Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Billy J. Harbin


For more than half a century Horton Foote has been regarded as one of America's foremost dramatists. Born and reared in Wharton, Texas, he wrote his first play Wharton Dance in 1939, at the age of twenty-three, and gained his first Broadway production, Only The Heart, in 1944. His success as a playwright led to television, for which he wrote some of his finest dramas, and finally to a distinguished career in film. Foote has received numerous awards for his plays and screenplays, including Academy Awards for To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) and Tender Mercies (1983) and an Academy Award nomination for The Trip to Bountiful (1985). Foote's compassionate depiction of small town family relationships is his unique terrain. Virtually every play he has written has been about the rural Texas of his youth. Most of his dramas have been based on familial stories or childhood experiences, revealing the writer's obsessive need to dramatize the life struggles of his own family during the early years of the twentieth century. His works focus upon families in transition and upon individual resilience in the face of conflict and tragedy. Throughout his writings Foote weaves an intricate commentary on the nature of fate and the importance of family to personal responsibility and contentment. Unquestionably, the subject of family is a significant part of Foote's fiction; yet it has been dealt with only incidentally by scholars. This study focuses on this otherwise neglected topic and explores the significance of family to the writer's artistic theory and practice. Through extensive research into Foote's familial background, interviews with the playwright himself, and close examination of more than sixty plays and screenplays, this study examines the forces which have shaped the writer's artistic vision.