The Last Picture Show Additional Summary

Larry McMurtry


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry’s third novel, treats the struggle to come of age in a society that has lost traditional moorings. In the small fictional town of Thalia, Texas, Sonny Crawford, from whose point of view the story is told, has no real family. In his senior year in high school in 1954, Sonny lives in a rooming house with his friend Duane.

Their football coach, Herman Popper, is a poor coach, but he is even worse as a classroom teacher. Unfortunately, most of the other teachers are no better, and Sonny and Duane sleep through most of their classes. The only outlets for youth in the town besides athletics are Fundamentalist religious activities, sexual experimentation, and the movies at the town’s one “picture show.”

The title of the book suggests small-town monotony and emptiness: The best Thalia can offer is the escape of movies, a way out of facing drab realities. The “picture show,” however, is about to close. Television—a social change that does not seem to be an improvement—has made the movie house unprofitable.

Sonny and Duane and the others have no family to guide them, no school that offers positive challenges, no meaningful religious grounding. Their sexual experimentation brings no real intimacy, no lasting relationships. What once was an agricultural ranching economy is now dominated by oil. Newly rich men drive fast cars, exploit the land’s natural resources, and callously...

(The entire section is 420 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Sonny is a football player in his last year of high school, living in Thalia, a small town in Texas. He lives with his best friend, Duane, and dates Charlene Suggs. Sonny is not very fond of Charlene and is in love with Duane’s girlfriend, Jacy Farrow, but Charlene is the only available girl in school. Sonny’s days consist of sleeping through school, driving a butane truck, and hanging out at a pool hall owned by Sam the Lion, the veritable town elder. The only other thing to do in town is watch movies at the local movie theater, where most of Sonny and Duane’s dates with Charlene and Jacy take place. Sonny also regularly keeps Billy company. As Billy is mentally disabled, Sam the Lion takes note of Sonny’s generous nature toward Billy and is less critical of Sonny than of the other boys in town.

Duane concerns himself with trying to make love to Jacy and is wholly intent on marrying her after high school. Duane, however, is from a poor family, while Jacy’s family is far wealthier. Jacy is peripherally aware that she will never marry Duane, but Duane is caught up in being in love and is resolved to make it work. Duane spends most evenings after school working on an oil drill, while Jacy concerns herself with preparing for college and leaving Thalia forever.

Sonny, Duane, and Jacy are sexually frustrated, and they constantly push the boundaries between their desires and what is socially acceptable. The entire town, in fact, is sublimely aware of sexual frustration, and the populace is rife with sexual controversy. Jacy’s mother, Lois Farrow, is known to be engaged in an affair with a man named Abilene, a local pool shark and Duane’s boss. The high school’s football and basketball coach, Coach Popper, is ostensibly a closeted homosexual, despite being married and more than willing to point out and berate other possible homosexuals. Popper’s wife, Ruth, is so neglected that she and Sonny soon begin an affair of their own after Coach Popper asks Sonny to take Ruth to a doctor, a task for which Coach Popper himself cannot make time.

As part of her attempt to pave the way to post-Thalia life, Jacy begins to hang out with wealthier kids in Wichita Falls. There, she thinks she falls in love with a boy named Bobby Sheen and quickly makes plans to replace Sheen’s girlfriend, Annie-Annie. Duane, rightfully suspicious, beats up the boy responsible for taking Jacy to Wichita Falls, an attention seeker named Lester Marlow. After the beating, Lester tells Duane about Bobby Sheen, though Duane is loathe to believe him. Lester runs to tell his friends that he was jumped by Duane and Sonny, and Lester’s friends arrive in Thalia to take revenge.

Fed up with everything, Sonny and...

(The entire section is 1116 words.)