The Happy Journey by Thornton Wilder: Summary

In the beginning of the play we see Arthur playing marbles. Caroline is out waiting in the street talking to the Jones girls. Ma Kirby is getting ready for the journey. She is putting on her hat and asking Arthur to look for his hat. He has not found it yet, but he is still interested in marbles. Arthur goes into the hall and returns quickly. He throws himself on the floor because he couldn't find his hat. His mother says that the person without a hat is a criminal and that she does not go on journeys with a criminal.

Ma (Kate) Kirby opens the window and calls her neighbor, Mrs. Schwartz, who comes out and asks if Kate is going. Mrs. Kirby relies that they are going in a minute and asks how the baby is. Mrs. Schwartz answers that she is all right now because she spat the thing up when they slapped her on the back. Then Mrs. Kirby requests her to give her cat a saucer of milk in the morning and in the evening. After this she greets Mrs. Hobineyer, another neighbor, who has heard that they are going away. Mrs. Kirby explains that they are going away just for three days to see her married daughter, Beulah, in Camden because her husband, Elmer, has got his vacation week from the laundry early this year. She adds that he is the best driver in the world. She thinks that the change ought to be good for the children and that her married daughter was completely sick a while ago. Then Mrs. Hobmeyer expresses her sympathy. Mrs. Kirby has not seen her daughter since then and she will not feel easy without seeing her. She orders Caroline to greet Mrs. Hobrneyer and Caroline does it obstinately. Mrs. Hobmeyer does not like to beat the rugs until they go because she does not want to choke them. She wishes their happy journey. Mrs. Schwartz expresses her good wishes for their journey and she also sends her best wishes to Beulah. Mrs. Kirby has finished packing. Elmer Kirby, her husband, comes in with Arthur's hat from the car. He has gone to the mechanic to get his car checked up. Caroline has rubbed her cheeks and they are red. All the high- school girls do this these days when they want to go out. But her mother does not like such silliness. She collects two pieces of luggage and starts for the door. Arthur, Caroline and Elmer go through it and then she locks the door and hangs the key by the ice box. They come out and get into the car. Elmer holds a steering wheel and continuously changes gears. Kate Kirby sits beside him. Arthur is behind his father and Caroline is behind her mother. Then they all say 'good-bye'.

Arthur requests his father not to drive by the school because his teacher might see them. But his mother does not care if he sees them 'because she thinks she can take her children out of school for one day without having to hide down back streets about it. Elmer nods to a passer-by who arranges their banquets. He asks his children to take deep breaths because the air is getting better. Pointing to an advertisement board about nice suits, Arthur wants to know if he will wear them one day and her mother replies that if he graduates with good marks his father will buy them for him.

Elimer suddenly takes his car to the side and Caroline asks him if they have to wait while the whole funeral goes by. He takes off his cat and Kate looks at them curiously. She asks Arthur to take off his hat like his father. The dead body seems to be one of Elmer's lodge-brothers. They all express their sympathy. Watching the funeral in silence, they are quite serious. Kate then remembers the funeral of Harold, who gave his life for his country. She philosophizes that one day everyone will meet the same fate and hold up the traffic for a few minutes. Kate does not mind what other people think of her. She does what she likes. Now they go on. Caroline reads an ad, "Fit-rite suspenders. The Working man's choice", but she does not understand why they spell "rite" instead of "right". At this her father replies that it will make her stop and think and that she will remember it. When Arthur reads another advertisement for "Miller's Spaghetti", Caroline asks her mother to make some when they get home. Ma Kirby promises to fulfill their demand. Then the children scream with laughter. Even, Elmer smiles. He praises her cooking and she says that she has had enough practice after cooking three meals a day for twenty-five years. Caroline loves going out in the country. When, Arthur wants to go to the lavatory, Caroline comments that he always behaves shamefully at school. But the mother asks her not get excited. The girl at an advertisement for Chesterfield cigarettes looks like Beulah, Ma says.

Arthur asks permission for taking a paper route with the Newark Daily Post but Ma Kirby does not allow him to do so at any cost because he would miss the God-given sleep. At this Arthur says that his mother got a letter from Him this morning. Then the mother becomes angry and asks him to get out of the car. She wants him to go back home. They are all surprised. But Kate does not like anybody to make fun of God, who has done a lot of things for her. They all request her to keep her nerves. Arthur is frightened because he thinks that he has said nothing like that: Because of God, they have not been to night clubs and bars, Ma Kirby comments. They drive on in silence for a moment and Elmer wants to give the car a little water.

He stops the car in a garage. He wants to have a little water in the radiator. The serviceman pours some water into the hood. Ma Kirby asks if they are on the right road for Camden. The man replies that they have to keep straight ahead. Then she says that her married daughter likes Camden. The man also likes it because he was born these. Kate and the man become fond of each other and talk about their private life. He says that his father sold the farm, built a factory there and moved to Philadelphia. Kate says that her married daughter Beulah lives there, 'because her husband works at the telephone company, that they are going to see her for a few days and that her husband and son are going to stay at the YMCA. He wishes their happy journey. Then they drive on. She expresses her desire to feed him up for a few days and make him fat. The man looks pale due to lack of motherly care. They see hot dog stand and Elmer stop the car. They are all hungry because of the early lunch. He sends Arthur to buy some. Kate and Caroline get out and Kate wants to take some flowers for Beulah. Kate is happy because she was born in New Jersey and it is the best state, although every state has something special about it. Soon, Arthur returns with hot dogs and distributes them. As he goes near his mother, he hesitates. He says sorry for what he said and bursts into tears. Then the mother consoles him, saying that everyone says wicked things sometimes, and that his intention was not bad. He weeps more violently than before. She forgives him. She whispers that he is a good boy at heart. Then Caroline starts to cry too. Ma is suddenly joyously alive and happy. Then she cajoles Arthur and they start having the hot dog. They reach Lawrence and then cross the Delaware near Trenton. George Washington had crossed the river at this point and he was first in everything: in war, in peace and in the heart of his countrymen. Ma Kirby added that he never told a lie and the children looked unhappy. There is a good sunset. Arthur asks how many people there are in the world and in America. His-father replies that there are a hundred and twenty-six million people in America.

Ma Kirby asks Arthur to sing a song and they all sing with him. The signpost says that Camden is five miles. Ma Kirby tells her husband to drop her and Caroline at Beulah's and the father and the son should go to YMCA. But they have to come back in an hour. Caroline sees the first star and asks everyone to make a wish. But her mother jokingly replies that she can make wishes without waiting for the star. Caroline knows what her mother's wishes are. She wants Caroline to be a good girl and Arthur to be honest-in-word-and-deed. As they are near the city Elmer asks Caroline to take Beulah's letter out of his pocket and to read the underlined part. After driving in the same direction, they reach the Beulah's house. She is looking for them.

All of them are very happy and the journey has almost ended. Beulah's eyes are filled with tears. She is very glad that she is alive after the operation. Horace, her husband, is expected to come soon. Ma Kirby asks the men to go to the YMCA and come back in an hour. Beulah has got two puppies. She looks at her mother and tells her that her baby girl just did not live a few minutes. Ma Kirby thinks that God thought it best. She is worried about the dinner. She asks Beulah to have a rest and goes into the kitchen herself to prepare dinner. She sings absent-mindedly and indistinctly.

The Happy Journey Study Center

Roles of Kirby Family Members

Kirby Family and their Relationship

Dramatic Technique in The Happy Journey

Biography of Thornton Wilder