How I Learned to Drive Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Context

In 1998, when it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, How I Learned to Drive was one of the most often produced play in the United States. It is typical of Vogel’s work in that, like most of her other plays, it deals with issues concerning families, domestic violence, and abuse. Vogel’s plays often explore taboo subjects in startling new ways. The Baltimore Waltz (pb. 1996) deals with a brother’s death from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Hot ’n’ Throbbing (pr. 1993, pb. 1996) presents themes concerning female pornography and domestic violence. Vogel often uses comedy and seemingly inappropriate moments of humor to dismantle her audiences’ protective emotional shells.

Vogel’s treatment of social issues often centers on the family in its social context. Her characters are complex and multidimensional, with complicated feelings and problems.

Often Vogel’s female characters are presented as desiring, rather than desirable, subjects. Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief (pr. 1993, pb. 1994) explores the secret lives and sexual desires of the women in Shakespearean tragedy. In an ironic turnabout, male characters in Vogel’s plays often become the objects of the desirous female gaze.