Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405

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The Flowering Peach was Odets’s last produced play. It is usually accounted a critical success but a commercial failure; it was nominated for the 1955 Pulitzer Prize, but the award went to another play. Some critics said it was his best play, but most, including Odets himself, admitted that the last part was not as well developed as the first and needed some revision. Using the story of Noah from Genesis, Odets treated it in the setting that he knew best, the modern, middle-class Jewish family. Odets’s career had begun with Awake and Sing! (pr., pb. 1935), about a Jewish family’s attempt to deal with the social and economic problems of the 1930’s. This play established several stock characters: the ineffectual old man, the outspoken Jewish wife and mother, the wry kibitzer, the young man facing life, the materialistic entrepreneur, the idealist, and the young couple in love. These are found in his other family play, Paradise Lost (pr. 1935, pb. 1936), as well as in The Flowering Peach, and in varying combinations in Odets’s other eight produced plays. All of his plays, except Till the Day I Die (pr., pb. 1935), which treats fascism and anti-Semitism, are allegorical and deal with the struggle to keep life from being obliterated by negative circumstances, false values, and loss of self-respect.

Odets’s first five plays, including the three mentioned above and Waiting for Lefty (pr., pb. 1935), about a strike by New York taxi drivers, and Golden Boy (pr., pb. 1937), about a violinist who becomes a boxer to gain financial success, are social protest dramas containing proletarian propaganda and were produced by the Group Theatre, with which Odets acted for several years. Golden Boy, Odets’s biggest box-office success, was written for the Group after Odets went to Hollywood to write screenplays and television scripts. Three plays treating love and marriage, Rocket to the Moon (pr. 1938, pb. 1939), depicting the difficulty of finding love in modern society; Night Music (pr., pb. 1940), emphasizing the theme of loneliness in modern society; and Clash by Night (pr. 1941, pb. 1942), treating homelessness, adultery, and skepticism, were also written for the Group. All these themes can be found in The Flowering Peach, along with those of insecurity, alcoholism, and destruction of values—the principal themes of Odets’s remaining two plays, The Big Knife (pr., pb. 1949) and The Country Girl (pr. 1950, pb. 1951). Thus, Odets’s plays form a circle, beginning and ending with the family.