Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In the aristocratic Farrelly home outside Washington, D.C., Fanny Farrelly, with the assistance of her two servants, Anise and Joseph, prepares for the arrival of her daughter, Sara, and her husband and children. Sara has not visited her mother for twenty years, and Fanny has never met her three grandchildren. Nervous about the visit, Fanny tries to get her son, David, and her house guests, Count Teck de Brancovis and Countess Marthe de Brancovis, to breakfast by 9 a.m., as her late husband had decreed.
To her housekeeper, Anise, Fanny reveals that the count and countess are heavily in debt and that she is concerned about David’s attraction to the countess. As Fanny and David breakfast on the terrace, Teck and Marthe argue about money, including his gambling with the Nazis at the German embassy, and about Marthe’s attraction to David.
After the count and countess retire to the terrace, the Mullers arrive and are impressed with the spacious living room. Sara, poorly dressed, delights in the beautiful things she could not remember. The family discusses Sara’s childhood and her memories of unlocked doors, plentiful food, and beautiful clothes—such a contrast to her own family’s bleak existence.
Pleased with Sara’s mature children, Fanny asks her, “Are these your children? Or are they dressed up midgets?” Responding to Fanny’s and David’s questions, Kurt, Sara’s husband, talks about his family’s travels and admits that he has not worked at his profession as an engineer for several years, since 1933. He also confesses that his family has not had adequate breakfasts because his new occupation, which he identifies as “anti-fascist,” does not pay well. Earlier in his work as an engineer his life was normal. Married to Sara for twelve quiet years, their lives changed when a festival in his hometown ended with a street fight and the murder of twenty-seven men by Nazis.
Kurt and Teck are wary of each other. Kurt recognizes the count’s name, and Teck probes to find out more about Kurt. While the family breakfasts on the terrace, Teck examines their luggage. When Marthe tries to interfere, Teck threatens her, warning her not to make plans with David.
Ten days pass, and everyone is now comfortable in the house. Sara is crocheting, Fanny and Teck play cribbage, Bodo “repairs” a heating pad for an anxious Anise, Joseph teaches Joshua to play baseball, and Babette makes potato pancakes for dinner. When Teck questions the children in an obvious attempt to learn more about their father, Sara cuts him...
(The entire section is 1067 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Watch on the Rhine was written and produced before the United States’ entry into World War II. Concerned about the spread of fascism across Europe and certain that sooner or later the United States would have to confront the menace of Hitler and Benito Mussolini, Hellman had gone to Spain to express her solidarity with the constituted government that tried to resist its overthrow by Fascist leader Francisco Franco. Bitterly disappointed at her country’s failure to help Spain or to oppose fascism, Hellman wrote Watch on the Rhine as a warning to a naïve and complacent America.
The play is set in the Washington, D.C., home of Fanny Farrelly, a socially prominent widow. She has frowned on the marriage of her daughter Sara to Kurt Muller and on Sara’s years in Europe. When Sara decides to return home with her family, however, Fanny is delighted at the opportunity to repair the breach with her daughter. At first, there is some awkwardness, for Fanny does not understand what Sara and Kurt have been doing in Europe, and she acts rather in the manner of the grande dame who has always had her way and rarely had her opinions challenged. Gradually, however, Kurt’s sincere, modest manner wins her over. Kurt does not quarrel, but he is perceptive and pointed in defense of his years as an underground anti-Fascist. Wisely, Hellman employs Sara to conduct the argument with her mother, to point out that Fanny has been nonchalant and innocent about the evil that surrounds her....
(The entire section is 614 words.)