Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 544 words.)