can no longer drive and, instead, must rely on his granddaughter to chauffeur him around. Through Hoke's inability to drive, the play also demonstrates that as people get older, they lose their independence, in a sense, becoming more like children again. Hoke is unable to visit Daisy often because the bus doesn't go to the nursing home. Hoke admits that ‘‘It hard [to visit Daisy], not drivin'.’’ At this point in their lives, people like Daisy and Hoke must rely on others for almost everything—even for the maintenance of cherished friendships.