The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sunrise at Campobello chronicles the life of future American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the brutal onset of his infantile paralysis (polio) to his triumphant return to political life three years later. The curtain rises on the large living room of his summer home at Campobello in Canada’s New Brunswick province. Several of the Roosevelt children run in and report the day’s outdoor activities to their mother, Eleanor. Soon Franklin bounds in behind them. He is a forty-year-old man, fit, strong, and in the prime of life. The pleasant family chatter continues with some good-natured bickering among the children.

With Eleanor and Franklin momentarily alone, he reveals that the swim did not refresh him as it usually does. Franklin unexpectedly stumbles and grabs his back. He dismisses it as a spot of lumbago.

Scene 2 opens three weeks later to a changed world for the Roosevelts. The normally robust Franklin has fallen seriously ill and has been diagnosed with polio. His legs are paralyzed, he cannot sit up unsupported, and for a time, cannot even hold a spoon. Sara, Franklin’s mother, and Louis Howe, his friend and political adviser, have joined the family to assist with Franklin’s care. Sara, Eleanor, and Louis discuss Franklin’s condition and their interrelationships become clear. Sara, an indomitable matriarch, disapproves of the chain-smoking Howe, who she thinks enjoys riding on Franklin’s coattails. Eleanor, who respects Howe’s abilities, carefully defends him to her overpowering mother-in-law. Nevertheless, they all seem united in their love and devotion to the stricken Franklin.

Scene 3 takes place one month later, when preparations are under way for...

(The entire section is 707 words.)