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Written by Timothy Sexton
Crafty Little Creatures
The title of the play creates a metaphor that most audiences will recognize, having been exposed to the idea that foxes are cunning and crafty creatures through literature and film. Indeed, most of the characters do behave at least like the stereotype of those wild animals commonly accused of being craft enough to steal chickens off farms no matter what steps the farmer takes to protect his investment. The imagery thus planted in the mind before the curtain even rises, the devious machinations of the petty characters brings this imagery to life.
The presence of the stairway in the Giddens serves as imagery the subtly underscores the positioning of Horace and Regina’s family. As a symbol of hierarchal positioning, the imagery provided by the stairway is an essential element to the plot. Even as a collective unit throwing all their resources together, the in-laws are but poor relations to Horace; he resides in the penthouse and they somewhere below. His struggle to maintain this equilibrium he deems as perhaps even more fair they deserve allows the imagery provided by the stairs to extend to collusion of the brothers to reverse his fortune; his inability to ascend to his rightful place above Regina and her relations coincides with the their own crafty plan for finally getting their hands on his money to circumvent his opposition to the business deal they are lust after.
A brilliant utilization of imagery that concretely drives the plot while symbolically enhancing its theme are the bonds. The manner in which the brothers intend to steal from Horace to get money to seal the deal could have involved any number of assets: stocks, gold or just plain old cash locked in a vault. Instead, Hellman chooses to make the source of the filthy lucre his holdings in bonds. The metaphor may be dully obvious, but it works too well to quibble: the story is all about the breaking of family bonds which are so often spoken of in public as more valuable than any wealth. What really situates the use of the bonds as being far from too obvious and instead brilliantly subtle is that Horace’s revenge on Regina serves to counter the symbolism of the breaking of bonds. His plan to rewrite is will ensures that whether Regina figures out a way to get the stolen bonds back or not, he has ensured the betrayal of bonds will be the tie that bonds them together even after his death.
Horace has a bad heart. So bad, in fact, that with a little helping along from the bottomless well of contempt in his wife’s soul, that bad heart is the source of his demise. The image of an ill Horace, weak and bound to a wheelchair, is pervasive and palpable; the fact of it cannot be denied or avoided. And yet, the image of the man in the wheelchair with a heart so bad that it can be manipulated into stopping through emotional manipulation also works as imagery the other way. The fact that Horace has a heart cannot be denied; the belief that Regina has a heart can only be called a theory. The evidence is utterly lacking and if she or her brothers do have a heart, they would almost certainly have to be described as quite bad.
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