Maxwell Anderson was one among several playwrights, including Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice, Sidney Howard, Robert E. Sherwood, George S. Kaufman, and Paul Green, who changed perceptions of American drama. Before World War I, American drama was purely of local interest, and no great playwrights had appeared in the United States. By the end of the 1920’s, however, New York City ranked as one of the most vital theater centers in the world, and American dramatists were enjoying a period of extraordinary creative flowering.
Although American playwrights of that period presented diverse views, many reflected the disillusionment that followed World War I. Anderson was among these; the basic philosophy of life that informs his drama is typical of the 1920’s. In this view, the modern individual is deprived of religious faith or the opportunity for meaningful social action. Love, although fleeting, is the only thing that gives life meaning.
Throughout his dramatic works, Anderson adhered to the Aristotelian principles of unity and the tragic hero as he explored the myths of his times. Producing the most important body of his work during the Great Depression years of the 1930’s, he addressed social issues and injustices, though his primary purpose seems to have been to place them in their historical, literary, and mythological contexts rather than to raise the audience’s awareness of such problems. Clearly, Anderson was interested in dramatic...
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