Reading Horton Foote in the Arab World: Social Ecology in The Old Beginning and The One-Armed Man
Dr. Mona F. Hashish
Suez Canal Universityhashishmona@gmail.com
The late U.S. playwright Horton Foote (1916-2009) wrote over 85 plays about the American south. His setting in almost all his plays is his homeplace Wharton, Texas. He sometimes calls it ‘Richmond’ or ‘Harrison.’ His love and devotion to the south makes Foote a southern regional writer like his fellows William Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner and Katherine Anne Porter.
It took Horton Foote several years to become well-known like other American contemporary writers such as Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), Thornton Wilder (1897-1975), Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) and Arthur Miller (1915-2005). This refers to two reasons: First, Foote’s regionalism confines his drama to limited themes. Jackson Bryer and Mary Hartig remark, “Like … southern writers, he [Foote] was obsessed with stories of death and resurrection, of leaving home and finding it” (169). Second, Foote in his lifetime insisted to stick to what he feels and believes is right. He had gone against the tide by refusing to satisfy theatre producers who only care about economic success. Samuel Freedman proposes that Foote ever struggles to keep his work truthful and so he refuses to compromise or make changes that may badly affect his works (p.17). Freedman quotes Foote as having said, “I follow my instincts. I’ve tried to be more theatrical, more sensational. It’s not my style. It’s not my sense of truth” (p.17).
Hence, it is only after forty prolific years that Foote started to receive public appreciation. For example, he won the Academy Award for Original Screen play of Tender Mercies (1983), the Oscar-nominated Award for The Trip to Bountiful and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (both 1993).
As a matter of fact, Foote successfully surpasses the narrow confines of regionalism by tackling humanitarian issues on the one hand, and projecting tenderness, hope and positive qualities of human nature in his drama on the other hand. Through his Theater of Intimacy, Foote reaches universality. All his plays deal with both misery and joy of life. Gerald Wood notes,
Without didacticism or dogma, Foote creates a distinctive vision of the relation between the universal need for intimate connection—and the powerful sense of security and well-being it fosters—and humane, just behavior toward others. It is Horton Foote’s politics of intimacy ( Horton Foote and the Theater of Intimacy p.37).
Jackson Bryer and Mary Hartig remark, “Foote said that if there is a theme to his work, it is the ultimate mystery of human experience. …Foote’s intimate knowledge of the world of which he wrote provides a depth that allows his characters to escape regional quaintness” (169).
Besides, Gregory Lamb determines, “As a playwright, Horton Foote grappled with the great themes of human existence: love, despair, home, identity, redemption. And he often found them all in the lives of people in the little town of Harrison, Texas, the fictional setting for many of his works” (p.
Intimacy is determined in Foote’s plays according to social spacing. In other words, social space is the base of Foote’s Theatre of Intimacy. The relationship between one character and another is measured by space. Intimacy is realized when space between characters is narrow; and it is denied when space is wide. Zygmunt Bauman believes that social spacing makes one close to either “intimacy pole” or “anonymity pole” (p.149). Coles Editorial Board also note, “[According to the theologian Paul Tillich, space]…involves physical location—the body itself and the place where the body is located—and also social location—a vocation, social relationship, and a meaningful environment of values” (p.12).
It can be said that Horton Foote is an ardent contemporary humanist. Chris Baldick points out that humanism has different definitions in the twentieth century. It refers to “purely human concerns” and it is “contrasted with scientific materialism.”And so “ liberal humanism … centers its view of the world upon the notion of the freely self-determining individual” (pp.102 – 03). Bonnie Marranca also remarks, “ Deeply political in its imagination, humanism is a philosophy of life that determines the choices one makes to behave, to work, to take pleasure, to socialize, to die, it determines one’s gestures, and perception of art, social issues, ethics” (p.180).
Gerald Wood in ‘ Introduction’ to his book Horton Foote: A Casebook notes, “ Horton Foote’s distinctive style and his unique contribution to contemporary American theater are created by the tension between these humanistic values and the disarmingly simple, almost photographically real, texts they serve” (p. 4). Foote himself argues,
Well, I suppose what I want to write is honesty and in my plays I can. I want to illuminate, you know, the human conditions and give some sense of this journey we’re all on. You know, I think as the world get closer, we realize that we share that journey which is trying to find our way through life. And sometimes looking to the past is helpful, certainly exploring relationships, to explore time, to explore meanings … (Telephone Interview n.p.).
In fact, Foote’s theory of personality is best illustrated through his realistic and humanistic approach to drama. In Preface to Drama: An Introduction to Dramatic Literature and Theater Art, Charles Cooper notes, “ The playwright’s theory of personality will be an important factor in his shaping of dramatic character” (p.30). Foote’s characters are mixtures of goodness and evil. In ‘ Introduction’ to Selected One-Act Plays, Gerald Wood also remarks, “ Foote’s antagonists are not evil people. They are forces for the most part beyond the understanding and control of even the best of the characters” (p. xix).
Besides, Foote’s theory of attachment is part and parcel of Foote’s theatre of intimacy. Gerald Wood in Horton Foote and the Theater of Intimacy points out, “ In Horton Foote’s theater of intimacy, his characters feel content in their attachments to the land, a job, a religion, or a region” (p.49). First, by ‘ land,’ Gerald Wood refers to the community that surrounds a person. Foote shows through his plays how one loses if one alienates himself from others. Therefore, one should mix in the community and make good relation with one’s family, relatives, friends, colleagues, … etc. In The Old Beginning for instance, H. T. Mavis has been too busy to think of bridging the gap between his son Tommy and himself. He keeps on pressurizing him with orders till he quits at the end of the play. Besides, C. W. Rowe in The One-Armed Man reflects on the employer who cannot connect with his employees.
Second, Foote shows how attachment to one’s job can be at one time positive and at other time negative. Work is good when it keeps intimacy among people, and it is bad when it decreases the attachment of people. For example, the excess of work of H. T. Mavis in The Old Beginning is also rejected. He pays so much attention to his job that he ignores his family’s need of intimacy, love and care.
Third, Foote shows, and never tells, through his drama that it is necessary to retain Christianity to restore order in society. Religious characters or sinners who repent are the only people who are saved. “ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtain a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds which framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (The Holy Bible. The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews 11: p.196).
Gerald Wood in Horton Foote and the Theater of Intimacy argues, “Most important, religious experience offers the identity and purpose that are essential to courage. And without courage his [Foote’s] people cannot live or die in peace” (p.110). Rebecca Briley in You Can Go Home Again remarks, “Foote acknowledges religion is one source of sustaining power for these people with whom he grew up [in Wharton, Texas] and who find themselves as characters in his plays” (p.16).
Gerald Wood in Horton Foote and the Theater of Intimacy argues that Christian Scientists, like Foote, believe that God is by necessity a father / mother God but not ‘bisexual.’ His male and female qualities are different from the peoples’ (p. 27). Wood Further explains, God is viewed as a divine spiritual love that is both masculine and feminine, hence, God enjoys an undivided oneness (p. 28). Wood adds that the male part of God is represented in the figure of an absent father whose disappearance leads to disorder. On the other hand, the female part of God is shown in women’s intimate power, courage of facing the truths about life and death, and contentment (p.26). Wood states, “ … this God of Christian Science exists in the subtext of Foote’s writing as the standard for judging action in the text itself. … [In] Foote’s works, … [there is] the primal need to return to such a father / mother God” (p. 29).
Horton Foote cannot help hiding his religious beliefs as a Christian Scientist from his plays. He shows that characters heal only when they share love and intimacy. According to Foote, keeping good relationship among people is a key to satisfaction and happiness. Gerald Wood asserts that Foote unconsciously reflects his religious beliefs in his drama; that is why Christian Science is found not in the text, but subtext of his plays (Religion & the Arts p.378). Wood adds, “[H]is dramas are informed by his Christian Scientist faith in subtle but substantial ways” (388).Wood contends,
[H]is [Foote’s] most content characters offer and reciprocate a kindness and peace which can be transformative. They are both humble and strong in controlling their own confusion and anxiety in pursuit of sustaining attachments to loved ones, family, work, nature, or their community” (Religion & the Arts p.376)….He has added a call to a more spiritual vision of the human predicament. While these are universal needs—equally important to believers and non-believers—the Foote plays suggest that the grace of a wholly loving God is most likely to control fear, stimulate courage, and inspire peaceful living” (377).
Fourth, attachment to one’s region is crucial because it represents the cultural past, Southern heritage and tradition of the land. In ‘ Specular Humanism: An Anatomy of (Self-) Criticism,’ Mark Conroy points out that “ the larger function of the humanities [is] in storing and transmitting the values of the cultural past” (p. 219). Being a humanist playwright, Foote is keen on reflecting on the cultural past and Southern heritage in his plays. There are references to plantations in the past, Slavery time and old Victorian houses in plays like The Old Beginning, The Habitation of Dragons, A Coffin in Egypt and Dividing the Estate. Several characters in these plays are attached to the land and they never feel themselves except on plantation. This Southern tradition of the land shapes these characters’ identity and gives them moral strength.
In his article ‘ The Texas of The Mind,’ John Steinbeck states,
When a man makes his fortune in oil or government contracts, in chemicals or wholesale groceries, his first act is to buy a ranch, the largest he can afford, and to run some cattle. A candidate for public office who does not own a ranch is said to have little chance of election. The tradition of the land is deep fixed in the Texas psyche (Dora Smith et al. p. 408).
Hence, Foote’s characters are two types. The first estimates the value of the land and cannot do without getting attached to it. The second devalues the land and get interested in other things. In ‘ Introduction ’ to Horton Foote: A Casebook, Gerald Wood points out,“His [Foote’s] most content characters recognize their needs for nurturance, individuation and responsibility, and final sacrifice to divine mystery. His saddest, his weakest people never understand the power of benign attachments. They end in violent despair” (p. 5).
Moreover, Foote’s drama attracted television and cinema directors at certain time, and they chose some of his plays to be filmed as teleplays or movies. Winning public admiration, there is a renewed interest in the west nowadays in watching Foote’s plays. In the Arab world, Foote’s drama would engage Arab readers in many ways for tackling humanitarian issues and universal themes.
The paper focuses on two of Horton Foote’s plays: The Old Beginning (1952) and The One Armed-Man (1985). Both reflect on a common interesting theme, which is the employer-employee relationship. In these two plays, Foote highlights social ecology, that is, he shows how the social status affects man’s health. He delineates people’s suffering in unhealthy work environment.
It’s worth noting that the economic significance of the South increased after the Great Depression. Jay Hubbell remarks that when the Northern businessmen had lost their fortunes in business during the Great Depression, they realized how important it was to invest in an agrarian society. Hence, they directed their interests into the South which is rich with plantation (p.856). In his article ‘World war II’ (pp.1939–1945),’ Jack Blicksilver points out,
The World war II years constituted in many ways a watershed era, moving the South perceptibly closer to the mainstream of national economic and social life. The acquisition by the South of greater amounts of industrial know-how among managers and workers, along with a substantial accumulation of capital and a rise in per capita purchasing power, created a favorable environment for further postwar advances (p.1362).
Like World War I, World War II brought out millions of psychopatients and depressants. Theodore Caplow et al. assert that people in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were haunted with fear and worries. A high rate of the peoples’ population expects the rise of World War III (p.545). Elmer Rice explains how this situation affects contemporary postwar drama. Rice states,
The prevailing tone is not so much pessimism as disillusionment, despair, and even disgust. … The heroes of the drama of today, if they can be called heroes, are bewildered creatures, floundering in a morass of self-delusion, self-pity, and frustration; drugging themselves with wishful fantasies; destroying those closest to them with a surfeit or dearth of love (Horst Frenz p. 117).
In The Old Beginning, Horton Foote tackles the economic situation in the fifties. He shows how Harrison changes from a rural to an industrial community, and how the wealthy citizens grow more materialistic. People start to worship money rather than God, and so they lose faith. For example, Gerald Wood in Selected One-Act Plays notes that H. T. Mavis in The Old Beginning is representative of the postwar capitalists who develop Harrison very fast regardless the people’s reaction. He shocks the rural tenant Mrs. Nelson when he asks her “to read the contract” to realize that the tenant and not the owner should fix the ceiling and the walls of the house. He obliges her to conform to the new order and understand that life has changed (p. 2).
The Old Beginning is a well-made play with a well-knit structure. In the expository scene, Tommy bargains with Lee Johnson trying to prove that he is a clever businessman. Since the very beginning of the play, the conflict appears to be external. H. T. Mavis does not trust the capabilities of his son Tommy; so he ignores his bargain with Johnson, and makes a better deal with Mr. Scott. Tommy’s outrage and hot confrontation with his father are considered the climax of the play. Tommy tells his father how he is self-centered and indifferent to other’s feelings, and refuses to continue working or living with him. Then, the events are unraveled and the intensity of the conflict gradually decreases. The sheriff informs Mr. Mavis that Mr. Scott is a crazy man and a crook. Henceforward, Mavis realizes his mistake, rushes to return Tommy’s first bargain with Lee Johnson and tries to reconcile with his son. However, Tommy insists on leaving his unchangeable parents to start a new independent and cosy life.
Foote’s modern technique is obvious in the symbolic significance of the title, the use of stage direction and the lighting technique. The symbolic title of The Old Beginning actually carries two antithetical words. Gerald Wood in Selected One-Act Plays argues that the young people – Tommy Mavis and his fiancée Julia Thornton – believe that Tommy’s departure from his house is a healthy step that should have been taken earlier; and so, Tommy’s decision is considered both ‘old’ and ‘new’ action (pp. 2 – 3).
As it is the case in all his early plays, Foote uses an explicit technique in characterization. The protagonist in The Old Beginning Tommy expresses himself openly so that the audience know what he suffers from and what he thinks of. Tommy tells his father, “ … I think you’re domineering and egotistical and cold-blooded and ruthless. All you care about is getting your own way” (p.32). Then, he tells his mother, “ And you’ve helped him be that way, Mother. You’ve spoiled him and given in to him. … You both think money can buy anything. Well, it can’t buy me” (p. 32). H. T. Mavis also expresses his point of view. He tells his son, “ … You know I think the trouble with you, Tommy, is that you’ve had everything too easy. You’ve never made a dime of your own. You don’t know hard it is to come by” (p. 31). Gerald Wood in Selected One-Act Plays states, “The Old Beginning has a well-defined plot constructed around clear external tensions …. The whole play is unified by Tommy’s need to establish his independence from his father, a motive which is clear to both Tommy and the audience throughout the play” (p. 2).
The characters of Mr. Mavis and Mrs. Mavis bear no change, and so they are types. However, Tommy is a round character. He avoids confronting his father with his mistakes and acts his own mind. For example, he tells Julia that he is happy to take two decisions without consulting his father: The first is his engagement to her, and the second is his bargain with Lee Johnson. Tommy’s revolt against his father is an epiphany. It marks the protagonist’s enlightenment. Tommy finally decides to tell his parents about their reality and inform them that he cannot live without intimacy. He tells his mother, “ … I’ll never be able to change him [my father]. So I’d better go. … I’ll never be able to stand being bossed the rest of my life” (p. 40). Both the plot and the conclusion are realistic and convincing. Tommy tells Julia at the end of the play, “ It wasn’t easy on them [my parents]. Or on me, I wish it hadn’t had to happen this way. I won, but there was no pleasure in winning. I wish they could understand why I had to win” (p. 46).
Besides, Foote’s sense of humor is obvious in Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Mavis’s argument about fixing the former’s house. Mrs. Mavis does not understand the business; however, she interferes and tells Mrs. Nelson that her husband cannot fix her house because the taxes have led to his poverty. The way Tommy tries to stop her from talking nonsense and the way she ignores him and continues are really funny:
Tommy. Mother, you’re getting it all mixed up. You see ….
Roberta. They do too. I’ve heard him complain many times. Why, Mrs. Nelson …
Tommy. Mother, are you going to handle this or am I? … you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Roberta. I certainly do know what I’m talking about. Now just let me finish. Your father was saying just the other day … (p. 15).
In this play, Tommy loses the sense of intimate connection with his biological parents. His beloved Julia successfully fills in the spiritual gap and completes the missed part in his life. Tommy reconciles with himself, and heals his torn soul by freeing himself from his father’s control in work and life. Keeping him at a distance definitely guarantees future intimacy between them. As a devout Christian Scientist, Foote believes that unanswered prayers does not mean punishment or anger at God’s side, but just wonders of providence. Tommy thinks that he receives God’s grace and love, and is certain that God has His wise plans to leave the situation with his father as such. The Loving God rewards Tommy for his patience, and makes the young man find an alternate love and intimacy in Julia’s figure. He feels spiritual home with her.
Egyptian readers would not appreciate this conclusion. Though Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians, appreciate Foote’s Christian appeal, they consider parents as glorified and should not be ignored, rejected or forsaken. For them, Tommy is mistaken, and he should have become more patient with his parents. According to the Egyptians, Tommy should have waited for God’s reward. His rashness makes him lose God’s grace.
The One-Armed Man is a dark melodrama or a modern tragi-comedy. It technically reflects Foote’s maturity and craftsmanship. His dramatic technique has developed into subtlety. Gerald Wood in Selected One-Act Plays notes that the characters’ expression of their feelings and thoughts becomes indirect or hardly noticeable (p.47). That is why, the audience depend on understatement to grasp the meanings. In other words, they have to read what is between the lines of the characters’ speeches. This asserts the fact that Foote is drawn heavily towards psychological realism in his later stage of playwriting. For that reason, all his later plays, like The One-Armed Man, have depth in characterization. In his article ‘The Nature of Mystery in The Young Man from Atlanta’ in Horton Foote: A Casebook, Gerald Wood argues,
… As Horton Foote develops as a writer, his characters become less assured about their own motives and goals; consequently, there are fewer passages where they explain their feelings, mistakes and conclusions. His mature dramas have little closure; explanations, if any, are tenuous, the endings acting more as lulls than resolutions. The human drama continues, the plays imply; only time and mystery remain (p.180).
Laurin Porter also in her article ‘ Subtext as Text: Language and Culture in Horton Foote’s Texas Cycle’ points out, “As readers and audiences, we, like the characters in these plays, must sift through their stories, consider the sources, make judgments and connections, and draw our own conclusions” (Gerald Wood. Horton Foote: A Casebook p.128). There is something ‘ mysterious’ about Foote’s later plays. As it is taken for granted that people are uncertain of what will happen in the future, Foote puts inconclusive endings for his later plays.
Gerald Wood in Horton Foote and the Theater of Intimacy notes,
Social, psychological, and even moral questions are raised which are purposely never answered. And Foote suggests that art, in its truthfulness to life, best serves its readers and audiences by not giving false assurances disguised as ‘ closure’ in traditional dramatic formulas. In fact, wonder is gained by admitting that the ‘whys’ are often unknowable and not a source of peace. Resilience and courage are acquired by leaving many things with God (p.103).
Rebecca Briley asserts also that Foote’s conclusions in his later plays “ are often subtle” (p.163). Briley adds, “Although Foote’s understanding of society may have darkened, however, his compassionate concern for his characters did not diminish, nor did his belief in the basic verities of his life waver” (p. 19).
The One-Armed Man is a concise expressionistic play that has a gloomy atmosphere. It is quite shocking for Foote’s audience to watch an on-stage murder. Gerald Wood in Selected One-Act Plays points out,
This play is fascinating because it is so unusual in style and theme. It is one of the writer’s shortest and most elliptical plays, and yet it also changes tone as do few other Foote pieces. … For minutes which seem like hours, McHenry holds a gun on C.W. at the front of the stage; the audience is forced to confront a murder that is acted out before their eyes. For a playwright known as a master of understatement, this is a remarkably cruel play (pp. 415 – 16).
Foote keeps the unities of action, place and time, and this is the only traditional element in the play. The whole play, in fact, deals with a meeting between C.W. Rowe, the manager of the cotton gin and Ned McHenry, the one-armed man. The action takes place in Rowe’s office in Harrison, Texas in 1928, and lasts for few minutes only. In the exposition, there is a conversation between C.W. Rowe and the bookkeeper Pinkey Anderson. From their speech, the audience know that Rowe is a materialistic businessman, and McHenry is an unwelcome guest.
Foote loads the audience with gradual anxieties, and fills the atmosphere with tension and threat. At the beginning of the play, the audience expects mere fight between C.W. Rowe and Ned McHenry. C.W. Rowe tells Pinkey, “ He [Ned] may be harmless, but how would you like it if a man came in here every other week asking you to give him his arm back ? ” Pinkey replies, “ He soon leaves after that. All you have to do is to say you haven’t got it, and he leaves” (p. 419).
In fact, Foote prepares the audience to receive an act of murder at the end of the play. The audience expects something more than a fight in words when Ned refuses C.W. Rowe’s five dollars, and insists on meeting him. The elliptical conversation between Ned and C.W. reveals how decisive Ned is, and how fearful C.W. turns to be:
McHenry. No, keep your goddamned five dollars. Give me my arm back.
C.W. How can I figure that out ?
McHenry. That’s your problem. Tell your damn machinery to figure it out. It took it, Chewed it up (p. 424).
When Ned holds a gun and threatens to shoot C.W., the latter is so scared that he bargains with him. He offers to give Ned a Russian hat, ten dollars instantly and five dollars per week until Christmas. Moreover, C.W. suggests to take Ned to a psychiatrist on his own expenses. Besides, he offers Ned a job at the gin. He tells him, “ I could make you night watchman” (p. 428).
The audience are fully prepared to watch a murder when Ned insists on taking back his chopped arm. Ned orders C.W. to stop saying ‘ Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep’ (p.427). He only allows him to mention the prayer that is uttered before death. C.W. begins, “ Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven …” (p. 428). Then, Ned shoots C.W. before finishing his prayer. He, moreover, points the gun to Pinkey who arrives at the end of the play, and light fades.
There is no definite closure for that play. The audience are expected to think of what might happen. Ned might kill Pinkey or threaten him till he runs away. The audience probably think that Ned would have never thought of murdering C.W. if the latter had sympathized with Ned in his distress. What Ned mostly needs is love, mercy, tolerance and moral support rather than money. Henceforward, this inconclusive ending of the play reflects on Foote’s modern mental theatre.
The One-Armed Man is one of Foote’s rare plays in which he depends on an anti-hero like Ned. Chris Baldick remarks, “ anti-hero or anti-heroine, a central character in a dramatic or narrative work who lacks the qualities of nobility and magnanimity expected of traditional heroes and heroines in romances and epics …. The anti-hero is also an important figure in modern drama” (p.11). Moreover, John Peck and Martin Coyle argue, “ the central characters of modern tragedy are fairly insignificant figures: they are anti-heroes meaning that they are just ordinary people as opposed to the great men and women who feature in earlier tragedies” (p.101).
Ned is indeed an ignoble, poor, irrational and cruel character. After losing his arm, he loses faith in God’s poetic justice. His anger and insistence on taking revenge from C.W. Rowe makes of Ned an actual criminal. It is, in fact, ironical that Ned sins when he refuses to be sinned against. There is another example of irony in Ned’s attitude towards his victim. He asks C.W. Rowe to pray before being killed. He mentions God while he disobeys Him. Rebecca Briley notes, “ Rowe confuses ‘ The Lord’s Prayer’ with a childhood bedtime verse, exhibiting his lack of spiritual as well as human understanding” (p. 167). Foote shows here that no-one is totally evil or completely bad. Human beings are mixture of evil and goodness.
It is worth mentioning that there is no epiphany in the play since Ned is a flat character. The audience neither identify nor sympathize with him because he appears as a cruel criminal. C.W. Rowe’s character is also a type. Gerald Wood in Selected One-Act Plays states, “ His businessman’s ethic of growth, abundance and thrift hides a destructive paternalism” (p. 416). Therefore, Horton Foote portrays non-realistic but symbolic characters in that play. Expressionistic as he is, he creates of C.W. Rowe a symbol of industry, and Ned a symbol of all the oppressed workers. Rebecca Briley points out,
Any father-son relationship that may have had the chance to exist between the two men is impossible now that the father-figure has let down the ‘son,’ and the exchange becomes a singular symbol of the failed family where materialism has replaced compassion and care for the individual. … a man’s search for his lost arm becomes a symbolic search for personal and spiritual connections (pp.166 – 67).
Ned McHenry feels betrayed by his manager and society which does not put laws to protect him as an injured or impaired worker. He seeks intimacy, but finds cruelty instead. He feels morally orphaned, forsaken, punished and expelled from God’s grace. No bosom embraces him in his distress. Consequently, he loses faith, and chooses to take personal vengeance. He knows he angers God by turning violent. Under pressure, he becomes a criminal. Egyptian readers would sympathize with Ned for being poor and oppressed, but they would refuse his final act of revenge. In Islam and Christianity, God allows public vengeance and forbids personal counterpart. According to God, people can unite to remove oppressors or punish criminals. Disorder prevails when an oppressed person— like Ned in Foote’s play or Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play—takes revenge by his own hands.
Horton Foote did not have political attitude. He did manage to use his drama to change society or laws. Brooke Allen contends, “Foote was not in any conventional sense of the word a political playwright, but he never lost sight of the often dreadful political and social realities of the Texas he knew (21)…[N]othing could make Foote a didactic writer” (22). Hence, Foote was always keen on showing and not telling about the realities of Texas in his drama. For example, in The Old Beginning and The One-Armed Man, Foote only exhibits the problem of capitalism and materialistic selfish people who ignore others’ feelings, and deprive them of their right to enjoy good life. When sheer capitalism spread in Wharton, materialism and self-interest dominated many Texans. Such negative values stifled much positive ones like intimacy, spirituality, peace and security. Western and Arab readers would actually equally criticize the negative aspects of capitalism.
Benjamin Amick III et al. note that an employer should reduce the probability of work injury through safety management and prevention procedures on the one hand, and by supporting the injured employee who has accidently become disabled (22). Francisco Székely and Marianna Knirsch point out, “Sustainability …means adopting and pursuing ethical business practices, creating sustainable jobs (628). …The principles of sustainability help business to reduce unnecessary risks (629).” Besides, Scott Haynes et al. confirm that the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 “states that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure a safe working environment for their employees” (39).
Though The One-Armed Man was written in 1985, the setting is 1928 when the U.S.A. and other countries suffered from severe economic depression. Cotton farmers in southern plantations like Texas had been complaining of the drop in cotton prices. Murray Rothbard states, “In fact, at the end of 1920, cotton planters reacted to falling prices by resorting to violence, including murder and destruction of the cotton… in order to reduce the quantity of cotton produced and sold” (198). However, the gin owner C.W. Rowe is arrogant. He trusts the government at that time, and believes that the country will prosper. He says, “Nature endowed us with abundance. We have cotton land that is as fertile as anything in the Valley of the Nile. We have rice fields, oil, sulphur” (422). C.W. Rowe is shown to modern audience as responsible for Ned McHenry’s impairment. They think he should have compensate him for his loss by any means. They believe it is unfair for a worker to lose an arm, job and income at the same time. C. W. Rowe should have also promoted safety program in the gin.
Egyptian readers would appreciate the mention of the Nile River in the play, but sarcastically they know they have the Nile but not enough food or money! In the period post-9/11/2001, the Egyptians turn poorer being affected by the world economic crisis. In 2011, they burst against social and political oppression. The 25th of January Revolution broke out to express their aspirations for a better future.
The death of C. W. Rowe in The One-Armed Man is crucial to the subtext of the plays. Since childhood, Foote himself has the power to face death. Marion Castleberry argues, “ For Foote as a child there was no escaping or ignoring the unpleasant phenomenon of death; as a writer he has repeatedly explored its mystery and challenges” (p.19). Besides, Samuel Freedman notes, “ Even at seventy-two, hardly a young man, nothing in the purchase or in the finality it represents depresses him. Death is just another way of going home” (p.18). Brooke Allen points out that treating violence and sex was a mainstream American theme from the 1960s till the 1990’s (18). That is why, Foote highlights violence and murder in his dark play The One-Armed Man.
To sum up, Horton Foote’s devotion to one place only, which is Wharton, Texas, does not hinder his chance of being well-read in foreign countries. He easily reaches through people by his humanitarian touch. Foote’s drama has a universal appeal, and this takes him from locality to universality. Thematically, Foote succeeds in attracting the attention of modern audience by his Theatre of Intimacy and highlight of social ecology. He throws light on the unsmooth relationship between employers and employees. He shows that social ills like housing insecurity and urban violence are a result of lack of intimacy among people.
More specifically, Foote’s drama engages Egyptian readers because of its religious background and humanitarian touch. They spontaneously apply religion as both spiritual belief and tradition. Like most Southerners, they view God as love, and always seek intimacy in social relationship. Foote’s down-to-earth treatment of the American South reminds the Egyptians of life in Upper Egypt where convention, tradition and folklore strongly affect most of the people there. For example, H.T. Mavis in The Old Beginning sticks to Southern heritage like many Southern Egyptians and believe that parents own their children and have the right to control their lives. Moreover, he thinks his toughness with his wife and son promotes his manhood.
Finally, the paper suggests a future ecocritical study of comparison between Horton Foote’s treatment of the effect of work environment on people’s health, and Henrik Ibsen’s treatment of the same issue in The Master Builder. Both plays show that human oppression in the workplace has horrible consequences.
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