Themes and Meanings
The Young Man from Atlanta is a play that pits the wisdom of this world against a higher standard. In the end, the characters whose only principle is self-interest are shown as the real losers, while those who hold to their values triumph over adversity.
It is interesting that those characters who seem to lack moral standards are all relatively young. The title character takes advantage of a mother’s grief in order to extract money from her. Pete’s great-nephew is no better; in fact, he uses similar hard-luck stories to pry Pete loose from his Houston family and from his money. One suspects that the only true statement Randy makes in the course of the play is that Carson has a bad character. Ted Cleveland, Jr., is also unprincipled. He does not value Will’s past achievements or his proven loyalty. Instead, he dismisses him, assuming that a younger man will do better, despite the fact that everything Tom knows he has learned from Will. Tom himself feels some twinges of guilt about taking Will’s job, but not enough to argue with Ted.
Will’s dead son, too, exhibits a lack of moral fiber. Though he may have been a hero in wartime, he lacks the courage to face the fact that his roommate or sexual partner is taking advantage of him, perhaps blackmailing him. He must have known that his suicide would devastate his parents, but he flees from life just the same.
By contrast, the older characters in the play all hold to...
(The entire section is 470 words.)