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The Play “Fifth of July” by Lanford Wilson Essay

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Updated: May 7th, 2019


As the title dictates, the play was first acted during Independence Day which falls on the fifth day of July, 1978 in Lebanon. The theme of the story focuses on the rebirth of America. The rebirth can be connected to the launch of new events in the lives of the characters. The characters in the play are Talley’s family, and some of their friends.

The play cast includes Sally Talley (Ken and June aunt), Kenneth Talley Jr. (June’s brother), June Talley (Shirley’s mother), Shirley Talley (Ken’ niece), John Landis (Shirley’s father), Gwen Landis (John’s wife), Jed Jenkins (Ken’s friend) and Weston Hurley (Gwen’s guitarist).

The beginning of the play depicts mixed feeling of deception and self- denial among the characters. For instance, Ken Talley denied himself the progress his disability state for thirteen years, everyone was kept in the dark about Shirley’s biological father (apart from John, June and Ken) and aunt Sally has refused to let go her dead husband’s ashes (Wilson 14).

The play’s climax with the tussle in the selling of the family house, which Ken had decided to sell to Landis for recording purposes, but his Aunt Sally Tally, manages to sell it to Jed Jenkins for botanical purposes.

Minor characters

Shirley Talley

Although John Landis is currently married to Gwen, Shirley is his biological daughter with June Talley. Shirley is portrayed as being disobedient to her June, a characteristic which can be linked to the fact that she was brought up by Sally Talley and not her biological parents. Shirley does not know her biological father and mother and regards Matt as her father and Sally as her mother. Wilson (29) asserts that,when Mr. Matt dies, she becomes hysterical about the proposed scheme of dispatching his ashes in the river.

Like her mom June, she abuses drugs though the concept of sexual intercourse makes her go berserk, maybe as a result of witnessing John making love to Gwen. The idea of art fascinates her and is seen as being involved in the art industry in the future. Her biological father is in a legal melee to take complete control of her custody but his efforts prove futile and she remains with June.

It is seen that Gwen is a sterile as to the main reason probably to why john wants full custody of Shirley. Shirley eventually gives in to the idea of calling June mom. Shirley, being the youngest in the Talley’s in the play, is seen the progression factor of the Talley’s family tree (Wilson 74).

Weston Hurley

Weston Hurley is Gwen’s guitarist-composer. He is portrayed as being an voracious reader, and his Eskimo story is an complete interpretation of the entire play. He is also painted as an conscientious man who drives across his points by the use of figurative speeches. He is a reserved man who prefers mostly to play his guitar than indulge in lengthy conversations with others.

Weston’s Eskimo tale can be directly connected to the unfolding in the play, whereby the frozen meat may be linked to the uncertainties surrounding everyone (Wilson 89). For instance, aunt Sally’s refusal to discard the ashes, Ken’s self-denial of progress for such a long time, Shirley’s denial of June her motherly obligations towards her, John’s seeking custody of Shirley and self-denial of conjugal rights between Jed and Ken.

It can be established that unlike in the Eskimos story where the family perished due to hunger due to decay of the meat, the play casts managed to eat the rotten meat and survive. This can be connected to Aunt Sally, eventually agreeing to discard the ashes on Jed’s garden, Shirley, agreeing to call June mom, John allowing June custody of Shirley, Ken agreeing to win back his teaching career and Jed and Ken reviving their gay relationship (Wilson 94).

Gwen Landis

Gwen Landis is the wife of John Landis who is portrayed as one who cannot foster children. She is a very rich woman and the beneficiary of a copper mining company from her parents (Wilson 126). She claims to always enjoy sexual intercourse whenever there’s an audience.

She is fascinated by sex so much that she takes an active role to encourage Ken that his state of disability should not deter him from enjoying sex. She even goes to the extent of thanking God for sustaining Ken’s sexual performance after he lost his legs in Vietnam. Gwen is also determined and hardworking, in that, despite experiencing tremendous moments in her music career, she never gave up (Wilson 104). Also, she was able to manage the copper company on her own to the amazement of her husband John (Wilson 135).

Her husband John had planned to delink her from the copper business but we see Gwen under covering his intentions and publicly declaring his evil intentions. Gwen has a phobia when it comes to death matters. This is seen when she cannot contain herself in Matt’s funeral, thus she begs her husband to comfort her. She quickly brushes the idea of Matt’s remain in the box and substitutes it with chocolate waiting to be fed to the fish as affirmed b Wilson (114).


The play highlights the principle of always taking what is at hand when faced with a hard situation. The righteous can be directly linked to Weston Hurley Eskimo’s tale, that instead of giving up and allowing hunger to kill you, you should at least feed on the stale meat to survive. We are reminded that, we should not give up simply because we fear that we have come to the end but we always modify the present situation out of the existing problem.

Work Cited

Wilson, Lanford. Fifth of July. New York: Hill and Wang, 1979

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