Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Tom Moody, a fight manager, and Lorna Moon, his mistress who wants to marry him, are having an argument about Tom’s wife, who will not give him a divorce. Tom, wanting money for the divorce, needs to find a winning fighter. While they are talking, Joe Bonaparte arrives to tell them that Moody’s fighter has broken his hand and cannot fight that night. Joe, whom nobody knows, persuades them to let him substitute, and he wins.
Joe, a musician, had always wanted a good violin, and his father had bought him one for his twenty-first birthday. When Joe returns home, his father, who has not been told of the fight, reads of it in the papers and is very much distressed. He tries to persuade Joe to give up fighting and continue his study of music, but Joe wants to fight. His father, hurt, does not give him the violin.
Joe fights well after that, but there is a serious conflict between the sensitive musician that he truly is and the brutal fighter he has to be. He holds back in the ring, fearing that he will ruin his hands for the violin. When Moody tries to persuade him that fame and money will be more important than music, he succeeds only in antagonizing Joe, who threatens to quit. Lorna agrees to try to persuade Joe to reconsider. Joe is basically a musician, but he has been ridiculed and hurt by people. Fighting is not a part of his nature, but he wants to fight back and music cannot do that for him. While he is explaining all this to Lorna, he...
(The entire section is 903 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The first of Odets’s plays since Waiting for Lefty not to employ the Yiddish American vernacular at which Odets was so adept, Golden Boy is also the first play he wrote after going to California to write film scripts. In this play, Joe Bonaparte, a poor youth from humble circumstances, is faced with the agonizing decision of whether to continue in boxing, which will bring him substantial material rewards but will compromise his wish to have a career as a violinist. At the time he wrote this play, Odets was facing a personal crisis not unlike Joe’s, but he sought to assuage his pain at leaving the Group Theatre by writing a play for them that might relieve some of the financial pressures that threatened to force the Group to disband.
In Awake and Sing!, Moe Axelrod, the cynic, speaks of “One thing to get another.” Making choices is what life is all about. Joe Bonaparte opts for the comfort and security that boxing will afford him. He enjoys the outward manifestations of his success, particularly his supercharged Duesenberg roadster, but, as Gerard Weales has observed, he suffers from “the disintegration brought on by success.” The very sensitivity that a good musician needs is antithetical to the qualities that good fighters need. It is too late for Joe to turn back. His hands are damaged beyond repair, and now he faces failure as a boxer. His end comes when he crashes his Duesenberg and dies from the impact.
(The entire section is 250 words.)
Act I Summary
Act 1, Scene 1
Golden Boy opens in the Broadway office of fight manager, Tom Moody. Moody fights with his girlfriend, Lorna Moon, over the fact that Moody has not yet divorced his wife and married Lorna. A boy comes in and tells Moody that his fighter, Mr. Kaplan, has broken his hand and cannot fight his opponent, the Baltimore Chocolate Drop, that night. The boy, Joe Bonaparte, offers to fight instead. Moody laughs at the idea at first, but is desperate for another boxer, and so he agrees to it.
Act 1, Scene 2
Later that night, at the Bonaparte home, Joe’s father, Mr. Bonaparte, sits at the table with his Jewish friend, Mr. Carp, and his son-in-law, Siggie. Mr. Bonaparte refuses to buy Siggie a taxicab, but later shows Mr. Carp the expensive violin that he plans on giving to Joe for his twenty-first birthday the next day. Frank Bonaparte, Mr. Bonaparte’s oldest son and a labor organizer, sees an article in the paper that talks about Joe’s fight. Joe comes in and says that he may take a break from music to fight some more and make some real money. He is ashamed of his poverty and sees fighting as the answer to his problems. As a result, Mr. Bonaparte holds back from giving Joe his birthday present.
Act 1, Scene 3
Two months later, Moody, his partner Roxy Gottlieb, Joe’s trainer, Tokio, and Lorna sit in Moody’s office, discussing the fact that Joe is holding back in the ring, a situation that...
(The entire section is 562 words.)
Act II Summary
Act 2, Scene 1
Six months later, Moody, Roxy, Lorna, and Tokio watch Joe as he trains in the gym, and note that Joe is still occasionally distracted by memories of his music. Eddie Fuseli, a renowned gambler and gangster, comes in and says he wants to help manage Joe. Moody refuses at first, until they leave it up to Joe, who agrees to let Fuseli help manage him as long as Fuseli does not interfere in his personal life as the others have. Later, Moody worries that Joe is getting too hard to manage and encourages Lorna to seduce Joe away from fast cars and his old life.
Act 2, Scene 2
A few nights later, Joe and Lorna sit in the park again. Joe confesses his love for Lorna, and encourages her to leave Moody. Lorna says that she cannot because Moody needs her and because she feels sorry for him. When Joe keeps pushing, asking her what she gets out of the relationship, she tells him how Moody rescued her from poverty. She says that she wants peace and quiet, not love, because she has been hurt by love before. However, Joe persists, and she confesses her love for him saying that she will break off her relationship with Moody.
Act 2, Scene 3
In Moody’s office the next day, Lorna is restless, and they argue. Moody tells Lorna that his wife is granting him a divorce and that he can finally marry Lorna. Moody says that he does not like the way that Joe looks at Lorna, and they argue some more. Lorna suggests...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
Act III Summary
Act 3, Scene 1
Six months later Joe is in Moody’s office with Moody, Roxy, Tokio and two sports writers, one of whom is turned off by Joe’s cocky attitude. The other writer congratulates Moody on his engagement to Lorna, which is news to Joe. When Joe is alone, Lorna comes in and they soon start to argue. She accuses him of turning into a killer like Fuseli. Lorna leaves and Fuseli comes in. The two are dressed almost alike, another sign that Joe has succumbed to a materialistic lifestyle. Joe tries to leave his boxing career, but changes his mind when Fuseli threatens him.
Act 3, Scene 2
The next day, Lorna waits in Joe’s dressing room while he is fighting the Chocolate Drop. Fuseli comes in and tells her to leave town, since she is distracting Joe. Joe comes in from his fight and stops Fuseli from drawing his gun on Lorna. Joe soon finds out that his win against the Chocolate Drop has killed the boxer. Although Joe’s management focuses on the fact that it was a clean fight and Joe does not have to worry about being prosecuted, Joe is horrified that he has killed a man. Lorna decides to leave Moody. She and Joe flee the city in his sports car.
Act 3, Scene 3
At the Bonaparte home, Fuseli, Moody, Roxy, and Joe’s family wait for Joe to arrive, while Joe’s management celebrates Joe’s win. They are not sympathetic to the death of the boxer, but are stunned when they find out from a phone call...
(The entire section is 300 words.)