"Waiting For Lefty" By Marie Cajuste -A Critique by M. Asinoff –
American Literature 2 –Professor Paul Broer - Spring- 92 - NYC Technical College
In Waiting For Lefty, Clifford Odets captured on stage the lives and the struggle of the backbone of American's society: the working class. As the curtain rose on the first Act, Odets showed the interaction between workers and most importantly their differences.
Most recently, we have seen more and more workers crossing over during strikes than ever before. As the unions weakened, the bosses employed more clever way to control the workers: flooding the unions with spies or sell-outs. In Fatts' case, many are more willing than ever to discourage strikes. Consequently, they are breaking the solidarity that exists among the workers. Often, they praise the boss, or use the economic state of the country to create insecurity. They often ignore the obvious fact that workers are not responsible for the shape of the economy. Like Fatts, strike breakers often paternalized their fellow workers using starvation in other countries, and the good man in the White House; "He is working day and night," to discourage the others.
Another aspect is the use of tactics to discredit union leaders. At one point in the first Act, Fatts asked, "Where is your pal Lefty? You elected him chairman, where the hell did he disappear?!"
One of the most animated scenes in Waiting For Lefty, is in Act II. The conversation between Joe and Edna was peculiar. Odets stressed particularly on the economic factor. The act debuted with a vivid scene full of movement and imagery. "Where's all the furniture, honey? They took it away. No installments paid."
Although Odets, in "Waiting for Lefty," described workers' living conditions at a certain historical time, we can relate to many aspects stressed here even today. If the present recession continues, the condition of the working class families will forcefully worsen. In our society today, we can even predict what disaster it would be for American families if a depression gradually set in.
In Joe and Edna's case, financial difficulties have a way of breaking families apart. No mother would witness her children going to sleep with empty stomachs and sit inactively instead of doing something.
Obviously, if there were a possibility of a slightly better life elsewhere, even if it means (as often it does) sharing the life of another man in the process, most mothers would not hesitate to make the choice. Financial problems can put lots of pressure on the family, especially if one of the partners is not working (as often it is the woman). Men in this type of situation sometimes feel frustrated for not being able to provide for their families. Our ego is linked to our job and some feel they have failed as a man because society puts psychosocial imprints on us. We all fall into a category. Unfortunately, they take their frustration home, neglecting the fact that the woman has been working as hard at home. In some cases, they are under much more stress than men are, especially when raising children.
Odets showed the problems between the sexes, where women are often dominated in every aspect. "Who's the man in the family, you, or me?"
Most- importantly -though, Odets emphasized even more- on the strength and the courage of Edna who is literally pushing Joe to take the necessary steps to change his working conditions. As she was pushing for the strike she told Joe, "When a man knocks you down, you get up and kiss his fists! You- gutless –piece- of-baloney." Further, she said, "But start- in your own Union. Get those hack boys together! Sweep out those racketeers like a pile of dirt! Stand up for the crying kids and wives." Edna courageously pleaded her cause and the cause of thousands of workers, and apparently she won at the end.
In the Lab Assistant Episode, Odets combined the system of spies existed in the work place, and the insensitivity of some capitalist bosses. A most striking reality in this scene is the vagueness in Fayette words as he talked about the poison gas. When Mill addressed the fact that 12 million died in the last World War, and 20 million were wounded or missing as a result. Cool and calculative, Fayette answered, "That is not our worry. If big business went sentimental over human life, there wouldn't be big business of any sort." Fayette is cruel. The industrialist, as Mill finally told him that his own brother died in that war, was most disturbing: he totally ignored that fact, and obsessively proposed Mill to spy for him. "Spying's not in my line, Mr. Fayette," Mill proudly answered. Further, he said, "I'd rather dig ditches first."
Odets used of foreigners and Americans in the last dialogue, shows how often big bosses uses stereotypes to divide the workers. As Mill's stated further, "But sneaking and making poison gas - that's for Americans?" A very significant statement, underlying the fact that bosses used differences among workers to crush strikes, pitting one group against another. It’s a very effective- strategy to stimulate contradictions in their own best- interest.
Today, some bosses are still using this strategy to weakened worker's organizations. Too often you hear people saying that Americans workers are lazy. Recent statement made by the Japanese Prime Minister confirms that fact. A most plausible reason behind these types of tactics is their constant- strive for cheap labor, thus more profit.
The next act, Odets again stressed on the economic factor, and the pressure it puts on the working class and their families. Talking to each other, Sid and Flor complained about the financial problems, which are pulling them back from realizing their dreams. The two lovers contemplating one- another, discussing very serious matters of life, from family matters, to college or even "The French and Indian War."
In "Waiting For Lefty", Odets embraced the working class' life. Although more he used propaganda throughout, "Waiting For Lefty" still stands as a beautiful play. The problems workers faced yesterday are not that different from the ones they are facing today. Although conditions have been improved for some, others are still behind as many immigrants are coming in, and many more middle class families are pushing down to the lower classes of society. Apart from some obvious differences, “Waiting for Lefty” is still a play of the 90's.