Steel Magnolias is an American comedy-drama play that was produced in 1989 by Robert Harling (Scanlon 3). The play focuses on the relationship of a group of women who come together as a form of coping with the loss of their spouses. The setting of the play is in Louisiana beauty parlor where all the characters converge to laugh, cry, and compare men folk. The objective of the play is to accentuate the significance of female friendships. The title of the play is suggestive of the characters of the women in the play; the women on the outside may seem as delicate as the Magnolia flower and inwardly as tough as steel. The plot revolves around gossip, recipe exchanges, and Shelby. All through the women share in Shelby’s pain and happiness and, by doing so, invites the viewer to do the same. Since it is an all women’s play, very few men would find it enjoyable. Its prevalence of personal disclosure excludes men in the audience from watching it. The challenge is heightened further by the title that implies that the women are strong and independent.
After watching both the play and the film, I confess that I did enjoy both of them. What makes both the film and the play so entertaining is the clever writing, which is accompanied by the country-friend witticism and hilarious one-liners. The characters are besides affable and charming in every way. In their perfection, the characters depict their gentility and inner strength. This defines all the six women. However, the gentility at times takes a back seat, thereby highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of every character. For instance, M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother is an emotional character with a brave face when dealing with her diabetic daughter (Harling 7). Since all the characters reveal a heightened sense of resilience and strength, the portrayal of M’Lyn’s fortitude is heightened the more. She is depicted further as overbearing, which is uncharacteristic and unrealistic of the plays produced in the 1980s. Yet, when the characters bursts out emotionally at the end of the play the viewer is able to perceive the intensity of the hurt and the naked honesty behind the reaction of the characters. This is extraordinarily overwhelming.
Harling includes literary devices such as foreshadowing of the future of the characters into the play. The audience, therefore, comes to terms with the uneventful end of the play. This is evidenced in the drama when Shelby almost faints after she sees herself in the mirror while at the salon. The audience may assume it is the pre-wedding jitters, when in reality it is the type 1 diabetes. At the end, she dies because she failed to follow the doctor’s advice. M’Lynn shares her worry with her friends at the salon. The women advice her to focus on the joy of the moment rather than the worry of a lifetime. This short comic highlights the significance of the salon in the play as a place of frivolity for brief escape from the worldly challenges.
Contrary to the play, the drama has not pre-recorded radio music and voiceovers between the scenes. Instead, there is the guitar sounds and the banjo tunes which go together with the narrative. This adds significant charm to the drama and makes the minor changes almost invisible. The play expands the scenes to include picnics and hospitals and visually removing the males that appear in the drama. The only major weakness was in the doomed diabetic Shelby, whose storyline was so hurting and to symbolic to ring true.
Harling, Robert. “Steel Magnolias.”You Tube. July 20 2012.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S62nWbNl6Yc. Accessed March 10 2017.
Scanlon, Roger. “If My Husband Calls I’m Not Here: The Beauty Parlor as Real and
Representational Female Space.” Feminist Studies. 2007, 33, (2).