Development of American Drama after 1945

In the 19th century, the American public was seeking for entertainment rather than art through the American theatre. With the beginning of modernization and strong desires for entertainment, the taste was also rapidly changing.

And the change most of the time is reflected in the field of drama as well. The recent critics of the United States believe that American drama was born in The Prince town Playhouse in 1916. But actually it was way earlier that American drama came in to existence.


Eugene O’ Neill, an American dramatist, who is internationally reputed in the field of drama, also got the noble prize in 1936. He was influenced by Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg and Maurice Maeterlinck.

He is remembered for realist, naturalist and expressionist drama. Moreover the credit goes to Eugene O’Neill for his realist and naturalistic play. Before O’Neill in American theater, there were melodrama which were sentimental and having the sense of excitement. But when O’ Neill came with the philosophical subject matter , he became out of reach from the audience, because he got the subject matter from ancient Greek time and mix it with Freudian psychoanalysis. For example Desire Under the Elms is completely realistic drama set in 19th century New England (America).

Its theme is sexual desire and the desire of land. O’Neill’s Iceman Cometh is very much philosophical and gloomy play that was staged in Broadway in 1946. It was not much liked by audience. It became only popular in off Broadway in the year 1956.      Another finest play of O’Neill is Long Day’s Journey in to Night (1956) is considered by many critics to be a triumph of realistic drama and O’Neill’s finest play. It is about human responsibility and love-hate with in a family. The father and his son bitterly discuss the past, while waiting for their drug- addict mother to come down stains. O’Neill also started writing autobiographical play and before him there is no one to write in such trend, and being autobiographical, the subject of the play is O’ Neill’s early childhood with unrealized hope. This drama simply tries to deny the authenticity of American dream. American society was shocked by this drama because that society sought the subject matter of money.


If Eugene O’ Neill, Susan Gospel, Thornton Wilder Clifford Odets dominated the first half of the twentieth century. Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Lawrence Hansberry, Sam Shepard, David Moment dominated the second half of the twentieth century, but Tennessee Williams is very much important between this two ages. Tennessee Williams was brought up in the South, we can clearly see element of the southern literary tradition in his work. The elements like complicated feelings about time and the past. The past is usually looked up on with sadness, guilt or fear. He describes his society as a kind of hell of brutality and race hatred.

 After the arrival of Eugene O’ Neill, the practice of realism and naturalism and was established as a trend for sometime in the field of plays and among the many play wrights; one of them is Tennessee Williams. The language of his play is sometimes close to poetry. Therefore he is the poet of unpoetic land. Because of the poetic use of language we realize he is influenced by Ibsen’s drama.

Tennessee Williams tries to express, internal reality and that make him near to Anton Chekhov. In Chekhov’s drama the realization of action is there which is eternal and in Tennessee Williams drama the realization of tension and anxiety which is internal. Tennesse Williams reached his peak relatively early in his career- in the 1940 with The Glass Menagerie (1945) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). None of the works that followed over the next two decades and more reached the level of success and richness of those two pieces. Williams wrote more than twenty full- length dramas, many of them autobiographical. Even the drama The Glass Menagerie is taken as autobiographical drama. This drama does not only stand for autobiographical drama but it stands as fertile land. The life of the character in The Glass Menagerie when becomes hot liveable or not acceptable then the characters turn themselves to live in the illusion. Tennesse Williams revealed the pain and suffering inside the heart of his characters. He tries to explore the internal hurt which is opposite to the behavior to day life. In A Strectcar Named Deiere the character Blanche Dubois is suffering from nymphomaniac, who has excessive sexual desire. When she is married her unfulfilled sexual desire is not fulfilled. In this drama Williams try to show how the human beings are victimized by their excessive sexual desire. Here Dubois is not corrupted by love but by the life she has. Tennesse Williams experiment non – realistic technique to present the mental conflict and tension.


Miller belongs to the second half of the twentieth century. Miller was leftist and being leftist he starts his dramatic career with the propaganda plays. In his propaganda plays he explicitly overthrows capitalism and advocates for the establishment of socialism. Miller is influenced by Marxism. His propaganda plays are not published until the publication of Death of a Salesman in 1949. In his later plays after propaganda plays he implicitly advocate Marxism. Miller’s first time play is known to be All my Sons (1947). Whenever he comes with his first play he does not use experimental technique but the old realistic tradition, Miller’s play are rather similar to the plays of Henrik Ibsen (the great nineteenth century naturalistic playwright). Miller’s best known play Death of a Salesman is supposed to be the best modern tragedy in the sense that he tries to experiment the concept of tragic hero, pronounced by Aristotle in poetics. According to Aristotle the tragic hero should be from noble birth, intelligent but the hero of Death of a Salesman is Willy Loman, very simple man from the simple family who is a traveling business man. Unity of time, place and action is perfectly settled and it is of the exactly twenty-four hours play. This play Death of a Salesman is actually about the failure of an American dream. In this play Miller shows that Americans behavior who do not work hard and only run after developing the personality. Arthur Millers being a leftist thinks that capitalistic society make people corrupt and make them running always after the money and when it is not fulfilled it turns to be something disaster.


Albee is supposed to be one of the greatest absurdist playwrights after the Second World War in American literature. By the early 1960s, Albee was widely considered to the successor of Williams and Miller. Albee was the first and perhaps the only one of his theatrical generation to move from YAM (Young American Playwright) to FAM (Famous American Playwright). Albee came up with the series of successful works like The Zoo Story; a play written in Absurdist style; The American Dream; a play that attacks on the false values which have destroyed the real values in American society ; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The most famous book having the theme of emptiness, and so on. Most of Albee’s dramas lack specific setting. Audiences never know the situation and the place where things are happening in play. This is the important feature of absurdist drama. Most of the characters presented by Albee in his works are restless and uncomfortable in their own self. The characters in Albee’s plays seem to suffer from loneliness because they cannot or will not make any connection with each other. Through such an image of the characters, it can be assumed that Albee’s view about human condition is that it is always overpowered by separateness and loneliness, which according to him may be the result of a collapse of values on the western world in general and in the United States in particular. Love is also presented in his plays but not in the way of romantic situation but in the way of lost, decay, fall and failure. Albee’s plays are full of violence both physical violence like in The Zoo Story or verbal like in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is taken as a metaphor to the 1960s American society. The character in the drama like George and Martha are husband and wife; whose life is very much frustrated. They only argue all the time. The violence could not let them to continue their partnership. They seem to be tired of arguing. This shows the common whole American life style.