Irwin Shaw came of age during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and his plays reflect the world in which he grew up. He identified with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal attempt to create a more equitable American society. As a Jew, Shaw was acutely aware of the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. He realized Nazism and fascism posed a major threat, not only to Jews but also to all democratic societies.
Shaw’s plays fit the social protest style prominent in the 1930’s and led to his being classified as a radical. He was often associated with Clifford Odets, whose plays were also sponsored by the left-leaning Group Theatre . Shaw was briefly blacklisted in the 1940’s, although he was never a communist. Shaw’s first play, Bury the Dead, was critical of the military and warfare, and many people thought he was a pacifist, but he firmly believed resistance to fascism was necessary, even if it meant going to war. Violence, and how freedom-loving people should respond to it, provided a recurrent theme for his plays and early stories. His dramas appear realistic on the surface, but Shaw often added fantastic elements to strengthen the impact of his plots.
Bury the Dead
This one-act play opens with six dead and decomposing soldiers standing up and refusing to be buried. They reject the pleas of the burial squad, their captain, and three generals, to be good soldiers and go into their graves. Even appeals from their wives, who are brought to the battle scene, fail to dissuade the dead men. Each man describes how he died and what he hoped to experience in life before being put away. The play closes with the dead soldiers marching off stage as a hysterical general attempts to stop them by firing a machine gun.
After its successful two-day production by the New Theater League, Bury the Dead moved to Broadway for sixty-five performances. The play was popular in regional...
(The entire section is 796 words.)