Horton Foote Foote, Horton - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Horton Foote The Young Man from Atlanta

Award: Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Born in 1916, Foote is an American playwright, scriptwriter, and novelist.

For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 51.

Part of Foote's dramatic cycle "The Orphan's Home," The Young Man from Atlanta (1995) is noted for its examination of grief, family dynamics, and self-delusion. Set in the 1950s in Houston, Texas, the play centers on Will and Lily Dale Kidder following the death of their only son, Bill, who likely committed suicide. Refusing to discuss Bill's alleged homosexuality and the events surrounding his death, Will finds himself consumed with work; during the course of the play, however, Will is fired and replaced by a young executive-in-training. Meanwhile, to alleviate her grief, Lily Dale turns to religion and is comforted with stories of Bill's strong faith told by Bill's roommate, Randy Carter. Thankful for Randy's condolences and sympathetic to tales of his and his family's financial difficulties, Lily Dale gives him large sums of money despite her husband's protests and despite rumors that Randy took financial advantage of Bill and was his lover.

The Young Man from Atlanta has received a mixed reception. Negative reviews have faulted Foote's depiction of American society and quotidian concerns as limited in scope and criticized his colloquial dialogue as uninspired and clichéd. Other commentators, noting Foote's revelation of the truth surrounding Bill's death and lifestyle, have praised the work for its thematic focus on the American dream, blind optimism, self-denial, and the grieving process. The drama has also been lauded as an exercise in character development, a naturalistic piece succinctly evoking what is often thought to have been a more innocent time in contemporary American history, and an examination of the nature of familial ties and their inevitable secrets. Clive Barnes observed that The Young Man from Atlanta "is a simple, immensely satisfying play, crafted with elegance, alive with feeling, holding a mirror up if not to nature at least to the next best thing, our concept of nature."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Wharton Dance (play) 1939–40
Texas Town (play) 1941
Out of My House (play) 1941–42
Only the Heart (play) 1942
Ludie Brooks (television play) 1951
The Chase (play) 1952
The Old Beginning (television play) 1952
The Travelers (television play) 1952
The Death of the Old Man (television play) 1953
John Turner Davis (television play) 1953
The Midnight Caller (television play) 1953
The Oil Well (television play) 1953
Tears of My Sister (television play) 1953
The Trip to Bountiful (play) 1953
The Trip to Bountiful (television play) 1953
A Young Lady of Property (television play) 1953
The Traveling Lady (play) 1954
The Chase (novel) 1956
Harrison, Texas (television plays) 1956
Storm Fear (screenplay) 1956
Old Man [adaptor; from the novella by William Faulkner] (television play) 1958
Tomorrow [adaptor; from the short story by William Faulkner] (television play) 1960
Night of the Storm (play) 1961
To Kill a Mockingbird [adaptor; from the novel by Harper Lee] (screenplay) 1962
Tomorrow [adaptor; from the short story by William Faulkner] (play) 1963
Baby, the Rain Must Fall (screenplay) 1964
Hurry Sundown [adaptor, with Thomas Ryan; from the novel by K. B. Gilden] (screenplay) 1967
The Stalking Moon (screenplay) 1969
Gone with the Wind [adaptor; from the novel by Margaret Mitchell] (musical) 1972
Tomorrow [adaptor; based on the short story by William Faulkner] (screenplay) 1972
The Displaced Person [adaptor; based on the short story by Flannery O'Connor] (screenplay) 1977
§Courtship (play) 1978
§1918 (play) 1979
Barn Burning [adaptor; from the short story by William Faulkner] (screenplay) 1980
§On Valentine's Day (play) 1980
The Man Who Climbed Pecan Trees (play) 1982
∗∗The Roads to Home (play) 1982
Tender Mercies (screenplay) 1983
Blind Date (play) 1985
1918 (screenplay) 1985
The One-Armed Man (play) 1985
The Prisoner's Song (play) 1985
The Road to the Graveyard (play) 1985
The Trip to Bountiful (screenplay) 1985
On Valentine's Day (screenplay) 1986
§Lily Dale (play) 1986–87
§The Widow Claire (play) 1986–87
The Habitation of Dragons (play) 1988
The Land of the Astronauts (play) 1988
§Cousins (play) 1989
§The Death of Papa (play) 1989
§Convicts (screenplay) 1991
Of Mice and Men [adaptor; based on the novella by John Steinbeck] (screenplay) 1992
Night Seasons (play) 1993
Talking Pictures (play) 1994
God's Pictures (play) 1995
Laura Dennis (play) 1995
§The Young Man from Atlanta (play) 1995

∗This volume collects eight scripts Foote wrote for television.

†This work was later renamed Roots in a Parched Ground and is considered part of "The Orphan's Home" cycle.

‡This work is an adaptation of Foote's play The Traveling Lady.

§These works are part of the dramatic cycle known as "The Orphan's Home."

∗∗This trilogy is composed of the works The Roads to Home, The Dearest of Friends, and Spring Dance.

Clive Barnes (review date 30 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Foote's Giant Step Forward," in New York Post, January 30, 1995.

[An English-born critic, Barnes is the author and editor of several books about the performing arts. In the following favorable review, he discusses the theme of self-delusion in The Young Man from Atlanta.]

Things change suddenly, and with those changes, a life can unfurl in odd shapes, odd shapes casting odder shadows; as we recognize what we took to be true as not quite what we first thought. This is the world of playwright Horton Foote, whose plays are domestic variations on a common theme of relationships, man with his world, people with people, family with family.

The things that happen in that world are always on a human scale of possibility and disappointment. The latest variations are in The Young Man From Atlanta, given its world premiere this weekend at the Kampo Cultural Center by the Signature Theater Company as part of its season-long Horton Foote retrospective.

The play opens up with a dense slice of exposition, worthy of Ibsen or Arthur Miller.

In short order we learn that 64 year-old Will Kidder, chief executive with a wholesale produce company, is besotted with "wanting the biggest and the best," has just bought a $200,000 house (the time, by the way, is 1950; the place, Houston, Texas), has recently been diagnosed with a heart condition, and is still...

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Vincent Canby (review date 30 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Nameless Menace in Latest by Foote," in The New York Times, January 30, 1995, pp. 13, 16.

[For many years the chief film critic of The New York Times, Canby is also a novelist, playwright, and theater critic. In the following, he offers a favorable review of The Young Man from Atlanta, noting Foote's focus on the American dream, homosexuality, grief, and family dynamics.]

A menacing secret lazes around, sharklike, just beneath the comparatively placid surface of The Young Man From Atlanta, the sorrowful, satiric new play by Horton Foote that opened on Friday night at the Kampo Cultural Center. The secret is never mentioned by the characters whose lives it threatens to ruin. Having no name, it can't be spoken even on a dare. Instead, it's always referred to indirectly, and with a kind of puzzled Christian innocence that denies the secret's corrosive effects. Mr. Foote's characters say that everything's all right, but he knows better.

After Talking Pictures and Night Seasons, the Signature Theater Company continues its season devoted to the playwright with a first-rate production of a work that will haunt you long after the performance. The Young Man From Atlanta is both quintessential Horton Foote and, in terms of subtext, one of his least characteristic works.

The director is Peter Masterson, who was responsible for the film adaptation of Mr. Foote's Trip to Bountiful. The excellent cast is headed by Ralph Waite and, in a role very different from the big-hearted madam she played in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Carlin Glynn, who is married to the director. The Signature people know how to make a playwright feel at home.

The Young Man From Atlanta, which is to run through Feb. 26, forsakes Mr. Foote's usual rural Texas setting for the big city of Houston. The time is the spring of 1950, a few months before the outbreak of the Korean War, when American business was still adjusting to the jittery post-World War II economy. The principal characters are Will (Mr. Waite) and Lily Dale Kidder (Ms. Glynn), though a major presence is their only child, the 32-year-old Bill, who had been living in Atlanta until his recent death.

It seems that while on a business trip in Florida, Bill stopped for a swim, walked into a lake and drowned. Just like that. The curious thing is that he didn't know how to swim. His father acknowledges that it was a suicide, though for reasons he doesn't want to think about. Lily Dale is convinced that it was some kind of terrible accident.

As imagined by Mr. Foote and played with desperate heartiness by Mr. Waite, Will recalls the kind of middle-American...

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Michael Feingold (review date 7 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Normal Foote," in The Village Voice, Vol. XL, No. 6, February 7, 1995, p. 81.

[Feingold is an American critic and educator. In the excerpt below, he questions the validity of Foote's portrait of contemporary American society in The Young Man from Atlanta.]

Horton Foote's plays invariably amaze me. Characters come and go, a situation of some kind is broached, and something happens, or is said to happen, which does or doesn't resolve said situation, more often the latter. That's all there is, a very sparse return for the ticket price, yet Foote's plays keep getting produced, applauded, praised. His work seems to fulfill some idea Americans have,...

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Richard Christiansen (review date 23 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Foote's 'Young Man' Wonderfully Detailed," in Chicago Tribune, February 23, 1995, p. 6.

[Christiansen is an American journalist, editor, and critic who frequently writes about Chicago's artistic community. In the following review, he praises Foote's use of characterization and dialogue, and discusses his treatment of family in The Young Man from Atlanta.]

Horton Foote, the master miniaturist of American drama, has created a small but potent domestic tragedy with his new play, The Young Man From Atlanta.

A writer for more than 50 of his 78 years, Foote is perhaps best known for his Academy Award-winning screenplays of To Kill a...

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John Simon (review date 27 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "With Blunt Tools," in New York Magazine, Vol. 28, No. 9, February 27, 1995, pp. 115-17.

[An American essayist and critic, Simon has served as a drama critic for Esquire and the New Leader. In the excerpt below, he offers a highly negative account of The Young Man from Atlanta.]

"Where is the Christopher Columbus to whom we'll owe the forgetting of a continent?" asked the great poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Upon seeing The Young Man From Atlanta, I would not go so far as to ask its author, Horton Foote, to forget an entire continent; I'd settle for his corner of Texas, which he keeps chewing and rechewing: There is a point where mastication...

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