Lillian Hellman

Comparing Lillian Hellman?s The Children?s Hour and The Little Foxes.

 
Lillian Hellman was a well-known American dramatist who was born in 1905 in New Orleans ("Hellman," 1999). She later moved and attended New York public schools and went on to go to New York University and Columbia University as well. Within the confines of her youth, there had been confusion about her family background (Harmon, 1999). There has always been talk about her parents troubled marriage and other events have cropped up to make Hellman an intriguing figure. Yet, she went on to grow up and find a husband, something typical in her day. She married another playwright named Arthur Kober, but this relationship ended in divorce ("Hellman," 1999; James, 1999). Her intimate friendship with the novelist Dashiell Hammett would continue until his death in 1961 (1999). Yet, Hellman would never remarry.
Hellman did not begin to write plays until the 1930s, her dramas are well known for focusing on various forms of evil ("Hellman," 1999). Her work has not escaped criticism however. She has been criticized at various times for her doctrinaire views but she nevertheless kept her characters from becoming social points of view by including credible dialogue and a realistic intensity which put her a step above her peers ("Hellman," 1999). Indeed, Hellman wrote with the skill of a professional but the emotions of a child. I feel she was able to capture the innermost fears and thoughts of people, drawing on their most hideous features. In the encyclopedia Hellman is described as an American Dramatist, whose plays are distinguished for the forcefulness of their matter, usually a condemnation of personal and social evil. They are also notable for character development and expert construction (Encarta). These points come through clearly in both The Children's Hour and The Little Foxes. Interestingly, Hellman seemed to entitle these works in an innocuous but mischievous way.
In a variety of works, it appears that Hellman?s themes have all centered around evil and lies. They have drawn on things that, for the most part, people do not like to look at. Her works are truly disturbing, as she forces the audience to dig deep into their own psyches. It is important to note that Hellman had grown up in interesting times. She was a teenager in the Roaring Twenties, and had lived through the Great Depression. To many, the 1930's were a time of despair, but for Hellman, it was time to begin a memorable career. The Children's Hour was written in 1934 and The Little Foxes would come just five years after that. Much later, things would get rather sticky. The United States would go through a cold war and the McCarthy era was upon the nation where creative industries were targets. Hellman and Hammett stood by one another through the infamous Communist witch-hunts ("Dashiell," 1996). Hammett had actually been a Communist Party member and he had to serve six months in federal prison. Hellman did also support leftist causes but never officially enlisted (1996). Her infamous words and reactions to Senator Joseph McCarthy and the HUAC committee are as follows: "I can?t cut my conscience to fit this year?s fashions." (Elibrary)She refused to name names of alleged Communists and luckily she escaped jail time.
Hellman's life in general was that of the typical writer. It seems as if Hellman was persistent and loved her work. Born in the south, she grew up spending half the year in the Northeast and the other half in the south. Hellman loved New Orleans but felt a driving need to succeed in the North. Her final home in this lifetime was even further North. Hellman passed away in 1984 near her home which was by then situated near Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts. I feel moving around the nation gave her a variety of insights into different personalities, something priceless to any writer. When she wrote The Children's Hour, she broached the subject of lesbianism, something much less prevalent then.
The Children's Hour is really not about lesbians. It is rather about a malicious lie told by a child. It helps to remember that homosexuality during the 1920's was not acceptable and even today, a lesbian teacher would still make tremendous waves. Still, during the early part of the twentieth century, homosexuality was even more scandalous. So when a student claimed her teacher was a lesbian