¡§Waiting for Lefty¡¨
Since the Industrial Revolution, machine has replaced human power as the major mode of production. The capitalists run factories, make use of machines, and employ common workers to work for the assembly line. As a consequence, the capitalists are actually controlling the means of production, and they are even getting richer and richer. Indeed, the invention of machine brings people more wealth, whereas the material possessions resulted from the Industrial Revolution are centered upon the few who control the machine. Thus, the rich are getting richer, and the poor turn out to be the poorer. Witnessing the unfair distribution of wealth and power, Marxists, like feminists, fight or work for the equality in the society as the way it should be. Marxists are eager to solve these problems. They defend the proletariat, and offer the working classes of society an opportunity to change their world, too. In addition to appealing to a classless society, Marxists also work with literary works to free the ¡§have nots¡¨ from the strict social hierarchy. Odets¡¦ play, Waiting for Lefty, is one example that Marxist claim the classless world through literary writing. Clifford Odets, an American playwright, shows his sensitive concern for the political and economic straits in American people¡¦s life during the Great Depression in most of his writings. In this play, Waiting for Lefty, Odets harshly attacks the economic disparity between the ¡§haves¡¨ and the ¡§have nots¡¨. He also encourages the workers to strike for the better and reasonable wages that they deserve.
Thematically, the lack of money strings through 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. As Edna mentions, ¡§your boss is making suckers outa you boys every minute. Yes, and suckers out of all the wives and the poor innocent kids,¡¨ no matter how much labor the workers devote to the process of production, they merely can gain regular amount of money. Even by promoting a little bit of wages, the boss can sweat his workers mercilessly. However, a worker, as Joe portrayed in the play, cannot feed his family; the boss, as Fatt in the play, in the meantime, is earning more money and enjoyment out of the worker¡¦s sweat.
For the poor, love even becomes an extravagant asking in the hard time. In Act Three, Odets depicts how difficult it is for a couple to fulfill their love and dream if they are in poverty. Money should be the first and primary consideration in the life of the poor. In this play, Irv, Florence¡¦s brother, stops Florence from meeting Sid again because Sid doesn¡¦t earn the handsome salary. Sid is a taxi driver who only makes five or six dollars a week. The small amount of money cannot support a family. ¡§This ain¡¦t no time to get married,¡¨ says Irv. Without money, even such humble dreams as Florence¡¦s¡Xromance, love, and babies¡Xwill be strangled by privation so cruelly. This couple is forced to separate. Because of the lack of money, Sid is going to join the army. This time may be the last time they see each other. Through the conversation between Florence and Sid, the audience can clearly feel the pathetic atmosphere and the sadness occurred to this couple. Florence says to Sid that she¡¦ll ring for brandy and soda ¡§like in the movies¡¨. And, Sid answers, ¡§if this was the movies I¡¦d bring a big bunch of roses.¡¨ The brandy, soda, and roses are such extravagant things in the life of the poor. Likewise, the romance of Florence and Sid is not affordable, and not real, either, as if ¡§in the movies.¡¨ For money¡¦s sake, the young man and woman finally have to sacrifice their romance. The lives of the poor people are demeaned by the world that is dominated by money.
¡§Money, Money, Money!¡¨ Having money assures a better living standard and probably some happiness, but having no money may be able to tear a decent person apart, tormenting his or her body and soul. In the world where material possessions determine a person¡¦s value, those ¡§have nots¡¨ are more often than not driven to the dead corner. Like Joe, the common workers have no choice but go on strike. At first, all workers still wait for Lefty Costello to set out the strike. According to the playwright¡¦s special purpose, ¡§Lefty¡¨ is not only the symbol of common worker¡¦s hope and of a powerful figure to fight against the boss¡¦s oppression, but also the representative figure of Marxism. However, Lefty Costello never shows up on stage in person. On the contrary, 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 classes. With the symbolic meaning of Lefty¡¦s death, the play climbs to the climax at the very ending. The murdering of Lefty implies how eagerly the capitalists intend to extinguish the flame of revolution of the common workers and to prevent Marxism from vigorously flourishing. The capitalists not only have controlled most material possessions, but also want to own the ruling power for long. The author presents the death of Lefty in order to point out the capitalists¡¦ obsession for wealth and power. This way, Odets is encouraging the working classes to fight for the classless new society right away on their own.
The Great Depression was a good timing for Odets to propagate Marxism and a classless world. Odets portrayed the desperate strait of the poor. Through the presentation on stage, he successfully blew the economic disparity between the rich and the poor. Hopefully, Odets could bring his audience to the awareness of the domineering capitalism in the society. Not only evoking applause from the audience, the play was also a truthful social study during the Great Depression. In this play, Odets empowered his characters of the working class to fight against the exploitation of the capitalists. To strike is an opportunity for the proletariat to change the world.