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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 957

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Talley and Son. It is sunset, July 4, 1944. The Talley family learns from a telegram delivered by Harley Campbell that Eldon Talley’s youngest child, Timmy, was killed in the Pacific in World War II. Family members argue with one another over the family fortune, the importance of war heroes, the decision whether to sell the clothing factory to the out-of-state Delaware Industries, and the difficulty of grief. The eldest Talley, Calvin, is senile, so his son, Eldon, assumes power of attorney for the family businesses, the local bank, and the factory, which he co-owns with Harley.

After Avalaine Platt, the illegitimate daughter of the family’s laundry woman, accuses Eldon of being her father, Calvin tricks the unsuccessful handyman Emmet Young into marrying Avalaine; he will work as head cutter at the clothing factory. When Eldon and Harley object, Calvin says that he will not allow Young to work for him; instead, if Harley consents, the family will sell the factory to Delaware Industries and thus rid the Talley family of possible scandal. The factory will then move to Louisiana.

Although Eldon disagrees with his father and threatens to use his power to prevent losing the factory, he convinces Harley to sell him all the Campbell shares from the local bank. This enables the Talley family to control the bank. Before this point, Eldon hoped Timmy would return to work in the factory. Calvin and his daughter, Lottie, remind him that neither Timmy nor his brother, Buddy, were ever truly interested in the clothing industry. Timmy’s interest in the family business was a way to obtain the love and approval of his father.

Eldon’s daughter, Sally, appears. Aunt Lottie, who encouraged Matt Friedman to take Sally away from the Talley clan, convinces her to elope with him without telling anyone. Lottie does not inform Sally of Timmy’s death until after the marriage. As the agreement between Harley and Eldon concerning the bank is finalized, Sally packs. Sally exits, but not before Eldon sees her. Ironically, although everyone in the family, except for Aunt Lottie, is anti-Semitic, Eldon allows her to leave, telling her he hopes she is not making a mistake. The play ends with Lottie and Timmy (in his role as narrator) reflecting on the deterioration of the house—and, by implication, of the family.

Talley’s Folly. At the Talley family boathouse, Matt Friedman and Sally Talley discuss their relationship, World War II, the Talley family, and each other’s dreams and aspirations. Although Sally protests that she does not love Matt, it is clear that she does. Sally recognizes that she is the family misfit. She works as a nurse in an army hospital, is outspoken like her Aunt Lottie, and is fired from teaching Sunday school. She also defends Matt against the family’s anti-Semitic prejudice. Her father, Eldon, and her brother, Buddy, are most suspicious of Matt’s socialistic ideas, which come into direct conflict with the money-making, capitalistic patriarchs. In the past Sally was expected to wed Harley, son of the equally powerful Campbell, until she learns she is barren and thus is neither a financial nor a social asset. Matt, a bachelor in his forties, loves Sally, who is twelve years younger, and fights for her. Sally is reluctant to marry Matt because she cannot have his children; ironically, Matt does not want any children since he thinks the world is much too horrible. Despite Matt and Sally’s obvious differences and disagreements, the two agree to marry.

Fifth of July. In 1977, Kenneth Jr., his sister, June, his lover, Jed Jenkins, his niece, Shirley, and his Aunt Sally reunite with June and Ken’s friends, Gwen and John Landis. The Landises, Ken, and June all attended Berkeley during the turbulent 1960’s and were actively involved in antiwar protests. Hoping for a better United States, they realized the impossibility of achieving a utopian democratic society that valued the individual human being. Ken served in Vietnam for a cause in which he did not believe—and lost both his legs.

Ken, without the consent of his family or the devoted Jed, decides to sell the family home to John, a horrible capitalist. John and Gwen plan to make the house a recording studio. A singer and a drug addict, Gwen hopes to continue her rise to the top. Ken recently fell down in front of a classroom of high school students and thus loses all confidence in himself. He does not want to take a position teaching English at the local high school and live on the Talley farm. Aunt Sally, whose husband, Matt, died recently, wishes to scatter his ashes into the lake. Jed, who loves and cultivates the land, scatters the ashes in his rose garden on the Talley property. Ken’s decision to sell the family estate is much more difficult than expected. Ken learns that his best friends (including his former lover, John) ran away to Europe without him rather than wait until he could accompany them. He regains his self-confidence and appreciation of family ties when he learns of John’s betrayal and when John accidentally knocks him down. Ken cannot sell the land to one for whom honor, family, and love of nature mean nothing. Sally will live at the house with the gay couple. Ken changes his mind; he will not sell.

Ken’s refusal to sell the Talley home to an outsider and Shirley’s dreams for the future demonstrate that there is still hope for the Talley family. He will return to teaching—his lifelong ambition—and Shirley, by rejecting her ill-bred and corrupt father to remain with the Talley clan, might become the most famous person in Missouri history.


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