Driving Miss Daisy Summary

Alfred Uhry

Driving Miss Daisy

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Driving Miss Daisy Summary

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Driving Miss Daisy, Alfred Uhry’s signature play, pits two people against each other who are from distinctly different ethnic and social backgrounds. Miss Daisy is an elderly, white woman of Jewish decent. Due to her ailing health, she is forced to hire a driver when she backs her car into a neighbor’s garage. Her son, Boolie, hires Hoke, an African American who is initially dismissed by his elderly boss as an unnecessary nuisance. Daisy insists she is still able to drive herself and resents Hoke for having to constantly depend on his services. She soon discovers that she has more in common with Hoke than she first thought. Hoke tells her at the outset that their relationship should never cross the boundary of what the two do for each other: she needs a driver and Hoke needs a job. Hoke’s statement resonates with Miss Daisy, since that is how she prefers all her relationships with the help to be.

Their relationship evolves over a series of scenes, such as when Daisy discovers Hoke has eaten one of her cans of tuna. She complains to Boolie and demands that Hoke be fired for stealing. Hoke then arrives unannounced, apologizes for the theft and offers to buy new tuna to replace the one he ate. Although Hoke is seen in a somewhat negative light at the beginning, there is no real flesh and blood protagonist to speak of—only the manner in which Daisy treats Hoke due to her engrained prejudice and resistance. Those feelings eventually dissolve as Hoke continues to prove himself. As the two become used to each other, Uhry uses this new dynamic to signal a major plot shift in the play.

Daisy and Hoke are more friends now than not. The events that follow are not, in themselves, significant plot points. Instead, Uhry chooses to convey the comradery that evolves between the two. One such instance is a road trip Daisy and Hoke take to visit Daisy’s brother. She trusts him to drive her safely from Georgia to Alabama whereas before she never would have considered such a thing. Ultimately, the reader sees the story shift in a new direction. Not only does Daisy overcome her prejudice and learn to depend on Hoke, but Hoke observes Daisy’s transformation and learns to appreciate the new relationship with his boss.

Since the two are no longer pitted against each other, Uhry introduces an external conflict into the story. Daisy’s long time maid, Idella, dies. Here, the reader discovers that the greatest antagonist of all is time. Uhry drops this sense of urgency into the narrative as a way of linking the two characters to a common struggle. Both are painfully aware of their old age as Daisy becomes more dependent on Hoke’s assistance and friendship, and Hoke witnesses his friend’s gradual decline as he himself ages.

Some time later, the narrative takes a dramatic turn as the temple Daisy regularly frequents is bombed. This further reinforces the theme of the story. And yet, Uhry weaves another element of racial tension into the story when Daisy attends a dinner where Martin Luther King, Jr. is a guest. Although the dinner allows Daisy an opportunity to relate to the African American experience on a deeper level, her time with the civil rights leader does not significantly alter her relationship with Hoke.

As the story progresses, Hoke realizes Daisy’s memory is beginning to fail her. She grows confused, believing she is still the teacher she was in early adulthood needing to get to class. Uhry’s ticking clock gets a bit louder here as Daisy’s faculties slowly begin to decline. Inevitably, Boolie must resign himself to the fact that his mother is no longer capable of caring for herself. Reluctantly, he is forced to admit her to a nursing home.

The narrative comes fill circle as Daisy, breaking out of her fog long enough to articulate her feelings, tells Hoke that he is her best friend. She is at last, able to accept him and acknowledge the importance of their friendship in her life. While the conflict between them has finally ended, Daisy still must face the ultimate antagonist of all, time. As the play concludes, Boolie sells Daisy’s house and then, accompanied by Hoke, goes to visit her in the rest home.

Uhry’s play is an effective illustration of the mixture of Southern and Jewish cultures. Since it is orchestrated against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the playwright chooses the micro approach, essentially distilling the broader concept of racial tension into a relationship between two distinctly different individuals. Hoke tests the limits of his relationship with Daisy and she begins to recognize not only her own prejudice, but also that of society overall. Additionally, her conflicts with Boolie further demonstrate the harsh reality of change threatening the South and it’s traditions. Just as Boolie is the catalyst for change in Daisy’s life, Uhry’s goal is to utilize the character to illustrate the transformation of southern culture.

While the play’s two main protagonists struggle among themselves to adjust to a new way of life, Uhry transposes the larger societal dilemma onto Daisy and Hoke’s interactions. Resistance is a natural part of change, one that Uhry addresses throughout the narrative. The acceptance of such change ultimately unites the two characters and shows what can be accomplished if pride and misconceptions are laid aside.