The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Young Man from Atlanta is set in Houston, Texas, in the spring of 1950. The first of its six scenes takes place in the office of the wholesale grocery company where Will Kidder, who is sixty-four, has worked since he was in his early twenties. The setting of the remaining five scenes is the den of Will’s expensive new home.

The play begins with Will at his desk, taking a final look at his house plans. As Will explains to his fellow worker Tom Jackson, his house is tangible proof of his deepest conviction: that whatever his background, a man with a gift for competition will always succeed. Will seems untroubled by the fact that building the house has wiped out his savings or by his recent discovery that he has developed heart trouble. He has even come to terms with the death of his son Bill, which Will is certain was not an accident but suicide. The title character of the play is Bill’s former roommate, Randy Carter. Will confides to Tom that he suspects Randy’s motives and has forbidden his wife, Lily Dale, to have any further communication with him. Clearly Will believes in himself, in his future, and in his ability to deal with whatever life brings him. Before the scene ends, however, his confidence is shattered. Will is fired by Ted Cleveland, Jr., the son of the man with whom Will built the business. Cleveland tells Will that he is no longer effective. For the good of the business, he must be replaced by a younger man, Will’s...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Young Man from Atlanta has simple, realistic sets. The first scene takes place in the office where Will works; it is functional but not luxurious. The other scenes take place in the den of the Kidders’ new home, a room that is described as well furnished but rather impersonal. Most of the time, the dialogue is just as sparse as the sets, and even when Will is boasting or Lily is reminiscing, one has a feeling that the actual words are inconsequential, like a musical accompaniment to the real action. Like the language, the movements of the actors exhibit a high degree of restraint. They walk in, talk, and walk out. There are no grand gestures. This simplicity is consistent with Foote’s intention: to present what seems like a slice of life, leaving the audience to find the underlying themes by paying attention to the hints the playwright has provided.

One of the most unusual devices employed by Foote is his use of an invisible but extremely important title character. The “young man from Atlanta” is in Houston throughout the play, attempting to reach Will or Lily Dale by phone or appearing at their home, only to be turned away by the maid. In the final scene, Lily Dale confesses to her husband that despite his objections, she has seen Randy once more; despite her pleas, Will refuses to see him. Though he never appears onstage, Randy is as important to the play as if he were actually present. He is the most menacing figure in the play, though it is not clear what he has done or exactly who he is. In Will’s eyes, he remains a menace, and even more so because Lily Dale continues to see him as the medium through whom she can maintain contact with her deceased son. Like Will, the audience has to live with the mystery of what may or may not have happened in the past and with the certainty that the “young man from Atlanta” will continue to be a sinister presence in the Kidders’ future life.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The 1940s and 1950s in the United States
Following the end of World War II in 1945, the United States found itself embroiled in...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

In drama, exposition is a technique that playwrights use to inform the audience about past events that are relevant...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

• Research Eleanor Roosevelt’s stand on civil rights. Given your findings, do you agree or disagree with Lily Dale that Eleanor Roosevelt...

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Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

The Young Man from Atlanta is available on audiocassette. The unabridged reading, which stars Shirley Knight and David Selby, was...

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(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Briley, Rebecca Luttrell. You Can Go Home Again: The Focus on Family in the Works of Horton Foote. New York: Peter Lang, 1993.

Gallagher, Michael. “Horton Foote: Defying Heraclitus in Texas.” Southern Literary Journal 32 (Fall, 1999): 77-80.

Wall, James M. “The World of Horton Foote: Home, Family, Religion.” Christian Century 114 (February 19, 1997): 179-180.

Wood, Gerald C. Horton Foote and the Theater of Intimacy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

Wood, Gerald C. “Old Beginnings and Roads to Home: Horton Foote and Mythic Realism.” Christianity and Literature 45 (Spring/Summer, 1996): 359-372.

Wood, Gerald C. “The Physical Hunger for the Spiritual: Southern Religious Experience in the Plays of Horton Foote.” In The World Is Our Home: Society and Culture in Contemporary Southern Writing, edited by Jeffrey J. Folks and Nancy Summer Folks. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

Wood, Gerald C, ed. Horton Foote: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1998.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Brantley, Ben, ‘‘Comfortable Fortress Suddenly under Siege,’’ in the New York Times, March 28, 1997, p....

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