Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Flowering Peach is a play about the family as an arena of conflict and a source of love and security. Clifford Odets portrays parents and children with ambitions, disappointments, anger, frustrations, arguments, and love in a drama that is a distillation of modern and biblical experience; for example, the Bible does not give the name of Noah’s wife, so Odets chose the name of his own aunt, Esther, and based the character upon this real person. Tenderness, love, and humor among the family members, in spite of arguing and disagreements—which Odets often uses to show love as well—are evident throughout the play, as when, after Esther asks Noah if he wants eggs and he annoyingly refuses them, she says, “Tell me . . . why don’t I give you away for a good cat?” Later she tells the children: “I took your part—but don’t make a mistake children, Noah is my favorite boy.” Japheth tells Noah, “I may be excitable from time to time, but I love you, Poppa, and I always will.” Even though Japheth leaves the family, saying that he will die in the flood to protest what he believes is unjust, he returns to help complete the ark. Noah is devastated when Esther dies and, in the end, each of the sons wants Noah to live with him.

The play also reflects the period in which it was written. The years immediately after World War II—metaphorically, after the Flood—brought the promise of new beginnings, yet also the threat (the atom bomb) of even greater destruction. On a more personal level, the prominence of the marriage-and-divorce theme, to which some critics objected, reflects Odets’s own experience and the concerns of postwar American society.

In an allegory, there are many levels of meaning, both conscious and subconscious, and Odets weaves all the threads together in this presentation of the survival of the family in a world fated for destruction. He offers no solutions, but he nevertheless presents a hopeful conclusion that symbolizes the eternal questing of humankind.