ENGL 030B UCI Story Waking up

Project Details

The climax of “Waiting For Lefty” comes when the workers stop waiting for Lefty Costello and take responsibility for their own struggle. They collectively wake up to the fact that they were depending on a leader when all they need is their own collective power. The play concludes with them standing up for their rights in defiance of the corrupt and murderous system.

Odets hoped that drama had the power to inspire real social change. Some modernists wanted to jolt the reader out of their complacency and “make it new,” while others sought to shift our ways of seeing and knowing in more subtle ways, through experimentation with form or technique. American society was changing, rapidly, and the very foundations of democracy were rattling and trembling.

Has this always been the case? Is this still the case?

I’d like you to respond to “Waiting For Lefty” in a way that is meaningful to you. Here are some options, but you are free to change them to suit you:


  • Write a one- to two-page dialogue inspired by one of scenes from this play, but set in today’s American life (it could be your home or family, or your job, or a fictional setting altogether). Identify the characters for your reader.
  • Compare “Waiting For Lefty” with Olsen’s “I Want You Women Up North to Know” in a one- to two-page essay.
  • Write your own very short story about waking up to collective struggle in the workplace—perhaps your job or the job of someone close to you. Imagine that awakening process.
  • Find, analyze and write a one- to two-page reflection on a piece of literary criticism focused (at least in part) on this play. Cite your source.


  • The reality of the suffering of the working class
  • Unions and collective bargaining versus the corruption of the bosses and big business
  • The cruel machine of capitalism
  • The emergence of self awareness and class consciousness
  • Misunderstanding communism in the 30s
  • Prejudice, xenophobia, and racism as ideological tools
  • The illusion of patriotism


  • Vernacular—working class language
  • Experimental theatre—staging in actual union halls, in the play, the taxi drivers never leave the stage (they sometimes even sat with the audience); the vignettes occur simply with blackouts, and the drivers always remain dimly visible in the background, sometimes even chiming in with other scenes. When I say the play in Burbank a few years back, the play began in the street as the audience approached the theatre. In other words, Odets’ intended to erase the traditional barriers between stage and real life, actors and real people, and action and audience.

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