Waiting for Lefty Characters

Character Analysis

Lefty Costello

Lefty Costello
Though he is the title character, Lefty never appears on stage, nonetheless, he is a heroic figure, in direct contrast to Fatt's villainy. A dedicated union organizer (and presumably a communist), he enjoys the confidence of the workers and seems to be their true leader, the driving force behind the stake effort. He has been elected chairman of the strike committee, and his absence at the meeting is troubling; it seems the members are counting on his leadership to stand up to Fatt and make the eagerly-awaited strike a reality.

Lefty recalls other heroic, martyred organizers of union lore, like the legendary folk-singer Joe Hill. Though their loss is deeply felt, such figures are never considered irreplaceable, for their cause is one of mass action. The play's climax comes when the workers stop waiting for Lefty and take responsibility for their own struggle. Though they have depended on him, they do not need a leader to give them power; they need only seize the collective power they had always had, by standing together in defiance.

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Other Characters

Dr. Barnes
In Scene VI, Barnes is a hospital administrator torn between his convictions and his professional obligations. He deplores the ruthless, discriminatory policies of the hospital's wealthy board of directors, especially their dismissal of the talented young Dr. Benjamin; but he is also powerless to change these decisions, and sees no choice but to carry them out. Because of his advanced age, and the fact that he must provide for an invalid daughter, he feels unable to participate directly in the workers' struggle. Yet he is a passionate believer in the cause and exhorts the younger man to take up the fight he wishes he could join, encouraging Benjamin to fire a shot "for old Doc Barnes.''

Dr. Benjamin
A talented and dedicated young surgeon, Dr Benjamin learns in Scene VI that he is losing his job because of the discriminatory policies of his hospital's directors. The experience persuades him of the truth of communist theory and fires his determination to fight the capitalist system. He is tempted to emigrate to Russia, in order to work under a system of socialized medicine but decides to stay in America even though this means giving up the medical career for which his parents sacrificed so much to provide him. He takes a job as a cab driver and becomes a member of the stake committee.

Clancy
See Tom Clayton

Tom Clayton
The "labor spy'' in Scene IV,"Tom Clayton'' poses as a "brother" cabbie from Philadelphia. Having participated in a failed taxi strike there a few months ago, he offers that bitter experience to convince the members that a strike is useless. But a "clear voice" from the crowd—which turns out to be that of his own brother—exposes him as a strikebreaker named "Clancy,'' who has long been employed by industrialists to undermine militant union organizers. His charade exposed, the deceitful "Clayton" flees the wrath of the workers.

"Clear Voice" (Clancy's brother)
Unidentified at first, this "voice" emerges from the crowd in Scene IV to denounce "Tom Clayton" as a labor spy. His knowledge of "Clayton" is irrefutable, for the traitor he detests is "my own lousy brother." Like many other characters, the "voice'' has discovered where his true loyalties lie; in this case, his commitment to the working class far outweighs the bonds of family.

Harry Fatt
Harry Fatt, the corrupt union leader, is the play's most obvious villain and the primary focus of its outrage—a stereotypical "fat cat," driven by a ruthless greed and a hunger for power. He is unmoved by the desperate poverty of the workers he claims to serve. He is purposely exaggerated, a constant force of pure evil. Odets intended the audience to see him as "an ugly menace,'' hovering over the lives of all the characters. Though Fatt pays lip-service to democratic principles and rails against the "anti-American" nature of communism, he is a tyrant and "racketeer," imposing his will on the union by force and intimidation. The union members overwhelmingly support a strike, and the play's political logic demands one. Yet Fatt is determined to prevent it and to maintain control by any possible means, including murder.

In his production notes, Odets leaves no doubt about the character's significance: "Fatt, of course, represents the capitalist system throughout the play.'' An industrialist like Fayette (in Scene II) might seem a more logical representative, but Fatt is equally a "boss'' and enemy of the workers, for his corrupt leadership subverts their struggle for a better life. Whether or not he is directly employed by wealthy capitalists (and the "Labor Spy Episode" implies that he is), he serves their cause well, for his actions work as surely as theirs to secure the corrupt system. Like theirs, his power is based on the workers' continued exploitation. In Scene V, Odets emphasizes this connection by having Fatt act the role of Grady, the wealthy theatrical producer. No other character has such a dual function; the roles of "labor boss" and "business executive" are shown to be literally interchangeable. Like other bosses, Fatt can be defeated only by the collective action of the workers, who rise triumphantly against him as the curtain falls.

Fayette
The head of a large industrial corporation, Fayette is clearly in the "capitalist'' camp. In Scene II, he offers his employee, the lab assistant Miller, an attractive but unsavory proposition, a generous raise and promotion if he will only agree to help develop fearsome chemical weapons and also agree to spy on his fellow scientists. Fayette is untroubled by the ethical concerns that consume Miller; his only principles seem to be profit and self-interest. "If big business went sentimental over human life," he asserts,"there wouldn't be big business of any sort!" Like other "bosses" in the play, he is an enemy of the working class. When he pays for his transgressions with a solid punch in the mouth, the audience is meant to feel that it is richly-deserved.

Florence
In Scene III, Florrie and her boyfriend Sid are tragic lovers, unable to marry because of their poverty. Their situation resembles that of Joe and Edna in Scene I; however, their scene is not a confrontation but an emotional tableaux (a staged depiction, often without words) of shared misery. They see that they are victims of "the money men'' whose system keeps them "lonely" and "trapped"— "highly insulting us," as Florrie says. The pathos of their reluctant parting is only leavened by the suggestion that his heartbreak leads Sid to join the...

(The entire section is 2293 words.)