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Machiavellian Characters in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes

Updated on October 9, 2012

Hubbard Hubbub in The Little Foxes

In Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, Hubbard siblings Ben, Oscar, and Regina come up with a scheme to get rich quick by making a collective investment. In the play, the siblings must together come up with $225,000 to keep a controlling interest with William Marshall, with whom they plan to bring a cotton mill to the Hubbard’s plantation. Throughout the course of the play, however, it seems each sibling is willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead of the others, a truly Machiavellian characteristic and idea. While Ben, Oscar, and his son Leo certainly display Machiavellian tendencies in their actions, the leading Machiavellian of The Little Foxes is clearly Miss Regina Giddens.

Regina Giddens wants to be rich, and throughout the play, she consistently shows that she will do anything to get what she wants. When Hellman first introduces her on pages 7 and 8, she is already flirting with Mr. Marshall, serving wine for the two of them to drink, and making herself comfortable on the sofa next to him. By flirting with Mr. Marshall, all the while being married to Horace, Regina shows a Machiavellian sort of apathy relating to anything besides her own good fortune. She is so cunning and convincing that Mr. Marshall knows no better than to find interest in her, leaving her with an open invitation to come see him in Chicago (page 14).

Further into the first act, Regina further displays her own Machiavellian character and behavior in the form of political cunning. In her reasoning with siblings Ben and Oscar in the first act, she turns Horace’s lack of response into a sign of wanting more (page 22). When Ben and Oscar should be assuming Horace’s lack of response means a lack of interest, Regina, through her cunning, is able to convince them it means the exact opposite. Through actions like these, Regina displays not only boundless ambition, but intelligence and cunning enough to carry out her ambitious planning successfully.

Regina’s combination of ambition and cunning is what sets her apart from the other Hubbards. It is no secret that all the Hubbards have a strong drive for business and desire for riches, but Ben, Oscar, and Leo each seem to lack a certain characteristic that either exists in, or is compensated for in other ways by, Regina. Oscar and Leo, for example, are just as money-minded as Regina, but they lack the intelligence to plan and scheme as well as Ben and Regina do. Ben, in comparison, seems to match Regina in intelligence and ambition, but lacks a comparable sense of evil. In act 2, Ben expresses Machiavellian tendencies by accepting Leo and Oscar’s offer to borrow Leo’s “friend’s” money, as long as he (Ben) does not have to know where it is coming from (page 50). Regina, on the other hand, goes even further than such evil by not caring even if she does know that what she is doing is incredibly wrong; she is a Machiavellian and then some.

The prototype Machiavellian is one who is not afraid to step on others to get where he or she wants to be. Not only does Regina Giddens fit this description, it would almost seem that she prefers to get what she wants by taking down or taking advantage of other people. In her relationship with every other character, Regina seems to hold ulterior motives that most of her acquaintances do not seem realize until later in the play, or in the last act. From her use of Alexandra to retrieve Horace, to her use of Horace to help pay for her schemes, Regina Giddens is always planning something more than what is revealed in the surface level of her interaction. In addition to that, she forms a relationship with Mr. Marshall obviously to support her own financial well-being, a connection she even holds on to throughout the play. The reader can assume that her plan to go to Chicago will be followed through with after the end of play as a result of her husband’s death.

Regina’s Machiavellian domination of her own lifestyle and social circle, to me, is a huge theme in the play. At the end of the last act, it is as if Regina must go to Chicago simply because she has already exhausted all of her connections to friends and family to the fullest extent in reaching for her own personal gain. Sadly enough, this would mean that Regina really has no need for her own family anymore. Regina is, as Addie describes on page 59, the kind of person “who eat[s] the earth and eat[s] all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts.”

The focus on Regina as the main Machiavellian in The Little Foxes is what drives the main theme and moral message of the play. One of the main guidelines of a prototype Machiavellian is the belief that “the end justifies the means.” Unfortunately for the Machiavellian, however, his or her “eating the world” must eventually leave that person with no more world left to eat, turning the phrase around to say that the Machiavellian’s end becomes a product of the means and actions used to take advantage of others. All the action in the play revolves around Regina in one way or another. When she “eats” all of her resources and connections by the end of the play, Regina becomes the product of a Machiavellian business and lifestyle. Regina Giddens acts as a true Machiavellian throughout the course of the play in her actions, and then shows the result of that lifestyle through her need to move to Chicago at the end of the last act.


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