The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tobacco Road is set in the backwoods of Georgia, about thirty miles from Augusta. All three acts take place on Jeeter Lester’s farm, situated at the end of a tobacco road. The squalid shack and land, once prosperous from tobacco crops, are now completely run-down and everything is in complete ruin. The play opens in late afternoon. Jeeter Lester sits on his dilapidated front porch attempting to patch a worn-out inner tube while his son, Dude, viciously throws a ball against the side of the house. Jeeter yells at Dude, and they begin arguing. Grandma Lester wanders in, gathering up twigs, and Dude taunts her with the ball. Ada, Jeeter’s wife, comes out and yells at both men for not hauling wood to Augusta. Ada laments that she is hungry and needs some snuff to calm her stomach pains. Jeeter defends himself throughout the play by telling of his love for the land and his eagerness to plant a new crop, but nothing ever comes of it. Ellie May, Jeeter’s passionate daughter, who has a disfiguring harelip, enters, and Ada queries her about Pearl, Ada’s favorite child. Pearl married Lov Bensey some months ago and has not returned to the farm since. Jeeter and Ada had seventeen children; only Dude and Ellie May are still at home.

Moments later, Lov Bensey enters, carrying a gunnysack of turnips. The sight and smell are too much for the hungry Lester clan. Lov complains to Jeeter that Pearl will not share his marriage bed, and he wants her father to force her. Ellie May seductively slithers up to the sexually frustrated Lov, who responds to her advances. Jeeter grabs the turnips and rushes off into the fields while Ada and Grandma Lester drive off a disgusted Lov with their sticks.

Soon Sister Bessie, a self-styled country preacher, storms in, and after some comic byplay and munching of turnips, she prays that God will forgive Jeeter’s wicked ways. During the prayer, Bessie and Dude begin fondling each other. Bessie, a portly forty-year-old widow, announces that she is thinking of marrying again and may choose the sixteen-year-old Dude as her husband. First, however, she must pray; she will announce her decision the next day. Suddenly, Henry Peabody, another shiftless farmer, enters with good news. He reveals that Captain Tim, the land’s owner, is arriving from Augusta to give credit once again to the farmers. The act ends on a happy note.

Act 2 opens early...

(The entire section is 981 words.)