Sidney Howard Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although best known for his plays, Sidney Howard also translated and adapted a number of works. In his early years, Howard worked as a literary editor and wrote, with Robert Dunn, a collection of articles on strikebreaking agencies entitled The Labor Spy (1921). In 1924, he published four stories under the single title Three Flights Up. Like Robert E. Sherwood and Clifford Odets, Howard devoted much of his time to writing screenplays, primarily for Samuel Goldwyn’s studio. With Wallace Smith, he wrote the script for Bulldog Drummond (1929), based on stories by the British writer H. C. McNeile, who wrote under the pen name “Sapper.” Howard also adapted two novels by Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith (1925) in 1931 and Dodsworth (1929) in 1936, to the screen. For his 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936), Howard won an Academy Award.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Sidney Howard contributed little that was unique to American drama, his reputation rests chiefly on his ability to focus on limited, narrow subjects and, in the process, to reveal something essential about the human condition. He created a number of substantial and effective plays, characterized by sound craftsmanship, honesty, and skill. In limiting himself to dramatizing concrete, specific situations, he created sharp, telling vignettes about particular people in varied yet specific settings.

Howard’s achievements are seen in his expert characterization and in his emphasis on social perspective, which helped his plays transcend the limitations of contemporary drama. In 1925, his efforts were recognized; he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for They Knew What They Wanted.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bonin, Jane F. Major Themes in Prize-Winning American Drama. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1975. This insightful analysis of Howard’s plays shows that he was interested in staging the self-made man and the success ethic as well as depicting women in various roles in marriage and society. Marriages are grim, yet American women are pragmatic; they need a husband for security, no matter how intelligent and strong they might be.

Leff, Leonard J. “Gone with the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics.” Atlantic Monthly 284, no. 6 (December, 1999): 106-114. Discusses producer David O. Selznick’s efforts to remain true to Margaret Mitchell’s novel, adapted for the screen by Howard, while improving the portrayal of African Americans in the film.

White, Sydney Howard. Sidney Howard. Boston: Twayne, 1977. This well-conceived monograph offers a biographical and critical survey of the early essays and stories as well as of the major stage plays and screenplays. Quotations from letters, articles, and reviews help to shape the final evaluation of Howard’s corpus. The endnotes present information on performances. The chronological table and the bibliography are useful.