Irwin Shaw Analysis

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111207208-Shaw.jpg Irwin Shaw Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Irwin Shaw is better known for his short stories and novels than for his plays. His contributions to The New Yorker and other magazines in the 1930’s earned him a reputation as one of the outstanding short-story writers of his generation, favorably compared to Ernest Hemingway and John Cheever. Many commentators consider the stories Shaw continued to write throughout his career as his main claim to literary immortality. When his The Young Lions appeared in 1948, critics called it one of the best novels dealing with World War II. His later novels were commercial rather than literary successes.


Irwin Shaw’s failure to win major literary awards disappointed and angered him. Among his few honors were an O. Henry Memorial Award First Prize for his short story “Walking Wounded” in 1944 and an O. Henry Memorial Award Second Prize for “Gunner’s Passage” in 1945. In 1946 he received a thousand-dollar grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His only honorary degree came from his alma mater, Brooklyn College, in 1978. Shaw had hoped to have his work recognized by the American Academy of Arts and Letters; their failure to include him among the members embittered him.

Shaw believed that the magnitude of his monetary success prejudiced critics and other writers against him. He was delighted, however, when paperback editions of his late novels sold millions of copies. Dependent solely on his earnings as a writer, Shaw proudly supported his parents, provided a lavish lifestyle for himself, his wife, and his son, and left an estate of several million dollars at his death

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Irwin Shaw wrote novels, plays, screenplays, nonfiction books, articles, and short stories. His novels The Young Lions (1948) and Rich Man, Poor Man (1970) and his plays Bury the Dead (1936) and Sons and Soldiers (1943) are well known and received critical acclaim. “Out of the Fog,” “Act of Faith,” “Tip on a Dead Jockey,” Two Weeks in Another Town (1960), and The Young Lions have been filmed. Rich Man, Poor Man was the television miniseries believed by some critics to have launched America’s novel-to-miniseries craze.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Irwin Shaw’s forty-six-year roller coaster ride with American critics began in 1935 when Brooks Atkinson wrote of Shaw’s first play, “What Waiting for Lefty was for Clifford Odets, Bury the Dead is to Irwin Shaw.” Within the next four years The New Yorker and other top magazines published some of Shaw’s best short stories, including “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” “Second Mortgage,” and the title story of his first book of short stories, Sailor off the Bremen. His first novel, The Young Lions, was hailed by some critics as the best novel to emerge from World War II, comparable to Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929). Not all of his novels were so well received; Lucy Crown (1956) was branded a soap opera. In 1970, however, Rich Man, Poor Man put him back on the favored son list. Critics who praised and critics who panned his novels did so by comparing them to Shaw’s own brilliant short stories.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Eisinger, Chester E. Fiction of the Forties. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. In the section titled “Irwin Shaw: The Popular Ideas of the Old Liberalism,” Eisinger both praises and condemns Shaw for his treatment, in the four volumes of short stories he produced between 1939 and 1950, of racial and social prejudice.

Giles, James R. “Interview with Irwin Shaw.” Resources for American Literary Study 18 (1992): 1-21. Shaw discusses his experiences writing for movies, his reaction to being a “popular” writer, his blacklisting, and his opinion of Ernest Hemingway. Contends “Act of Faith” is an “angry” story.

Giles, James R. Irwin Shaw. Boston: Twayne, 1983. This book is one volume in an expanding series of literary biographies.

Giles, James R. Irwin Shaw: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. An excellent review of Shaw’s short stories.

Placzek, Walter H. “Irwin Shaw (1913-1984).” In American Playwrights, 1880-1945: A Research and Production Sourcebook, edited by William W. DeMastes. Greenwood Press, 1995. Provides useful production data on Shaw’s plays.

Reynolds, Fred. “Irwin Shaw’s ‘The Eighty-Yard Run.’” The Explicator 49 (Winter, 1991): 121-123. Interprets the story as a case...

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