Study Guide

Driving Miss Daisy Themes

  • Prejudice

    Daisy Werthan isn't prejudiced. Never has been, never will be. She never lets us forget how broadminded and liberal she is.

    Wait. Doesn't she always eat in a separate room from "the help"? Doesn't she describe her servants as children who'll steal anything if you let them? Isn't she reluctant to be seen socially in public with her black friend?

    Driving Miss Daisy depicts prejudice in many forms—not only racism, but anti-Semitism and prejudice against the elderly. None of the main characters are evil or violent. They're horrified at the temple bombing; they admire Martin Luther King. But the message is clear: prejudice an be so ingrained and subtle that you don't realize how damaging your attitudes can be. As Dr. King said, the biggest tragedy is when good people are silent.

    Questions About Prejudice

    1. Miss Daisy says she isn't prejudiced, but is she? What does she do that can be considered prejudiced behavior?
    2. What forms of prejudice does Hoke encounter? Does Miss Daisy encounter prejudice in the film?
    3. How does Driving Miss Daisy's depiction of prejudice differ from other films of this era?
    4. What assumptions do people make about the elderly in this film?

    Chew on This

    The film's prejudice comes in both racial and class-based flavors, however in the decades depicted in the film, race and class are inseparable. Because of segregationist policies, blacks didn't have the same educational and employment opportunities as whites.

    Talk about pride and prejudice: Miss Daisy is too prideful to even notice her own prejudiced attitudes.

  • Friendship

    Huck and Jim; Thelma and Louise; Dorothy and the Scarecrow. Some of the closest friendships are forged on the road.

    Driving Miss Daisy features two people who are in the same car, yet seem to be on two totally different roads. Those two roads are running parallel to one another and it feels like they might never meet.

    Relationships between white employers and their black servants could be extremely intimate, especially if the employer was a relatively decent person like Daisy. (Contrast to some of the white women in The Help, who were downright abusive.) After all, they spent an enormous amount of time together; Daisy saw more of Idella and Hoke than she did of her friends. Still, these relationships were bound by the rules; employers typically didn't socialize with the servants or their families. There was always the risk for the "help" that they'd overstep their boundaries and be accused of not "knowing their place."

    As different as their social status is in the film, Daisy and Hoke see themselves in each other to some extent as time goes by. They're both old and proud and stubborn; they both grew up poor and know the sting of prejudice; they're both perceptive and clever. Both are witnessing a sea change in the cultural order of the South. Sounds like this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why does Miss Daisy say Hoke is her best friend? Does Hoke feel the same way about her?
    2. Can you be friends with someone you have to call "Miss"?
    3. Does Daisy have any friends? How would you describe her relationship with the ladies she plays mah jongg with?
    4. Why might it be hard for Hoke to call Daisy a friend?

    Chew on This

    Friendship requires vulnerability. It's only when Hoke sees her vulnerable that she can finally admit that she thinks of him as a friend.

    Hoke's careful about assuming too much about his relationship with Daisy because she's white. In the past, he could've gotten killed for something like that if someone took offense.

  • Old Age

    As Shmoop's Aunt Zelda told us, getting old is not for cowards. If there's one thing Driving Miss Daisy does exceptionally well, it's the depiction of old age. Jessica Tandy, who was 80 years old at the time, and Morgan Freeman, who was 52, were unafraid to show the difficult parts of aging: losing your independence, losing loved ones, and losing your mind.

    Of all these, losing independence was most difficult for Daisy, who saw herself as a woman who coped with poverty when she was young and was able to succeed on her own. She revolts against giving up her right to drive and tangles with Hoke whenever he tries to help. Seeing this once feisty lady so helpless and dependent at the end of the film is hard to watch. As Hoke gently helps her eat that piece of pie, well…we can't even.

    Questions About Old Age

    1. Why is Miss Daisy stubbornly opposed to letting Boolie hire a driver even though she's been having accidents?
    2. How does the film depict the passage of time?
    3. How do Miss Daisy and Hoke change as they get older? How do their personalities change?

    Chew on This

    Age is the great equalizer. Miss Daisy and Hoke are different in race and class, but old age takes its toll on both of them.

    Miss Daisy stays as healthy as she is because of her relationship with Hoke. She initially didn't want him because it would mean losing her independence, but in the end, he keeps her going.

  • Society and Class

    What do you think of when you think of Atlanta, Georgia? Peaches? The world's busiest airport? Chipper Jones?

    Back in Miss Daisy's day, Atlanta wasn't exactly the land of the free and the home of the Braves. It was a starkly stratified society. There were plenty of poor whites in the south of Miss Daisy's time, and not all blacks were poor. But most blacks were in the lower economic and social strata, victims of the legacy of slavery and segregation that created a southern culture were whites were the dominant class.

    Blacks were expected to be subservient and acquiescent. They were denied the equal educational and employment opportunities that would allow them entry into the middle class. They were completely shut out of the political process that might give them a vehicle for working towards social equality. During the civil rights struggle, whites were afraid that the old southern way of life would be lost. (Source)

    During the 25 years covered by Driving Miss Daisy, segregation gradually yielded to the civil rights era and the legal end of segregation. By the time Hoke's old, his granddaughter is a college teacher. Discrimination and inequality were still harsh realities, though. And to the end, Hoke calls Daisy "Miss" and she calls him "Hoke." The Old South hadn't completely disappeared.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Does Miss Daisy live a modest lifestyle?
    2. Why doesn't Miss Daisy like being called rich?
    3. Does Miss Daisy treat Hoke differently because he is of a lower class, or because he's black?

    Chew on This

    Daisy's own modest upbringing makes her uncomfortable thinking about herself as someone with servants who doesn't manage on her own.

    Daisy's a believer in "knowing your place," which is why she thinks Florine's efforts to hang out with the Christian society ladies is just a joke.

  • Race

    You won't find Miss Daisy doing donuts in a parking lot waiting for someone to challenge her in a winner-takes-all need-for-speed street race.

    Oh, wait—you mean race as in "black and white." Okay, we've can talk about that, too.

    Driving Miss Daisy is definitely not a hard-hitting condemnation of the treatment of blacks in the American south. Race takes a back seat for most of the film. This led to a lot of criticism that the film was whitewashing racial tensions, soft-pedaling conflict, and even displaying some nostalgia for the pre-civil rights era, when people "knew their place" and didn't complain about it.

    But to be fair, the film isn't primarily about racial injustice. It's about the development, over 25 years, of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy white woman and her African American driver in the context of the segregationist and racist attitudes of her culture. The lack of racial justice in the decades covered by the film comprises the important social and cultural backdrop of that relationship.

    The film subtly criticizes the racist attitudes of the south, even among whites who, like Miss Daisy, think of themselves as liberal. As Hoke gently pushes back against Daisy's racist assumptions, she's able to see that she's not as liberal as she thought.

    Questions About Race

    1. Is Driving Miss Daisy an accurate depiction of race relations of the time? Does it minimize the injustice and hatred?
    2. When does race become an issue in the movie, and how do the characters handle it?
    3. Is the relationship between Daisy and Hoke realistic?

    Chew on This

    The film avoids dealing with racism head-on and supports stereotypes of the white employer and the docile black servant.

    The play the film's based on made a choice to portray racial issues in a more intimate way, through the relationship of Daisy and Hoke. That doesn't make it any less powerful as a statement about racial injustice.