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Paradise Lost Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Odets thought better of Paradise Lost than most Broadway critics did. The play, although disappointing in many respects, is significant for its almost flawless development of the character of Sam Katz, the dishonest business partner of Leo Gordon, the head of the Gordon household. Odets considered Paradise Lost the most profound of his four dramatic productions to that time. Joseph Wood Krutch, a leading critic of the 1930’s, on the other hand, called the play a mere burlesque on Awake and Sing!, although that criticism was probably more harsh than the play deserved.

Odets, in this play, attempted to deal with the same problems of the Great Depression that had afflicted the Bergers in Awake and Sing!, but he chose to examine these problems from the perspective of a family of higher social standing than the Bergers. His differentiation is between the lower and upper middle class.

Whereas the Bergers could not afford to pay to have their son’s teeth fixed, the Gordons had grown used to a relatively comfortable existence and had managed to acquire a few luxuries, such as an expensive piano, in the years before the economic chaos of the early 1930’s. As in Awake and Sing!, Odets’s major focus in Paradise Lost encompasses a class of people. He writes about their aspirations, thwarted by forces outside their control. They essentially seem like pawns in a great malevolent chess game.

The most compelling characters in Paradise Lost are Sam Katz and his wife, Bertha, who are prototypes for Frank Elgin and Georgie in The Country Girl. Sam has been Leo Gordon’s partner for several years, but unbeknownst to Leo, Sam is basically dishonest and has embezzled from the company. Sam’s problem is impotence, which he cannot admit to. He blames Bertha for their not having children. Like Georgie, Bertha is long-suffering and sympathetic. She nurtures Sam, calling him a good boy and allowing him to live with his delusions. Like Georgie, she is the wife-mother that a man as insecure as Sam needs.

The list of problems facing the Gordon family is so daunting that it plunges Paradise Lost in the category of melodrama . Not only does Leo lose his business and uncover the duplicity of his trusted partner, but his son is dying of encephalitis. His other son,...

(The entire section is 549 words.)