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The Rungs of The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman

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  • Pages: 9
  • Word count: 2186
  • Category: Play

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“The Little Foxes” is a realist play written by Lillian Hellman which later on became a film. It is the story of the Hubbard family who regard money and power above everything else, especially for Regina Giddens. She will do everything it takes to keep getting richer to the point that she uses her own daughter Alexandra. Her plan was to swindle her husband who she is estranged from. In the end, it turns out that her ruthless brothers Ben and Oscar Hubbard have plans to swindle her too.

The interaction among the characters in the play and in the film is difficult to decipher. All through out the scene, the audience gets the feeling that these people use one another in order to get what they want. This is what makes Hellman’s play absorbing. It is as if each exchange is a business deal. For one, brothers Oscar and Ben and their sister Regina fight over who gets the biggest share of the company they formed altogether. The siblings engage in cutthroat tricks and the verbal cat and mouse is seen in their dialogue. Surprisingly, their lines also have hidden meaning. There is a subtext underneath the surface.

Ben’s “That’s cynical. Cynicism is only an unpleasant way of saying the truth” is directed to his brother and his sister. The siblings accuse one another of being cynical when in fact, their intentions are dark in nature. They are aware of what the truth is. It is right in front of them. Each one of them wants to get the biggest share and no one will back down.

Oscar’s “People ought to help people. But that’s not always the way it happens. And sometimes you got to think of yourself” is a realistic look of one’s responsibility on society. The Hubbards live in a town where they are considered to be upper-class. Naturally, in a society the upper-class is expected to help the less fortunate in any way possible. Unfortunately, this is not what the Hubbards are doing.

In this line, Oscar pretty much justified what his family was doing to their workers. They were not giving the workers the salary they deserve. This line represents the microcosm of the enterprise system during the time the play takes place, and also what contemporary entrepreneurship is like right now. It is a dog-eat-dog and employers think profit before their employees.

Then there’s Ben’s “There are hundreds of Hubbards sitting in rooms like this throughout the country. All their names aren’t Hubbard, but they are all Hubbards and they will own this country someday. We’ll get along.” In this line, Ben is aware that they are not the only businessmen who work the same way they do. Therefore this only reasons their actions to be good – simply because other landowners were doing the same thing. Ben believes that this approach in managing business is the way to go for a better country.

It is just unfortunate that greed runs in the Hubbard family. Brothers and sister pit against one another in order to become rich, forgetting that they are related. Regina even threatened, “If I don’t get everything that I want, I am going to put all three of you in jail.” The play is reminiscent to the Greek mythologies of gods and goddesses fighting over power. It is also a reflection of Shakespeare’s tragedies wherein relatives kill kin in order to take over the throne. Unfortunately, these battles for power among family members continue to take place, even in the South. Just as long she get what she wants, Regina is not afraid for her own flesh and blood to suffer.

However, the saving grace in the entire play and movie is Regina’s daughter Alexandra, who is the only character to have her morals intact. One of her best lines in the play is “You only change your mind when you want to. And I won’t want to” is the prelude to the resolution she personally wants to take place in her family. Alexandra is the fragile thread that binds the Hubbards together. The ironic thing is that through Alexandra’s eyes, the readers and the audience realizes that the characters are not really monstrous. They just have demands that are worldly and realistic. Fact of the matter is these three siblings, Oscar, Ben and Regina push through with what they believe is their rewards for progress.

”The Little Foxes” revolves around greed. When taken in the context of today, “The Little Foxes” continue to reflect the world we live in simply because people are greedy. Just look at the ongoing strike in Hollywood. Greed has something to do with it. The writers feel that they are not getting compensated enough. They are responsible for the TV shows people tune into. The enemy is technology because through the internet, iPhones, streaming and media access, the big kahunas that are responsible for producing this are getting the green.

At the same time, the writers are not getting a single penny from their own creations. The big bosses who are raking in the big bucks from downloads, streaming and DVD releases are not complaining because they are benefiting from these purchases. Sometimes when one is greedy, one forgets to be moral. These big bosses forget that if there weren’t an idea, there wouldn’t be a story – and these writers were the people responsible for those ideas. They need to have their share of the profits too.

There is competition everywhere because of greed. People try to get ahead of others which generate tension and strain, as seen among the Hubbards. It’s alright to have ambition but too much of anything is not healthy. Greed does sustain the economy, as seen in the play and in the film, but in another way of looking at what was going on, it was also ruining the relationship among the siblings and between Regina and her dying husband. These tensions affect the relationship between Regina and Alexandra.

Now, when one watches the play and watches the film adaptation, there are similarities and differences. Take for example, people who have seen the Broadway or West End performances of “The Phantom of the Opera” have various comments on the movie adaptation of the popular musicale that was directed by Joel Schumacher. The same can be said about Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” which was staged in 1939 and had a movie version two years later. Tallulah Bankhead was Regina in the film and Bette Davis took on the role on the big screen.

Davis as Regina gave a memorable performance because of her sinister air. There are times wherein her performance in the movie is too theatrical, probably because she based her gestures on Bankhead’s stage language. Nonetheless, the way Davis delivers her lines and glints her eyes whenever she was plotting something against her brothers were clear indications that she intend to outsmart those around her, even if it means hurting them.

In the last scene, when Alexandra eloped, Davis’ reaction on the matter was cold. It only comes to show that Regina did not plan to mourn for anything or for anyone. She was as cold as ice. In the play version, Bankhead did that onstage. In the film, Davis’ cold expressions whenever the camera zooms for a close-up gives the audience the chills.

Patricia Collinge was Alexanda in the play. In the film, the role was performed by Teresa Wright. In the play, Alexandra seems to be invisible. Probably, that is the way Hellman wants her to be. She is presented to be an idealist that was set alongside these realists. She pretty much sees what her family is becoming and was guided to the right path by Addie, the African American maid. In the play, Collinge made it believable for the audience to see that she still has morality in her.

In the film version of “The Little Foxes,” Wright brought intelligence and insight to the character. Her highlight scene was toward the end when she was talking about how she would fight in order for her relatives to be good again. She was also observant to the events happening around her, which was seen in her actions and facial expressions that have been magnificently captured by the camera.

Ben was played by Frank Conroy in the play and by Charles Dingle in the film. The similarity between their portrayals of Ben is that both actors were able to draw the intriguing relationship between Ben and Regina. The audience would sometimes root for Ben one minute, then hate him the next. Hellman probably wanted the audience to react in this very manner. It is her way of saying that we, too, can be blinded by money.

In terms of performances, Conroy and Dingle brought Ben to life by relying on their natural knack of letting the audience believe what they want to believe. Ben does not say much but both Conroy and Dingle manage to let the audience come up with theories behind their actions. Like what has been mentioned in the previous paragraph, the way Ben relates with Regina and with other people is intriguing.

The five significant changes in the film from the play is that 1.) the direction allowed the story to pace faster than in the play. 2.) the focus on the equipment inside the Hubbard mansion pretty much summarizes what kind of businessmen they are, without the detailed elaboration in the play. 3.) there are lines that were removed and were replaced by body gestures of the actors in front of the camera 4.) there is less space to work in as opposed to the stage but the camera still manages to fully capture the atmosphere that goes on during each scene and 5.) everything takes place so fast because the director manages to lure the audience in.

It is just unfortunate that greed hovers over the Hubbards siblings. For one, Oscar, Ben and Regina do not stop in plotting against one another. It is also sad that Regina did not mind her husband dying, just so she can have her share all for herself. Then there’s Alexandra who sees what is going on with her family but cannot do anything because she is too young. Then there’s Addie who also sees what is happening but is powerless because she is black. This play does not only tackle greed, it also discusses the powerlessness of colored people during that time.

Which brings us to the question that this paper presents with regards to the play/film. Will you fight or stand by and watch? To answer this question, I will again present the current problem going on with greed, which is the WGA strike. People decided to stand up and fight for their rights. They were tired of simply standing by and watching others get the money that they deserve a share of.

Alexandra could have done something but she didn’t. It’s not all about a matter of having power or not. Thing is we cannot blame Alexandra for not doing anything. Regina is her mother, after all. Then there is the relationship among the Hubbard siblings which Addie witnessed. She could have done something too but she didn’t. She chose to stand up and just watch as well.

At a time wherein international relations is rampant in economics, social and political aspects of our livelihood, “The Little Foxes” is a film and play that can still relate with how the audience and the readers view the world. There are great fortunes that can be obtained in one day but there are individuals who are more ambitious than the rest, just like Regina, Oscar and Ben, so they get the job done.

Again, it is not about who is right or wrong because the play and the film clearly showed that the characters both have goodness and badness in them, making them “real people” that anyone can relate with. The question that has to be answered now is to know when to stop. The Hubbards didn’t. They regard power and money way up anything else, even family, that they ended up hurting one another in the process, which is an evil thing to o, if you ask anyone who is living in an ideal world, such as Alexandra.

If we too can be like the writers who are going through strike right now in order to be heard then we can be heard. If we are apathetic, nothing will happen. We will just be stepped on. People around us will only become too greedy. Money does make the world go round because it pays the bills but when spiced up with greed, then who would want to live in that kind of world.

Works Cited

Hellman, Lillian, The Little Foxes, Random House, 1939
Bingelli, Elizabeth, “Burbanking Bigger and Bette the Bitch” African American Review,

Vol 40, 2006

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