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Title: Capitalism and identity in modern American drama
Authors: Attia, Alaa E. Mustafa Khalifa
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The aim of the thesis is, through the analysis of four influential American plays of the twentieth-century, to explore the relationship between capitalism and identity. The discussed plays are similar in that they focus on what might be called a 'crisis of masculinity,' with different reactions from the feminine to that crisis. They trade on the oppositions implicit in that binary: the tension between public and private, bosses and workers, breadwinners and dependents, husbands and wives, parents and children. However, these plays are not interchangeable. Indeed, part of the purpose of this thesis is to situate them within their respective historical contexts through an examination of their form: social expressionism of Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine (1923), domestic realism of Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! (1935), personal expressionism of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949), and new realism of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen- Ross (1983). The selected plays integrate with each other in order to depict the individual's vulnerability, insecurity and alienation in American corporate business. I investigate how Rice's play responds to the emerging culture of consumption in America during the 1920s. I show the way in which the play, according to Antonio Gramsci's concept of Americanism, seeks to reveal the human cost, both at work and at home, of maximum industrial efficiency under Taylorism and Fordism. The discussion of Odets's play demonstrates how mass unemployment caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s challenges the traditional structure of the nuclear family: it radically defies the conventional American ideology of self-sufficiency and rugged individualism. The practically emasculating matriarch, the eroded authority of the Marxian and idealist patriarch, who ceases to be a provider, and the disturbed masculinity of the son are tracked. Further, I explore how Miller's play reflects the concepts of other-directness and conformity after World War II. I illustrate how the notion of work dominates and affects the life of the organization man in the home that, in tum, contributes to his anxiety and delusion as well as determines the validity of his values. Finally, the consequences and the requirements of social Darwinism, which takes the form of cutthroat competitiveness to achieve the American Dream in the 1980s, are pinpointed through examining Mamet's play. I argue that the businessman's need to establish and maintain a masculine identity parallels his obsession with success: for him, having means being.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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