by Lillian Hellman

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The Story

They have taken a secluded farmhouse and cultivated a school for young women of means. The extraordinary success enjoyed by this pair is idyllic. Karen courtship by young Dr. Joe is destined for matrimony. The school is so successful they have had to hire Martha’s aunt to help in the education of the students. The Dobie-Wright school is drawing students from some of America’s finest families. In this atmosphere comes a troubled child. Young Mary Tilford seems to have a great deal of difficulty assimilating. Mary is contentious and controlling and she lies.
Injustice, intolerance, oppression and the tyranny of truth are among the complex themes examined in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. Perspectives on understanding and the nature of truth and lies form the basis of conflict in this play.
Lillian Hellman (1905-1984) began her writing career in a time when the leaders of the literary movement in America tended towards the political left. Many of these writers, including Hellman, formed a core of radical liberals that embraced the concepts of socialism.
Clifford Odets, Eugene O’Neill, Dashell Hammett, Arthur Miller and Theodore Dreiser were among the legion of authors that actively supported political goals of redistribution of wealth and socialism. In the social pendulum swing that was crowned by Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUAS) Hellman was called to testify. In an answer to the committee’s demand that she name the people attending those left wing meetings in the 20’s and 30’s she answered: I cannot and wil not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions. Many of these literary leaders were permanently damaged by McCarthy’s investigation. Even Hellman was slow to return to writing. In a possible foreshadowing of her future, The Children’s Hour speaks to the sometimes life threatening nature of truth and of lies.

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