The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia

by Preston Jones
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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia is the first and best known play in A Texas Trilogy, the others being Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander (pr. 1974, pb. 1976) and The Oldest Living Graduate (pr. 1974, pb. 1976). All focus on Bradleyville characters, many of whom appear in more than one part. Colonel Kinkaid, for example, is the titular and main character of The Oldest Living Graduate, while Skip Hampton, Lu Ann’s brother, is a major character in Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander.

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In their regional focus, the plays have much in common with plays such as Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (pr., pb. 1938) and narratives such as Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), works that deal with the intersecting lives of several characters. Like Anderson’s “grotesques,” the characters of A Texas Trilogy are more than mere small-town types. In particular, Colonel Kinkaid, Red Grover, Skip, and Lu Ann are well delineated and memorable.

The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia has the narrowest time frame, taking place on a single evening in 1962. The Oldest Living Graduate covers four days in the same year, and its action enfolds and relates to that of the former play. In the final scene, Colonel Kinkaid, who earlier in the evening had gone to the last lodge meeting, is brought home, ill and disoriented. Similarly, in its three-decade span, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander, the only three-act play in the trilogy, enfolds the other two plays, with action taking place ten years before the meeting, a year after it, and ten years later. It is in that play, a year after the lodge breaks up and Colonel Kinkaid dies, that Skip tries to kill himself by slitting his throat with a broken beer bottle in Red Grover’s bar.

Although each play is complete and whole, a fuller understanding of any one of them can be gained from the whole trilogy. Furthermore, the delineation of some characters is not complete in a single play, nor is the thematic foundation. Finally, The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, undoubtedly the tightest and most forceful of the three, is acerbic in tone. Balance is provided by the other two, which depict their main characters in a kinder light. Tonally, they are gentler, almost wistful, and in the character of Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander, the play named for her reveals that even in such a suffocating atmosphere as Bradleyville one can be compassionate and quietly heroic.

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