Critical Context

In his early plays, Sherwood focused on relationships and individual concerns in a predominantly comic spirit, though antiwar sentiments are often evident. It has been said that all of his plays are about pacifism. In four plays his sharpest views on war may be traced. In Waterloo Bridge (pr., pb. 1930), the soldier finds love more attractive than war. Idiot’s Delight takes the view that the individual cannot escape being caught up in war’s consequences. Abe Lincoln in Illinois (pr. 1938, pb. 1939) shows a peace-loving man faced with the task of plunging the nation into war; and in There Shall Be No Night (pr., pb. 1940) a man who wins the Nobel Peace Prize is forced to fight for freedom and human dignity. Running throughout all of Sherwood’s plays is the belief that personal sacrifice is often necessary to achieve the common good, and this sacrifice establishes the individual’s worth and faith in human goodness.

The popularity of Sherwood’s plays, beginning with The Road to Rome (pr., pb. 1927) and extending to There Shall Be No Night, and his work with the Playwrights’ Company and the American National Theater helped to keep the American theater alive in times of great social change. When Idiot’s Delight won the 1936 Pulitzer Prize, Sherwood was established as an important voice in prewar American drama. He believed that drama should entertain yet reflect the realities of the...

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