Themes and Meanings
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.