Waiting for Lefty, a play written by Clifford Odets, is a perfect representation of the political and social unrest in America during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The play narrates the story of union of taxi drivers who were deliberating on if they should go one a strike or not. This play was written at an apt time of the birth of the labor organization that was market by violence and unrestrained sophistry.
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The play is exuberant of Odet’s ideas on socialism and his belief that the labor movement may have been responsible for development of unions and eventual cramped of their own industries. The paper argues that the play by Odets is a clear representation of the social and political movement of the thirties in America. It is explicit in its dealings with political ideologies and its dealings with social inequities.
The social revolution of the thirties had a lasting impact in shaping the social and cultural intelligentsia of America, the play Waiting for Lefty is definitive discourse on the ills of capitalism and the reasons to embrace socialism, therefore bringing out the heart of the social movement. The thesis of the paper is that Odets in his play Waiting for Lefty presents a concise picture of 30s America and its social unrest that crept out of social and economic inequities.
The play describes the situation of a meeting of taxi union as they were deliberating if they should call a strike and were waiting anxiously for Lefty Costello, their leader. Many people urge the union not to go on a strike but are tirade by the campaigners. The campaigners demonstrate all the evils of capitalism as an instrument for corruption and uses to smother the proletariats.
As there are a few flashbacks used in, the play that shows different proletariat situations that may have affected their lives due to the corrupt capitalists. In the end, Lefty arrives, dead. The death of Lefty who had been killed lead to violent agitation by the campaigners and eventually, the drivers union goes on a strike. The political message in the play is explicit with the core theme resting on the growing unrest among the proletariats against the corrupt capitalists.
The play brings out Odets’s personal belief in communism. The play therefore staged during the Great Depression shows the need to bring back the power to the proletariats. The play is full of examples of the distress that the working class American faced during the 1930s and the reason they were driven to the social movement at the time. The play depicts the political, social, and economic issues of the time. The arrival of socialism and the labor movement are the expounding themes of the play.
The play is recurrent of the hardships and poverty that working class faced during the 1930s through the scene of Edna and Joe and that of Sid and Florence (Odets). The development of the labor union came through the hardships of the proletariats as is explicit from the domestic episode of Edna and Joe, when Edna says that the “boss” representing the capitalist is making “suckers outa you boys” (Odets 10).
The union till then was just present in inaction, unable to move, as is apparent form Edna’s as she urges Joe to “Stand up like men and fight for the crying kids and wives.” (Odets 11) Therefore, the play was set at a time when the labor movement was budding, at its nascent stage, still unprepared to make a move against the capitalists.
The play shows the existing gender role and the stress on it in the play. In such a distress, the man of the house unable to find a job is still the bread earner, as the wife stays home. In the domestic argument scene, Edna says, “Who’s the man in the family, you or me?” when Joe fails bring back money hone enough for them to have food.
She accuses him of not being able to earn even when she too is aware that there are no other jobs in the market. However, Florence in the next scene is the bread earner for her and her sick mother. She changes the gender role prevalent at the time.
Class-consciousness in 1930s America is apparent in the play. In the fourth scene, Dr. Barnes tells Dr. Benjamin that he has been replaced by another doctor who is the nephew of a senator (Odets 24). The frustration among the middle class intelligentsia over the presence of nepotism and discrimination at workplace is apparent in Dr. Barnes’ speech: “Doctors don’t run medicine in this country. The men who know their job don’t run anything here” (Odets 27-8).
The evident swing of the middle class working professionals of the 1930s towards socialism is apparent in the play: “I wanted to go to Russia. Last week I was thinking about it – the wonderful opportunity to do work in their socialized medicine” (Odets 28). The working class was slowly leaning towards socialism as they saw their talent being wasted thoroughly at the hands of the corrupt capitalists in the wake of economic crunch of the 1930s.
The capitalists were ruining the life of the proletariats – this class-consciousness in apparent in the play by Odets. Labor unions contemplating to go one strike, hunger, poverty, destitution, discrimination, and nepotism are the buzzwords that Odets shows were apparent in the 1930s and are ringing through the play too.
The exploitation of the capitalist class of the poor labors is apparent in the play as it was apparent in the 1930s when unionization was still nascent. The play is definitely a true depiction of the scenario of 1930s America through the eyes of the people who suffered the most – the working class.
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Odets, Clifford. “Waiting for Lefty.” Kozlenko, William. The Best Short Plays of Social Theatres. New York: Random House, 1939. 5-31. Print.