Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 574
This powerful play from the Great Depression explores the social dynamics of generations of a Jewish family living under one roof in the Bronx. As the Berger family attempts to have a better life, or at least the appearance of one, love and strife exist in the home, as well...
(The entire section contains 574 words.)
See This Study Guide Now
Start your subscription to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
This powerful play from the Great Depression explores the social dynamics of generations of a Jewish family living under one roof in the Bronx. As the Berger family attempts to have a better life, or at least the appearance of one, love and strife exist in the home, as well as hope and despair.
The matriarch, Bessie, tries to hold her family together with dignity and hope but is often met with disappointment.
"Here without a dollar, you don’t look the world in the eye. Talk from now to next year—this is life in America."
Honest and often humorous dialogue exists throughout the play. Bessie is strong and lets her opinions be known to all. Here she speaks of her weak son-in-law:
"Second fiddle...By me he don’t even play in the orchestra...."
And, Bessie says this about her father:
"Go in your room, Papa. Every job he ever had he lost because he’s got a big mouth. He opens his mouth and the whole Bronx could fall in."
Jacob, Bessie's father, is a Marxist and seeks a better life away from the trappings of capitalism, desiring freedom for his family members.
"Make your life something good. For the love of an old man who sees in your young days his new life, for such love take the world in your two hands and make it like new. Go out and fight so life shouldn't be printed on dollar bills."
Disillusioned by hardships in America, Jacob embraces socialist ideals:
"If this life leads to a revolution, it's a good life. Otherwise it's for nothing."
Jacob says to his grandson,
"It’s enough for me now I should see your happiness. This is why I tell you—DO! Do what is in your heart and you carry in yourself a revolution. But you should act. Not like me, a man who had golden opportunities but drank a glass of tea instead...."
The play depicts the human struggles and joys during a desperate time in America. Ralph, Bessie's son, takes delight in his love interest:
"She's so beautiful, you look at her and cry! She's like French words!"
Ralph also powerfully states his desire for a meaningful life:
"I’m twenty-two and kickin’! I’ll get along. Did Jake die for us to fight about nickels? No! ‘Awake and sing,’ he said. Right here he stood and said it. The night he died."
Moe, a friend of the family and man who loves Hennie, shares the burdens of his own young life so far as he declares his love for her:
"...my old man was a bum. I supported the whole damn family—five kids and Mom. When they grew up they beat it the hell away like rabbits. Mom died. I went to the war; got clapped down like a bedbug; woke up in a room without a leg. What the hell do you think, anyone’s got it better than you? I never had a home either. I’m lookin’ too!"
Moe implores Hennie to run away with him for a better life:
"Come away. A certain place where it’s moonlight and roses. We’ll lay down, count stars. Hear the big ocean making noise. You lay under the trees. Champagne flows like—"
Moe's character is strong, cynical, but funny, too. He states this about Hennie, "I got a yen for her, and I don't mean a Chinese coin."