Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In centering his plot on a conflict between father and son, Preston Jones placed The Oldest Living Graduate squarely in one of the great American dramatic traditions. Plays such as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (pr., pb. 1949), Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (pr., pb. 1955), and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (pr., pb. 1956) come instantly to mind as examples of this tradition. Jones’s satiric exploration of small-town values is also part of a long American literary tradition dating from Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915) and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Examination of an old person’s confrontation with his own mortality is a universal theme, but it is particularly instructive to compare Jones’s play with Flannery O’Connor’s short story about the death of a Civil War veteran while attending his granddaughter’s graduation, “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” (1953).

In Jones’s own development, The Oldest Living Graduate is the third play of A Texas Trilogy, his first works to be presented to the public. Each play stands alone dramatically, but each becomes richer when seen in relationship to the other two. All are set in the same locale (an imaginary town modeled on Colorado City, Texas), and names dropped casually in one play become full-fledged characters in another. Thus, the practical nurse...

(The entire section is 535 words.)