(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Lillian Hellman found the title of The Little Foxes in a biblical passage from the Song of Solomon: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.” The metaphor is appropriate not only for this play but also for the South as it was in 1900, just thirty-five years after the end of a devastating war which had cost it so many men and left its economy in a shambles. Many once-prosperous Southerners found themselves, like Birdie, so anxious to recapture their lost happiness that they were willing to believe almost anything and anyone. Whether it was an offer of marriage or an offer of Northern capital, any promise of help was likely to be accepted by people who in many cases were almost destitute. The “tender grapes” thus represent the new growth of a society which is struggling to become productive once again. The “little foxes” are the Hubbards, who are willing to destroy anything and anyone, including the society itself, in order to make a profit. It is ironic that just when a society is most vulnerable, predators have their greatest opportunities.

There are social, as well as economic, dimensions to the play. For example, traditionally Southern landowners considered merchants such as the Hubbards to be considerably below them in the social hierarchy. Therefore, there is more to Oscar’s mistreatment of Birdie than the fact that by nature he is a bully and by nature she is gentle. Whenever Oscar diminishes her, he is trying to prove to himself that he is now better than the people who had looked down on him. What he does not see is that no matter how brutal he is to Birdie,...

(The entire section is 675 words.)