Paul Green Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111207662-Green.jpg Paul Green in 1941 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

An extremely prolific writer, Paul Green produced work in all the main literary genres. Related to his numerous stage plays is his work in other dramatic forms. Some of the screenplays he wrote for Hollywood include Cabin in the Cotton (1932; adaptation of Harry Harrison Kroll’s novel of the same title), State Fair (1933, with Sonya Levien; adaptation of Phil Stong’s novel of the same title), Dr. Bull (1933; adaptation of James Gould Cozzens’s novel The Last Adam), David Harum (1934; adaptation of Edward Noyes Westcott’s novel of the same title), Time Out of Mind (1947; adaptation of Rachel Field’s novel of the same title), and Black Like Me (1963; adaptation of John Howard Griffin’s novel of the same title).

Green’s fiction includes two novels, The Laughing Pioneer (1932) and This Body the Earth (1935), and several collections of short stories: Wide Fields (1928), Salvation on a String and Other Tales of the South (1946), Dog on the Sun (1949), Words and Ways (1968), Home to My Valley (1970), and Land of Nod and Other Stories (1976). Green’s verse appeared in The Lost Colony Song-Book (1938), The Highland Call Song-Book (1941), Song in the Wilderness (1947), The Common Glory Song-Book (1951), Texas Song-Book (1967), and Texas Forever (1967).

Nonfiction by Green includes a critical work, Contemporary American Literature: A Study of Fourteen Outstanding American Writers (1925, with Elizabeth Lay Green); a book about teaching, Forever Growing: Some Notes on a Credo for Teachers (1945); and four collections of writings on the theater, The Hawthorn Tree (1943), Dramatic Heritage (1953), Drama and the Weather (1958), and Plough and Furrow (1963).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Early in his long career as a playwright, Paul Green was hailed as the promising young Eugene O’Neill of the South. The New York drama critics were encouraging and so was a Pulitzer Prize for In Abraham’s Bosom in 1927. Green’s promise, however, was never quite fulfilled, although he continued to write for the New York stage up until World War II. Both Green’s initial success and his ultimate failure in New York can be attributed to his folksy images of the South—images that, on examination, and with repetition and age, proved stereotypical, especially in comparison with the work of more substantial Southern writers, such as Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner. Green wrote too prolifically for his work to attain consistent quality: In particular, his characters, usually meant to be realistic, tended to be one-dimensional (or, when he tried to make them complex, merely inconsistent), and, for a student and teacher of philosophy, Green’s lack of philosophical depth is disappointing.

When the romance with New York waned, Green, who had a down-home lover in the Carolina Playmakers and who had flirted with German experimental drama and with Hollywood, went in other directions. These other directions constitute his main achievement. Along with such groups as the Carolina Playmakers , Green helped to expand the material, techniques, and audiences of legitimate drama in the United States. He brought in more folk and historical material, music, and stylized techniques, and his “symphonic” plays (historical plays usually with patriotic themes), performed in outdoor theaters recalling the original Greek drama, brought drama to the people, particularly in the South. Immensely popular, great tourist attractions, some of the symphonic dramas continue to be performed, including the first one, The Lost Colony. Unfortunately, the setting, ritual, and spectacle of the symphonic dramas do not cover up Green’s tendency toward stereotypes, which became even more pronounced with the historical material.

Of Green’s prodigious output, his best work includes White Dresses and Hymn to the Rising Sun among the one-act plays, In Abraham’s Bosom and Johnny Johnson among the full-length plays, and Wilderness Road among the symphonic dramas.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Green, Paul. A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916-1981. Edited by Laurence G. Avery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994. This volume of Green’s letters, more than seven hundred pages long, includes illustrations as well as an index.

Isaac, Dan. “A White Voice for Downtrodden Blacks.” The New York Times, January 28, 2001, p. 6. Discusses Green’s life and his works, in particular Hymn to the Rising Sun.

Kenny, Vincent S. Paul Green. New York: Twayne, 1971. Criticism and interpretation of Green’s works. Includes a bibliography.

Lazenby, Walter S. Paul Green. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1970. This forty-four-page monograph provides a brief commentary on the development of Green’s plays simultaneously with his development as a writer. Green’s early plays are motivated by compassion for the lowly and by the troubling aspects of the South. In Abraham’s Bosom, The Field God, and The House of Connelly are given in-depth analysis. Lazenby then turns to the outdoor symphonic dramas, devoting primary attention to Potter’s Field and The Lost Colony.

Rowley, Hazel. “Backstage and Onstage: The Drama of Native Son.” Mississippi Quarterly 52, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 215-239. Discusses the difficulties encountered when Green adapted Richard Wright’s Native Son for the stage, including John Houseman’s involvement in rewriting Green’s play.

Watson, Charles S. The History of Southern Drama. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. A history of drama in the South that contains a significant discussion of Green and the role that he played in converting regional themes to drama of national interest.