Places: Watch on the Rhine

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1941

First produced: 1941

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Melodrama

Time of work: Late spring, 1940

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedFarrelly country house

Farrelly Watch on the Rhinecountry house. Suburban home of the distinguished Farrelly family, located outside Washington, D.C. The house’s living room is the setting for most of the action in the play, literally and figuratively. The play’s stage directions reveal that the room holds furniture from several different generations, “all people of taste.” It is a busy room, with “too many things in it.” Here people gather, argue, and get on with the business of life. The room represents prosperity and political connectedness, as well as Fanny’s well-decorated life, including her concern with appearances. It offers a closed view of the world she once shared with her late husband. For Sara it represents her former life, a life she sought to escape but now returns to as a kind of safety net with her family. The terrace off the living room is a place the family members and their guests go to breathe freely in the open air; it represents the winds of change that are to come.

*Rhine River

*Rhine River. European river that flows north, from Switzerland, through Germany and the Netherlands, to the North Sea. The play’s title is symbolic of the river’s course, as it passes through countries that were “on watch” as fascism was spreading across Europe in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. The Rhine stands as a tangible symbol of the danger facing Europe. Kurt Muller returns to Germany, continuing his own “watch on the Rhine,” as his American relatives rest in their naïveté in the Farrelly home.


*Germany. Kurt Muller’s homeland, which he hopes to defend against the spread of fascism, and the place to which he returns for refuge in the end.

BibliographyEstrin, Mark W. Critical Essays on Lillian Hellman. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. Contains twenty-three essays discussing three main topics–Hellman’s plays, her memoirs, and “the Hellman persona.” Of special interest are Jacob H. Adler’s essay, in which he discusses blackmail in Watch on the Rhine and other Hellman plays, and Timothy J. Wills’s article, which examines Hellman’s political plays and her attitudes toward war.Gurko, Leo. The Angry Decade: American Literature and Thought from 1929 to Pearl Harbor. New York: Harper-Calophon Books, 1967. Gurko discusses the political influence of Watch on the Rhine. He considers Hellman the best dramatic poet of the period.Holman, Lorena Ross. The Dramatic Works of Lillian Hellman. Stockholm, Sweden: Uppsala, 1973. An accessible source for beginners, this book contains a chapter on Watch on the Rhine that analyzes characters and structure in detail. Also includes an extensive bibliography with journal and newspaper articles and reviews.Lederer, Katherine. Lillian Hellman. Boston: Twayne, 1979. A detailed overview of Hellman’s life, plays, and nonfiction. Includes a selected bibliography of both primary sources (plays, collections of plays, memoirs) and secondary sources. In the discussion of Watch on the Rhine, Lederer takes issue with those who see its importance primarily in the character of Kurt Muller, arguing instead that the play concerns multiple characters and as such will remain relevant.Riordan, Mary Marguerite. Lillian Hellman: A Bibliography, 1926-1978. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1980. An extensive annotated bibliography that focuses on the wide variety of Hellman’s writing, including her contributions to newspapers and periodicals, and provides an index of letters, manuscripts, and recordings. The detailed index gives numbered references for each play.
Categories: Places