Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) is a successful playwright and screenplay writer known for her Social Realism plays. Her political involvements and heightened awareness of contemporary sociopolitical issues have infused her plays with a sense of relatability. Hellman's writing has won her the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Drama (1964) and the National Book Award for Arts and Letters (1970). She is most renowned for her play The Little Foxes (1939).

Lillian Hellman, Theater Chairs, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Lillian Hellman was an American playwright.

A biography of Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman was born on the 20th of June, 1905, in New Orleans. Hellman grew up comfortably in a Jewish household. For the majority of Hellman's childhood, she would spend half a year in New Orleans and the other half in New York City. After high school, Hellman attended New York University for two years, and by 1925 she married the playwright Arthur Kober. She moved to Bonn, Germany in 1929 to finish her schooling. She joined a Nazi student group before realizing their antisemitic sentiments. She then returned to the United States.

In 1930, Hellman was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, an American media company. She worked as a reader and summary writer. She met many creatives and became involved in artistic circles. In 1934, Hellman produced her first play, The Children's Hour (1934), on Broadway. It was so successful it had 691 runs. Her success landed her a job with Goldwyn pictures as a screenwriter. She helped author the play and film, The Dark Angel (1935). Also in 1935, she joined the League of American Writers and the Screen Writers Guild. She advocated for the proper credit to screenwriters by producers. She never received screen credit for writing two films, The Westerner (1934) and The Melody Lingers On (1935). In 1937, she produced her next screenplay Dead End (1937).

Lillian Hellman, Hollywood Sign, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Hellman worked in Hollywood for several years.

Hellman was very active in politics. She formed the Contemporary Historian Inc. and their project, The Spanish Earth (1937), which was a film that denounced Franco and Fascism during the Spanish Civil War. She also went to Spain as part of the International Brigades and made reports on Madrid Radio. In addition, Hellman advocated for liberals in the U.S. to join forces with the Soviet Union to fight off Fascism and was a member of the Communist Party between 1938 and 1940.

In 1939, Hellman's play, The Little Foxes (1939), premiered on Broadway and was extremely successful. Her next play was Watch on the Rhine (1941) and was motivated by Hellman's opposition to the rise of Hitler and Nazism. In 1943, she wrote a screenplay titled The North Star (1943). She won a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Watch on the Rhine and an Academy Award nomination for The Little Foxes. In 1944, she wrote another play inspired by World War II, The Searching Wind (1944), but received negative responses from the Communist Party.

After her passport to England was denied in 1944 due to her Communist associations, Hellman was able to receive a passport to Russia as part of a cultural exchange. By 1946, Hellman was back in the United States and was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The same year her next play, Another Part of the Forest (1946) premiered.

In 1951, Hellman's most famous play, The Autumn Garden (1951), premiered. A year later, Hellman had to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was created in 1939 as an investigative committee. They investigated citizen and organizational involvement in Communist and Fascist activities. Due to Hellman's involvement with the Communist Party and that her movie The North Star was deemed Pro-Soviet, she was placed under investigation.

The HUAC ended its investigation when Hellman pleaded the Fifth Amendment for much of the testimony and denied membership in the Communist Party. This did not stop the FBI from increasing their surveillance of her. Hellman did not stop writing, however. Her play The Lark premiered in 1952. In 1960, Toys in the Attic premiered on Broadway. A decade later, Hellman received the U.S. National Book Award: Arts and Letters for her memoir An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir (1969).

In the 1970s, Hellman taught at various universities and published her next memoir, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, in 1973. This was followed by another memoir in 1976, Scoundrel Time (1976). She also received two prestigious awards in 1976, The Edward MacDowell Medal and the Paul Robeson Award. In 1980, Hellman published her only novel, Maybe: A Story (1980). On the 30th of June 1984, Hellman had a heart attack and died.

Plays by Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman was a prolific playwright and wrote many successful plays. Her most notable plays include The Children's Hour (1934), The Little Foxes (1939), and The Autumn Garden (1951). She also wrote the following:

  • Days to Come (1936)
  • Watch on the Rhine (1941)
  • The Searching Wind (1944)
  • Another Part of the Forest (1946)
  • Montserrat (1949)
  • The Lark (1955)
  • Toys in the Attic (1960)
  • My Mother, My Father, and Me (1963)

The Children's Hour (1934)

The Children's Hour is set at an all-girls boarding school. The story is centered on the two headmistresses of the school: Karen Wright and Martha Dobie. Mary Tilford, a student, runs away from the school and tells her grandmother Karen and Martha are having an affair. The rumor told by Mary ruins the reputations, careers, and lives of the two headmistresses.

The Children's Hour, Blackboard School, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The Children's Hour is set in a boarding school.

True events inspired the storyline of the play. In 1810, at a school in Edinburgh, a student named Jane accused Jane Pirie and Marianne Woods, her headmistresses, of having an affair. Hellman first heard the story when the American writer, Dashiell Hammett, read it in Bad Companions (1930).

The play explores themes such as the power of rumors, loyalty, and disobedience. The play was extremely successful, and in 1934-35, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Little Foxes (1939)

The Little Foxes is centered on Regina Hubbard Giddens. She wants wealth and freedom, but she won't inherit her father's wealth or land due to her status as a woman. Therefore, along with her brothers, Regina plans a scheme to open a cotton mill and become independently wealthy. However, for this to work, Regina and her brothers must thieve, blackmail, and manipulate to get what they want. Greed is the main theme that drives the play, as well as corruption and betrayal.

The Autumn Garden (1951)

The Autumn Garden is set in the resort town home of Constance Tuckerman on the Gulf of Mexico in the fall of 1949. Over the course of a week, many storylines intertwine as everyone at the home's true character begins to reveal itself. The guests include General Benjamin Griggs and his wife Rose Griggs, Frederick Ellis and his grandmother Mrs. Mary Ellis, Carrie Ellis, and Edward Crossman. The play explores themes of disappointment, middle age, and defeat. The play was written with the help of Dashiell Hammett.

Writing style of Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman's writing style helped her reach success as a playwright. Hellman wrote in a genre known as Social Realism.

Social Realism is a subgenre of Realism and incorporates the sociopolitical atmosphere and conditions specific to the working class. These literary works were meant to critique the power structures that contributed to these conditions.

Hellman was very politically active. As a member of the Communist Party and her Anti-Nazi stance, her plays always reflected her political beliefs. To display the sociopolitical conditions of the time, Hellman would write characters that reflected the social circumstances of the day.

Hellman also often used symbolism in her work to associate certain themes with characters.

In the play, The Little Foxes, the greedy son Oscar's favorite hobby is hunting. Over time he takes over a wild hunting area which cuts off access to the area for other people, particularly the Black population, who rely on it for food. This is symbolic of his greed and motivation to do whatever it takes to get more and more money. This also reflects the exploitation of the land and the exploitation of marginalized groups who depended on this land.

Another key aspect of Hellman's writing is the use of dialogue to set the tone of a scene. When the dialogue is abrupt and direct, a tense tone is reflected. When the dialogue is lyricized and flows more smoothly, the tone is soft, nostalgic, or happy.

Awards won by Lillian Hellman

Many of Lillian Hellman's literary pieces have either been nominated or won an award. The Little Foxes was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay and Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1941. The North Star was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1943. Toys in the Attic was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 1960.

In 1964, Hellman won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Drama. In 1970, Hellman won the National Book Award for Arts and Letters (Nonfiction) for her memoir An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir. She was nominated once more for the National Book Award for Arts and Letters (Nonfiction) in 1974 for her second memoir, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits.

Quotes by Lillian Hellman

Here are some quotes by Lillian Hellman that will give you a better glimpse into her work as a writer.

Sophie: Go home! (Helplessly.) Did I ever want to come? I have no place here and I am lost and homesick. I like my mother, I—Every night I plan to go. But it is five years now and there is no plan and no chance to find one. Therefore...I will do the best I can. (Very sharply, to avoid crying) And I will not cry about it and I will not speak of it again," (The Autumn Garden, Act I).

Sophie is the young maid who works at the Tuckerman household. Her aunt from war-torn Europe sent her to America with the hopes of a better life. Sophie, however, feels out of place in America and wants to go home, but she can't. This causes an all too real reality for many people in the 1950s, who were displaced from their real homes due to war. Many were refugees living in a state of rootlessness. Sophie's character represents the hardships and impact of war and the privilege of the Americans who can waste their lives doing anything.

For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt," (Watch on the Rhine, Act I).

In this quote from Hellman's 1941 play, Watch on the Rhine, she speaks of a timeless issue with humanity. Throughout history, many groups of people have had their freedom taken away from them, and those who see this happening and do nothing face the most guilt. Here, Hellman is speaking on the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and their cruel and inhumane acts towards certain groups of people. She believed people did not do enough to stop them, and now everyone must live with that guilt.

There are people who eat earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. And other people who stand around and watch them eat," (The Little Foxes, Act I).

Lillian Hellman, Bible, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Hellman uses biblical metaphors in The Little Foxes.

The Little Foxes is a play that touches upon greed, corruption, and manipulation. Here, Hellman employs an extended metaphor using the bible to speak on a contemporary issue. The people who eat earth and all the people on it, like the biblical locusts, represent those who are greedy for wealth and power. Then there are those who watch people like that manipulate and corrupt for their benefit, yet do nothing. And then there are those who must suffer because of both types of people.

Lillian Hellman - Key takeaways

  • Lillian Hellman is an early 20th-century American playwright and screenplay writer from New Orleans.
  • She was incredibly politically active and was a member of the Communist party from 1938 to 1940 and was investigated by HUAC.
  • She is most well-known for her plays The Children's Hour, The Little Foxes, and The Autumn Garden.
  • She wrote in the Social Realism genre, and her writing style is full of symbolism and sociopolitical commentary.
  • Hellman's writing has won her the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Drama (1964) and the National Book Award for Arts and Letters (1970).

Frequently Asked Questions about Lillian Hellman

Lillian Hellman was accused by HUAC of having direct involvement with the activities of the Communist Party. 

Lillian Hellman was an early 20th century American playwright and screenplay writer from New Orleans.

Lillian Hellman was encouraged by Dashiell Hammett to write her own plays after a few years of working with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Lillian Hellman died of a heart attack on June 30, 1984. 

Lillian Hellman did not go to jail. 

Final Lillian Hellman Quiz

Question

When was Lillian Hellman born?

Show answer

Answer

1905

Show question

Question

What is the name of Hellman's first play?

Show answer

Answer

The Children's Hour (1934)

Show question

Question

What political party was Hellman a member of between the years of 1938 and 1940?

Show answer

Answer

The Communist Party

Show question

Question

When did the play The Little Foxes premier?

Show answer

Answer

1939

Show question

Question

What American Committee investigated Hellman's political activities?

Show answer

Answer

 The House Un-American Activities Committee

Show question

Question

What did the HUAC accuse Hellman of?

Show answer

Answer

The HUAC accused Hellman of being involved with the Communist Party. 

Show question

Question

What work won Hellman the U.S. National Book Award: Arts and Letters?

Show answer

Answer

An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir (1969)

Show question

Question

What are three of Hellman's most well-known plays?

Show answer

Answer

The Children's Hour (1934), The Little Foxes (1939), and The Autumn Garden (1951)

Show question

Question

What genre of literature did Hellman write in?

Show answer

Answer

Social Realism

Show question

Question

What is Social Realism?

Show answer

Answer

 a subgenre of Realism and incorporates the sociopolitical atmosphere and conditions specific to the working class.

Show question

Question

What are key characteristics of Hellman's writing style?

Show answer

Answer

The use of characters to symbolize important themes and the use of characters to reflect sociopolitical issues; the use of dialogue to set the tone of the scene. 

Show question

Question

What are some awards Hellman has won?

Show answer

Answer

In 1964, Hellman won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Drama and in 1970, Hellman won the National Book Award for Arts and Letters (Nonfiction) for her memoir An Unfinished Woman: A Memoir 

Show question

Question

When did Hellman die?

Show answer

Answer

1984

Show question

Question

Where was Hellman born?

Show answer

Answer

New Orleans

Show question

Question

Who wrote The Children's Hour

Show answer

Answer

Lillian Hellman

Show question

Question

When was The Children's Hour produced? 

Show answer

Answer

1934

Show question

Question

What is the setting of The Children's Hour

Show answer

Answer

A boarding school 

Show question

Question

What is the name of the boarding school? 

Show answer

Answer

Wright-Dobie School

Show question

Question

Who are the headmistresses of the boarding school? 

Show answer

Answer

Karen Wright.

Show question

Question

Who is Joe Cardin? 

Show answer

Answer

Karen's fiancé.

Show question

Question

Who first accuses Martha of being jealous of Joe? 

Show answer

Answer

Lily Mortar.

Show question

Question

Why does Mary spread a rumor that Martha and Karen are lesbians? 

Show answer

Answer

So her grandmother will let her leave school.

Show question

Question

True or false: Amelia Tilford calls the other parents and persuades them to remove their daughters from the school.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

What do Karen and Martha do when they realize Mary won't admit to lying? 

Show answer

Answer

Sue Amelia for libel.

Show question

Question

Why isn't Mary's lie initially caught? 

Show answer

Answer

Rosalie corroborates her story.

Show question

Question

True or false: Joe breaks off the engagement when he learns of the scandal.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

What happens with the libel case? 

Show answer

Answer

Martha and Karen lose.

Show question

Question

What happens to Martha at the end of the play? 

Show answer

Answer

She realizes she does love Karen and feels so guilty she commits suicide. 

Show question

Question

What are the key themes of the play? 

Show answer

Answer

The power of gossip.

Show question

Question

Who wrote The Little Foxes?

Show answer

Answer

Lillian Hellman

Show question

Question

When did The Little Foxes premier?

Show answer

Answer

1939

Show question

Question

Where does the title of The Little Foxes come from?

Show answer

Answer

Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon

Show question

Question

Who is the protagonist of the play?

Show answer

Answer

Regina Giddens

Show question

Question

Why is Regina angry at her husband Horace?

Show answer

Answer

He refuses to invest his money with a Chicago businessman which Regina believes will make them millions of dollars. 

Show question

Question

After finding out that Regina's brothers stole his bonds, what does Horace do?

Show answer

Answer

He decides to leave Regina only $88,000 in the form of bonds. 

Show question

Question

What genre does The Little Foxes belong to?

Show answer

Answer

Social Realism

Show question

Question

Why is the play considered a Social Realist play?

Show answer

Answer

It explores the reality of post-Civil War and Reconstruction Era of Southern states and the cruel exploitation of freedmen. 

Show question

Question

What is the setting of the play?

Show answer

Answer

Alabama, around 1900

Show question

Question

What was the Reconstruction Era?

Show answer

Answer

a time of great social and economic change in Southern states after the American Civil War.

Show question

Question

What literary devices and techniques does Hellman use in The Little Foxes?

Show answer

Answer

Foreshadowing, Allusions, and Imagery 

Show question

Question

What is an example of foreshadowing in The Little Foxes?

Show answer

Answer

When Horace collapses on the stairs with a heart attack and Regina foreshadows his death. 

Show question

Question

How is allusion used in the play?

Show answer

Answer

Hellman would allude to Biblical characters when characterizing characters from The Little Foxes

Show question

Question

Why does Hellman use imagery?

Show answer

Answer

To emphasize the more dramatic aspects of the play. 

Show question

Question

What are the main themes in The Little Foxes?

Show answer

Answer

 The three main themes are familial betrayal, greed, and the aftermath of the Civil War, which are interconnected

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Lillian Hellman quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.