Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In an interview, Clifford Odets said that the secret to writing plays was less about knowing how to write than knowing how to connect with oneself. In what ways do you think Odets connects with himself in the plays you have read?
What brought the Great Depression of the 1930’s to an end?
Anti-Semitism was rife during the 1930’s. To what extent is this reflected in the plays you have read by Odets?
To what extent do you think young, aspiring playwrights today can find productive venues in which to work, as Odets did in the Group Theatre?
Do the plays you have read by Odets tell you much about the status of women?
Odets admits that he was writing about social classes rather than individuals. Do you think he did this at the expense of effective characterization?
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Clifford Odets is also known for his screenplays, which include The General Died at Dawn (1936), an adaptation of Charles G. Booth’s novel; Blockade (1938); None but the Lonely Heart (1944), an adaptation of Richard Llewellyn’s novel; Deadline at Dawn (1946), an adaptation of William Irish’s novel; Humoresque (1946), an adaptation of Fanny Hurst’s story, with Zachary Gold; The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), an adaptation, with Ernest Lehman, of Lehman’s novel; The Story on Page One (1960); and Wild in the Country (1961), an adaptation of J. R. Salamanca’s novel The Lost Country.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
In the spring of 1935, Clifford Odets, a young playwright thitherto unknown, had the heady experience of seeing three of his plays produced in New York. Overnight, he was hailed as the rising star of American drama. Waiting for Lefty, a timely tour de force dealing specifically with the strike of New York taxicab drivers but more broadly with the stressful socioeconomic situation in which many working people found themselves during the Great Depression, was a pioneering effort in proletarian drama that made its point by presenting six vignettes around a controlling theme and by involving the audience directly in the play’s action—it is the audience that gives the strike call in the play’s dramatically intense ending. By March, 1935, the play had been brought to Broadway to play as part of a double bill with Till the Day I Die, written quickly as an accompaniment to it. By July, 1935, Waiting for Lefty had been performed in thirty cities across the United States.
On February 19, 1935, the Group Theatre brought Awake and Sing! to Broadway some weeks after Waiting for Lefty had first gained its widespread popular acclaim, and this warm play of middle-class Jewish family life clearly established its author as a significant and effective playwright.
If ever a dramatist were right for his time, the young Odets was right for the 1930’s. A nonconformist with a strong sense of outrage at social...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Brenman-Gibson, Margaret. Clifford Odets, American Playwright: The Years from 1906-1940. New York: Applause, 2001. This biography of Odets focuses on the earlier part of his career, which many would argue was the better part.
Cantor, Harold. Clifford Odets: Playwright-Poet. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000. Cantor concentrates on eleven of Odets’s plays, reading closely and identifying common themes. He emphasizes Odets’s poetic style and also notes Odets’s influence on American theater. Includes bibliography and index.
Cooperman, Robert. Clifford Odets: An Annotated Bibliography, 1935-1989. Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1990. A useful bibliographic essay evaluates the listed entries, which are divided into primary works (plays, screenplays, teleplays, articles, journals, and diaries), critical studies (on individual plays and politics, and on the Group Theatre), and information on the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Includes a brief chronology and an index.
Demastes, William W. Clifford Odets: A Research and Production Sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. The book’s main feature consists of summaries of characters, plots, and overviews of the critical reception of Odets’s stage and radio plays. Includes a brief chronology, a biographical essay, a bibliography of Odets’s...
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