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Subject Waiting for Lefty
Posted by Beryl
Posted on Sat May 27 21:31:19 2000
From IP ts1-ppp-16.fju.edu.tw  

Witnessing the unfair distribution of wealth and power, Marxists, like feminists, assert the equality in the society as the way it should be. Marxism cries for the rebellion of those ¡§have nots¡¨ against the ¡§haves¡¨. More fervently, Marxists not only intend to break down the unequal social hierarchy, but also to offer the plan for changing this world. In terms of Marxism, any literary work should tightly fit in with the social context. A literary text can never be isolated from the cultural situation in which the text develops. On the contrary, a work of art can reflect the society. The study of literature and the study of society, actually, should be closely interrelated. The economic, social, and cultural factors are all considered part of the various interacting forces which construct a work of art. We can no longer determine or interpret the meaning of a work solely depending on the work¡¦s intrinsic elements, and cannot exclude the extrinsic elements, such as the author¡¦s life and the historical background, from the work of art, either. Bearing such an understanding in mind, Marxists not only appeal to revolutions to change the world, but also defend the proletariat in literary writing, trying to awake the common workers to fight against the exploitation of capitalism. Likewise, Clifford Odets, an American playwright, shows his sensitive concern for the political and economic strains in American people¡¦s life during the Great Depression in most of his writings. In one of his successful plays, Waiting for Lefty, Odets harshly attacks the economic disparity between the ¡§haves¡¨ and the ¡§have nots¡¨, and strongly encourages the working class people to strike for equality.
Thematically, the lack of money strings along with the five episodes in this play. For lack of money, Edna threatens Joe with her leaving their family unless Joe goes on strike. For lack of money, Florence and Sid are forced to part with each other. For lack of money, the poor cannot get possession of the happiness and joy that should naturally belong to every individual being. In a word, poverty deprives the poor people of the enjoyment of life. It destroys a happy family and breaks up a couple who loves each other very much. To those ¡§haves¡¨, money may not play such a tremendously important role in their life. Yet, to those ¡§have nots¡¨, the lack of money would turn the life into misery.
Money determines the characters¡¦ destinies in this play. ¡§Don¡¦t yell. I just put the kids to bed so they won¡¦t know they missed a meal,¡¨ Edna said pathetically in Act One. This line directly reflects the poverty-stricken situation of a common worker¡¦s family. The meager wage is never able to satisfy the wife. Edna urges Joe into strike, but Joe hesitates taking real actions. This poor family is going to fall apart. The greatest irony lies in the stage direction which says the fat boss is smoking his cigar and blowing heavy clouds of smoke while Joe and Edna are suffering from that unreasonable wage paid by him. As an audience or a reader, we can see the movement of Joe and Edna and that of Fatt, the boss, at the same time. The playwright presents the different settings on stage simultaneously in order to suggest the discrepant gains between the means of production and the owner of the means of production¡Xthe workers and the boss. The workers devote their labors, and get regular amount of money from it. Except for the regular paying for the workers, the boss can gain the rest of profit from the process of production. The more the labors devoted into the production, the more profit the boss can gain from it. The workers are alienated from the result of production. They are merely the means to help produce. More often than not, they are exploited so as to increase the gains for the boss. This situation develops into the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. The rich become richer; the poor get poorer. That¡¦s also the reason why in this play the workers need to go on strike. Through Edna¡¦s harsh criticism against the boss and the union, the author conveys his dissatisfaction towards the unequal treatment between social classes. In Act Three, Odets depicts the impossibility for people to enjoy love in the time of hard living. Money should be the first and primary consideration in the life of the poor. Even such humble dreams as Florence¡¦s¡Xromance, love, and babies¡Xare strangled by privation mercilessly. The lives of the poor people are demeaned by the world that is dominated by money.
Under the circumstances of being exploited and lacking for money, the working class people are driven to the edge of life. At first, they are still waiting for Lefty Costello to set out the strike. Lefty is the symbol of the worker¡¦s hope and the powerful figure to fight against the boss for the workers. However, Lefty never shows up on stage in person. He is found ¡§behind the car barn with a bullet in his head.¡¨ Lefty is murdered by those who control the power, by those who are afraid of the worker¡¦s rebellion, and by those who want to retain their power over the working class. The play climbs to the climax at the very ending. After the realization of Lefty¡¦s death, the workers rise up angrily. The louder and louder exclamations of strike stand for the awakening of the working class. They eventually realize the death of justice and protection for them in the society. Therefore, they need to change the world.
To awake the working class to rebel is Odets¡¦ main purpose to write this play. He titles the play as ¡§Waiting for Lefty¡¨. But, the play ends up with no ¡§Lefty¡¨ but the news of Lefty¡¦s death. This special arrangement reinforces the fact that the common workers are oppressed to the full extent. The employers not only gain the most profits from the production, but also try to quench the flames of revolution by all means. Odets points out that the employers will only make effort to strengthen their power of control and increase the opportunity to benefit more from the production. The boss actually concerns nothing about the welfare of the workers. Thus, the workers should depend on their collective power and fight against the oppression for their own sake. As the all exclaim at the end of the play, ¡§STRIKE, STRIKE, STRIKE!!!¡¨, Odets fervently encourages the workers to change the world.


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