Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

This play resembles other Horton Foote plays in that it reminds the audience of the extraordinariness of ordinary human existence. Foote resembles the novelist William Faulkner in his conviction that fundamental truths can be found and expressed by means of a fictionalization of one’s intimate experience of a region. He also brings to mind Aristotle, for Mrs. Watts’s recognition of the unnecessary suffering of her son brings about the reversal of her misery as she realizes that she can act to diminish his pain. Her immediate sense of recovered strength and dignity amounts to a transformation.

The idea that wisdom comes through suffering is ancient, but this theme is as fundamental in Foote’s plays as in ancient Greek tragedies. It is the agony of Mrs. Watts’s disappointment in the Harrison bus station, echoed somewhat more mildly in her final outburst to Ludie at the old house, that makes it possible for her to comprehend and manage her disappointment. She renounces her dreams as she returns to the self-sacrificing role of loving mother, a woman who realizes she now has the strength to do what she must do and tolerate what she must tolerate in the final days of her life.

This play develops some of the significant conflicts familiar to any person of rural background who has moved to the city. The abandonment of the natural world for the artificial world can stress or distort human nature itself, and Mrs. Watts and Ludie feel that stress...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Christian faith implies a belief in the scriptural narrative and the acceptance of God’s favor extended to humanity through Christ. It accepts the immutable truth, goodness, and power of God. Also it can encompass a dependence on the truthfulness of another. That the protagonist knows by heart Psalm 91, which proclaims that God is a refuge of strength and protection, suggests that she is a woman of faith. Suffering, as a Christian theme, is something to be endured patiently, in the realization that present travail cannot be compared with the life and glory that will be later revealed. Jesus and Job are lucid examples. Both endure great suffering, accept it as God’s will but question it, and ultimately are rewarded by God, who ends their suffering.

To Mrs. Watts, like Job, the Lord has given and taken away. She has lost a comfortable rural livelihood, marital love, independence, and much more, and she questions her current plight. Although she does not achieve Job’s salvation, she does reach a state of acceptance. The hymn “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus,” recurs throughout the play, underscoring Mrs. Watts’s faith and ultimate acceptance.

Themes of acceptance and resignation are intertwined. Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in “The Serenity Prayer” (1934) clearly defines the former concept: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that...

(The entire section is 432 words.)