Sample Literature Essays on Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy (1937)

Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy (1937)

The play Golden Boy, written by Clifford Odets in 1937, records the hasty rise of Joe Bonaparte to fame. This comes after switching his career from a violinist to a boxer (Odets, 10). The plot of the play is significant, as it majors on the seductive promise of the American dream during the depression period. One meaningful issue raised within the play is the moral compromise where the protagonist chooses an obscure and better paying boxing career over the strikingly successful musical career. The protagonist known as Joe is torn between the high pressure of making big money in boxing business and pursuing his dreams as a violinist. Joe Bonaparte is caught up in this dilemma, to choose between art and quick riches. Joe finally gives in to the allure of money and fame. This dilemma is further complicated when Joe receives a sponsor in boxing and is fearful of his hands.

While the play makes a fair attempt to depict the harsh realities of boxing, it fails to trounce the thinness of the characterizations. The story is dramatic, but relies on stereotypes and significant premises. For instance, the fact the Joe is a potential violinist fails to be so convincing and somewhat tiresome for the reader to follow. This verity makes the play less factual since this aspect is not mirrored in the true life of the playwright (as other aspects of the play are). Elements of tragedy are introduced in the play by the gallery of characters who strive to define and guide the Joe’s destiny. Joe’s father advises him against engaging in boxing. However, Joe perceives a boxing career as a solution to his background of poverty. Eventually Joe is depicted as a rebellious son, a self-destructive champion, and a frustrated lover. This tragedy attains maximum height when the seductive American dream of becoming rich quickly engulfs Joe. There are no elements of comedy in the play. However, the second scene is the most touching scene, where Joe struggles to define himself. He was uncertain of whether he is a violinist or a boxer. I was moved by the fact that even though Joe had a promising future, he chose fame and money above all else, thereby hurting his close relations and crushing his humanity.

The theme highlighted in the play is the subject of moral compromise. Joe embodies this as he ignored his father’s attempt of directing him in his musical career. Irrespective of the fact that his father loves him and goes to the extent of buying him a costly violin for his 21st birthday, Joe is adamant to ignore his advice. Instead, he chooses Lorna’s advice and rises to stardom quickly, breaks his hand and ruining his musical career. Joe goes on to defy societal morals by falling in love with his manager’s mistress. This is down looked upon even after Lorna, the manager’s mistress, causes Tom to divorce his wife for her sake. Joe’s defiance comes to a tragic end when he wins against an opponent and decides to take a ride with Lorna in his sports car. While the family and the boxing party are waiting for their arrival, they receive the news of Joe’s death in a road accident. This death symbolizes the culmination of the play and a point of tragedy in the lives of the characters.

The play’s setting and characters are resolute: boxers, boxer trainers, police, and gangsters. Nevertheless, Odet cleverly introduces brutal boxing matches offstage, with bloody results conveyed to the audience through the events in the dressing room. The production is rough, as the scenes located in club gyms comprise of choreographed sparring boxers. Conversely, the harmony of the perfunctory rolling in and out of the set changes is off-putting and out of tone with the play.

The protagonist is nevertheless a good actor and heightens passion. He goes on to develop the tougher, New York accent even as physical and psychological conflicts keep intensifying. He is however too refined and delicate for the character. A more experienced character in the field of boxing would have been a better choice. The manager has an opportunity to depict some aspect of appealing subtlety in the play’s relatively complicated role but not as a ruthless manager. Lorna does well in her role as a stereotype character. She is not a foolish mistress of a boxing manager, and looks great in her costumes. One character that is appealing to me is Joe’s father, Mr. Bonaparte. Mr. Bonaparte is presently too adorable for a father. He goes on to buy him a surprise birthday present of a very costly violin. Even after Joe fails to accept his gift, he is not agitated and goes on to offer his fatherly advice in a touching scene.

The play highlights the underside of the boxing world and the extremes of brutality (Odets, 38). Boxers treat each other insignificantly by extending instances of bloody moments that catches the breath of the audience. I am yet to understand the reason Joe harbors so much revenge and what makes him run after fame. Even his cross-eyed nature cannot make him treat his opponents with so much abhorrence as he does. I concluded that Joe’s cross-eyes were pre-ordained for his career. The fact that people made fun of his eyes made him become vengeful especially against his opponents. The eyes are perceived as a metaphor for his disparate life choices.



Work Cited

Odets Clifford. Golden Boy. Lincoln Center Theater. 2013 January.