Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 227

The most prominent theme in Awake and Sing! is financial insecurity/poverty . Set during the Great Depression, the play follows Bessie Berger and her family as they struggle to survive the economic collapse. Bessie is quite bothered by the sight of people being evicted from their homes and their belongings...

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The most prominent theme in Awake and Sing! is financial insecurity/poverty. Set during the Great Depression, the play follows Bessie Berger and her family as they struggle to survive the economic collapse. Bessie is quite bothered by the sight of people being evicted from their homes and their belongings being tossed into the street.

Another theme is idealism vs. realism. Many of the men in Bessie's family are idealists who push for socialism. However, Bessie is more of a realist who focuses on running their home as best as she can.

A theme seen throughout the play is materialism, and this is particularly seen in Ralph, Bessie's son. He complains about the material things he doesn't have, such as skates and tap shoes. Two other characters who represent materialism are Uncle Morty and Moe. Uncle Morty's business thrives despite the state of the economy, and he shows this off by driving a nice car and smoking Cuban cigars. Moe, despite having a disability pension after losing his leg in the First World War, steals in order to live in luxury.

Bessie also represents the theme of family. She strives to keep her family united and defends each person's character. Another character who represents family is Blanche, a young girl who is constantly placed with other family members because her mother is unable to care for her.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544

Awake and Sing! is a family play that examines the inroads that financial insecurity, such as was experienced in the Great Depression, make upon family unity and the compromises to which it leads. Odets uses Bessie as a controlling thematic force in the play, the person who keeps life going and who focuses on continuance and the family.

The Great Depression is at its peak, and Bessie is haunted by the specter of respectable people being evicted from their homes and having their furniture thrown into the street. These harsh evictions became a frequent event as the Depression forced foreclosures or made it impossible for tenants to pay their rent.

The men in Bessie’s life, except for Morty and her boarder, Moe Axelrod, are idealists. Bessie, a realist, has to keep the household running on practically nothing, and she has neither time nor sympathy for the socialism espoused by her father or her son. Ralph shares his grandfather’s views and bemoans having lived so marginally that he could not have skates as a child, that he cannot afford to have his teeth fixed, and that he was denied tap-dancing lessons. Despite his lofty idealism, it is the materialist factors that rankle Ralph.

The only male characters who are not idealistic (Jacob), hopelessly naïve (Sam Feinschreiber and Myron), or both (Ralph) are Uncle Morty and Moe. Uncle Morty is secure because his business is going well. He avoids personal involvements; business allows no personal feelings, he explains. He drives a big car, smokes fat Cuban cigars, lives well, and contributes all of five dollars a week to his father’s support. Moe, on the other hand, is secure because, having lost a leg in the war, he has a disability pension. He is a petty crook who makes enough money on the side to sustain himself decently. With these two characters, then, Odets equates security with deformity. Uncle Morty is spiritually deformed; he has bartered his soul for success in business. Moe has sacrificed a leg but secured his future.

Schlosser also serves to illustrate that Bessie values outward family unity above all things. When he complains to her about Jacob, Bessie, who has just finished scolding her father unmercifully, turns on Schlosser and extols her father’s virtues, thereby preserving the appearance of family concord and solidarity.

A recurrent Odets theme is what happens to children whose mothers are not present to care for them. Blanche is shunted, unhappily, from one reluctant relative to another. The building superintendent, Schlosser, who was added to the list of characters after the play was written and to whom Odets gives only three speeches, is introduced after his wife has died, leaving him to bring up their daughter, who finally runs away and joins a burlesque show.

Odets usually elected to write his plays, particularly the early ones, around socioeconomic themes, with the family as center. In Awake and Sing!, he focuses centrally on the preservation of the Berger family, but secondarily on the fact that continuance is threatened when economic factors make it difficult for two people in love, such as Ralph and Blanche, to be married. This theme is also prominent in Odets’s Waiting for Lefty (pr., pb. 1935) and Paradise Lost (pr. 1935).

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