Places Discussed


Riverfront. Tenement house, nestled under a soaring bridge and surrounded by huts, which shelters street people and demonstrates that the streets of America are not paved with gold nor is America in fact the proverbial “land of milk and honey.” The bridge span hovering over this depressed area symbolizes oppression, which shadows and darkens this neighborhood and its population. By specifying neither the city nor the state, the description of this place implies that both the scene and action could take place in any city or state.

Basement apartment

Basement apartment. The ceiling of the apartment is covered with huge pipes and suggests some huge predator, a constrictor or perhaps an octopus, which somehow holds the inhabitants there and prevents them from escaping. The warm interior suggests a sanctuary when contrasted to the cold and sleet outside, but in reality, it is a trap disguised as a haven.

The interior and exterior scenes alternate throughout the drama. The oppressive and stifling exterior is equated with the exploitation of the weak and powerless. These human flotsam and jetsam attempt to eke out an honest but meager living. However, they are thwarted by the very laws designed to protect them. The law enforcement officer is not a friend but an oppressor. The interior trap suggests that hidden prejudices, such as anti-Semitism, rob individuals of opportunities and dignity until the only possibility left to them is a life of crime. In this world, the powerful and the criminal are protected, while the hopes and dreams of the innocent are murdered. This could happen in any city or state in America.

Historical Context

The Sacco-Vanzetti Case
In May of 1920, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants known to be anarchists and...

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Literary Style

Verse Drama
One of the best-known aspects of Winterset is the fact that it is a verse drama, written in poetic lines...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Compare and Contrast

1930s: The Sacco-Vanzetti case remains a controversial issue. To many people, it represents a miscarriage of justice and...

(The entire section is 240 words.)

Topics for Further Study

Winterset has been compared to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as well as to King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and...

(The entire section is 508 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Abernathy, Frances E. “Winterset: A Modern Revenge Tragedy.” Modern Drama 7 (September, 1964): 185-189. Provides a careful comparison of the play to Renaissance revenge tragedies, with special emphasis on Hamlet. Contrasts the Hebraic code of eye for an eye in Hamlet with the Christian gospel of love and forgiveness in Winterset.

Hazelton, Nancy J. Doran, and Kenneth Krauss, eds. Maxwell Anderson and the New York Stage. Monroe, N.Y.: Library Research Association, 1991. A collection of essays in honor of Anderson’s centennial in 1988. Contains an insightful interview with George Schaefer...

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Abernethy, Francis E., ‘‘Winterset: A Modern Revenge Tragedy,’’ in Modern Drama, Vol. 7, 1964, pp....

(The entire section is 227 words.)