Watch on the Rhine Essay - Critical Evaluation

Lillian Hellman

Critical Evaluation

When Lillian Hellman began writing Watch on the Rhine in 1939, the United States had not yet entered World War II, although the playwright was among those urging the U.S. government to commit itself to resisting the Nazi drive to conquer Europe and, perhaps, the United States as well. By the time the play was produced, the Soviet Union had renounced its anti-Nazi policies and had formed a pact with Adolf Hitler. Even though Hellman had supported Joseph Stalin’s antifascist line earlier, she refused to endorse the American Communist Party’s allegiance to the Hitler-Stalin pact. Indeed, her play renews her commitment to the antifascist cause.

Hellman’s aim, however, is not merely to expose the work of Nazi agents in the United States, nor is it to celebrate the heroism of antifascists such as Kurt Muller. She wants, rather, to destroy American complacency—the idea that those like Fanny are safe at home. Evil lurks in Fanny’s home precisely because she has provided it with a domicile. Not until Americans like Fanny become aware of America’s role in the world, and realize that the country cannot remain isolationist—and keep itself from evil—will the United States be safe and sound.

In early drafts of the play, Hellman identifies Kurt as a communist, thus honoring her belief that the communists are owed a tribute for their early and stalwart opposition to fascism. However, Kurt’s communist beliefs become a liability as...

(The entire section is 436 words.)