Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Bonaparte home. New York City home of young boxer Joe Bonaparte and his family. The furnishings of its combination dining-living room suggest a world of culture and the arts. Its plaster busts of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig von Beethoven and piles of newspapers reflect the family’s interest in music and the arts. Mr. Bonaparte has bought Joe an expensive violin; Joe is initially drawn to the violin, but eventually he chooses to leave it with his father when he chooses boxing over music. At the end of the play Joe’s father hears about his son’s accidental death and talks about bringing him home.
Park bench. Set used only by Joe and his mistress, Lorna. The bench is associated with their developing romantic interest in each other and with Joe’s discussion about boxing versus music.
Moody’s office. Office of Joe’s boxing manager, Tom Moody. Its meager furnishings are appropriate because Tom is almost broke and needs a successful fighter to stay financially secure. It is the place where Joe gets his start in the ring, where plans are made for his future, where his relationship with Lorna begins to sour.
Gymnasium. Facility in which Joe trains. While he works out there, the mobster Eddie Fuseli argues with Moody about Fuseli’s owning “part” of Joe, and Tom encourages Lorna to...
(The entire section is 386 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The Great Depression
Although the exact causes of the Great Depression are still debated, most historians agree that the Stock Market Crash of 1929 helped to usher in this huge economic downturn. However, as the country began to sink financially, President Herbert Hoover, along with many others, thought that the crisis was temporary. Unfortunately, the situation only got worse. This fact, coupled with Hoover’s unyielding stance in not providing federal public aid to individuals, meant that an increasing number of individuals and families were losing their jobs. Starvation became a real issue, and crowds of men would gather around the backs of restaurants, fighting over food scraps in the garbage. The suicide rate steadily rose, and millions of families left their homes to try to find work. In many cases these migrant families would set up shelters on vacant lots in other cities and towns; groups of these shelters came to be known as Hoovervilles.
Boxing in the 1930s
Many people sought relief from the horrors of everyday life in the depression through escapist activities like going to the movies or sporting events, when they could afford them. In such depressed times, sports franchises had to come up with increasingly more sensational events to get people to watch their matches. This was especially true with boxing which at the time was second in popularity only to baseball. In 1935, Joe Louis, a young African-American boxer who...
(The entire section is 1048 words.)
Odets earned his fame through the social dramas of his early career which openly advocated that the masses fight for their rights by participating in strikes or other protests. Although later plays like Golden Boy are not as overt in their references, some critics still consider these plays social dramas, in part because they share the same spirit as the earlier plays. For example, in Golden Boy, Joe is afraid of poverty, a common social problem during the 1930s, the depression years when the play takes place. When Joe is explaining his reasons for wanting to fight, he tells his father: ‘‘Do you think I like this feeling of no possessions?’’ Joe sees boxing as a much more promising way to get out of the poverty in which he and his family live, and as a result is willing to sacrifice his dream of music. This tragic decision underscores the plight of the working class, which often has no choice but to follow money and not dreams.
The play has other references to social issues, such as the problems between labor unions and industry management. Frank, Joe’s brother, is an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), who must leave often to help settle disputes between striking workers and their management. As Frank notes when he is first introduced, ‘‘There’s hell down there in tex-tiles,’’ referring to a strike that is happening in a textile company in the South. In the last scene...
(The entire section is 924 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1930s: The Great Depression begins shortly after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and continues throughout the 1930s, shattering the financial lives of many Americans.
Today: America is experiencing a recession, which many believe is caused by the crashing of overinflated stocks, mainly in Internet-related businesses. Many Americans lose their retirement or other savings after their investments in these stocks are lost or depleted.
1930s: Roosevelt’s New Deal programs are meant as a temporary means of assistance to get American citizens back on their feet. While Roosevelt believes in helping individuals through federal aid, he places his focus on aid that keeps people working, so that people can regain their selfsufficiency.
Today: Welfare programs, one of the legacies of the New Deal, have largely been abandoned. Many people who have come to depend on welfare benefits are forced to enter the workforce.
1930s: During the Depression years, many people try to temporarily forget the miseries of their daily reality by attending movies, sporting events, and other forms of escapist entertainment.
Today: Reality television shows like CBS’s phenomenally successful Survivor, spawn a huge revolution in television programming.
(The entire section is 187 words.)
Topics for Further Study
The Great Depression is the most devastating economic collapse that has hit the United States thus far, although the current downturn has been compared to it in some ways. Research the various economic theories that attempt to explain both the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the recent stock market drop that helped lead the country into recession. Explain either the similarities or the differences between the two economic collapses, using your research and any necessary visuals such as charts and graphs to support your claims.
Research the history of unions, and identify the very first independent labor union that was formed in America. Write a biography about one of the people who helped to start this union, and describe this union’s initial mission statement or goals.
Research the life of Joe Louis, the famous boxer from the 1930s. Compare Louis’s life story with the life story of Joe Bonaparte in the story. Using examples from the story and from Louis’s life, explain how Odets might have used Louis as a model for Bonaparte.
As part of the New Deal, President Roosevelt helped find or create work for actors, musicians, writers, and other artists, each of which had a separate program devoted to their needs. Research these programs, and pick one that interests you. List the artists and works that came out of this movement, and discuss how they either did or did not make a lasting impression on the arts and on society....
(The entire section is 290 words.)
Golden Boy was adapted as a film in 1939 by Columbia Pictures. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the film features William Holden as Joe Bonaparte and Barbara Stanwyck as Lorna Moon. It is available on video from Columbia Tristar Home Video.
In 1964, Golden Boy was adapted as a Broadway musical, and ran for more than five hundred performances. The musical was produced by Hillard Elkins and starred Sammy Davis Jr.—an African-American actor—in the role of Joe Bonaparte, a racial change in Joe’s character that altered the plot line of the original play signifi- cantly. The musical version of the play addressed several racial issues, including interracial relationships. In addition, the production featured one of the first racially integrated casts on Broadway and an African-American music conductor—George Rhodes. The book of the musical was written by Odets and William Gibson and was published by Samuel French in 1965, although it is currently out of print. The music was composed by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Lee Adams. An original cast recording was released on compact disc in 1999, and is available from Razor & Tie.
(The entire section is 184 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
In Golden Boy, Joe gives up his dreams of music to enter the brutal world of boxing. Today, violence in boxing sometimes extends outside the ring, as in the case of former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, now an ex-convict. In Blood Season: Mike Tyson and the World of Boxing (1996), Phil Berger, a former boxing correspondent for the New York Times, uses Tyson’s violent story to examine the current state of boxing. Berger’s book gives a candid look at the boxers, promoters, and businessmen who help the business thrive today.
Following the recent reforms in the welfare system, millions were forced to get unskilled jobs. In an experiment to see whether or not women could survive on these low wages, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich left her middle-class life and put herself in their place. Her 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, chronicles her attempts to get different lowpaying jobs, find places to live, and above all, survive.
In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, originally published in 1954, a group of schoolboys stranded on a deserted island during World War II are forced to survive on their own, without the aid of adults or the conveniences of civilization. In the process, many of the boys revert back to their primal instincts, with violent and murderous consequences.
In Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, originally published in 1959, an...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Demastes, William W., ‘‘Clifford Odets (1906–1963),’’ in American Playwrights, 1880–1945, Greenwood Press, 1995, p. 318.
Hughes, Catharine, ‘‘Odets: The Price of Success,’’ in Commonweal, Vol. LXXVIII, No. 21, September 20, 1963, pp. 558–60.
Isaacs, Edith J. R., ‘‘When Good Men Get Together,’’ in Theatre Arts Monthly, Vol. XXII, No. 1, January 1938, pp. 11–13.
Krutch, Joseph Wood, ‘‘Two Legends,’’ in the Nation, Vol. 145, No. 20, November 13, 1937, pp. 539–40.
Lewis, Allan, ‘‘The Survivors of the Depression—Hellman, Odets, Shaw,’’ in his American Plays and Playwrights of the Contemporary Theatre, rev. ed., Crown, 1970, pp. 99–115. Mendelsohn, Michael J., Clifford Odets: Humane Dramatist, Everett/Edwards, Inc., 1969, p. 44.
Odets, Clifford, Golden Boy, in Waiting for Lefty and Other Plays, Grove Press, 1993.
———, ‘‘How a Playwright Triumphs,’’ in Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 233, No. 1396, September 1966, pp. 64–70, 73–74.
Peary, Gerald, ‘‘Odets of Hollywood,’’ in Sight and Sound, Vol. 56, No. 1, Winter 1986–1987, pp. 59–63.
Shuman, R. Baird, Clifford Odets, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1962, pp. 80, 83.
Erem, Suzan, Labor Pains: Inside America’s New Union...
(The entire section is 582 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Brenman-Gibson, Margaret. Clifford Odets, American Playwright: The Years from 1906 to 1940. New York: Atheneum, 1981. This thorough psychoanalytical study of Odets discusses the origins and psychological significance of Golden Boy.
Clurman, Harold. The Fervent Years: The Story of the Group Theatre and the Thirties. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945. Clurman tells how Odets wrote Golden Boy to rescue the Group Theatre from insolvency. He offers worthwhile artistic insights into the play.
Miller, Gabriel, ed. Critical Essays on Clifford Odets. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991. This useful collection contains essays on most of Odets’ plays, including Golden Boy, which is also referred to in many of the essays.
Shuman, R. Baird. Clifford Odets. New York: Twayne, 1962. Shuman devotes one nine-page section to Golden Boy and refers to the play frequently throughout his critical biography.
Strouse, Charles. “Golden Boy”: The Book of a Musical. New York: Bantam Books, 1966. The musical version of Golden Boy is presented in its entirety, accompanied by a revealing foreword by William Gibson, who completed the musical version after Odets’ death in 1963.
Weales, Gerald. Odets: The Playwright. New York:...
(The entire section is 208 words.)