Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Little Foxes is a three-act play with only ten characters, seven of whom are related by blood or marriage. Lillian Hellman made no secret of the fact that The Little Foxes was inspired by her mother’s family, the Marxes, who originally lived in Demopolis, Alabama. Regina Hubbard Giddens is said to resemble Lillian’s own grandmother, Sophie Marx Newhouse; Ben Hubbard, her uncle Jacob Marx, who was a successful banker in Demopolis and later in New York; and Birdie, Lillian’s gentle, unworldly mother, Julia Newhouse Hellman. In her memoir Pentimento (1973), Hellman writes that Alexandra is the girl she imagined herself to have been at her age.

The characters in The Little Foxes can be placed in two categories: those who have ruthlessly seized control over their community, for the purpose of self-aggrandizement; and those who, though governed by principle, are relatively powerless. The first group consists of Regina, Ben, Oscar, and Leo and the second of Horace, Birdie, the two black servants Addie and Cal, and the only good Hubbard, Alexandra. The action of the play involves not one but two conflicts. The four rapacious Hubbards, led by Regina and Ben, are all seeking in one way or another to neutralize those who oppose them; meanwhile, they are also involved in a struggle among themselves for power and for property.

The play is set in a small Southern town in 1900. As the curtain goes up, the Hubbards have gathered at the Giddens home to entertain William Marshall, a...

(The entire section is 627 words.)