Places: Winterset

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1935

First produced: 1935

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Twentieth century

Places DiscussedRiverfront

Riverfront. WintersetTenement house, nestled under a soaring bridge and surrounded by huts, which shelters street people and demonstrates that the streets of America are not paved with gold nor is America in fact the proverbial “land of milk and honey.” The bridge span hovering over this depressed area symbolizes oppression, which shadows and darkens this neighborhood and its population. By specifying neither the city nor the state, the description of this place implies that both the scene and action could take place in any city or state.

Basement apartment

Basement apartment. The ceiling of the apartment is covered with huge pipes and suggests some huge predator, a constrictor or perhaps an octopus, which somehow holds the inhabitants there and prevents them from escaping. The warm interior suggests a sanctuary when contrasted to the cold and sleet outside, but in reality, it is a trap disguised as a haven.

The interior and exterior scenes alternate throughout the drama. The oppressive and stifling exterior is equated with the exploitation of the weak and powerless. These human flotsam and jetsam attempt to eke out an honest but meager living. However, they are thwarted by the very laws designed to protect them. The law enforcement officer is not a friend but an oppressor. The interior trap suggests that hidden prejudices, such as anti-Semitism, rob individuals of opportunities and dignity until the only possibility left to them is a life of crime. In this world, the powerful and the criminal are protected, while the hopes and dreams of the innocent are murdered. This could happen in any city or state in America.

BibliographyAbernathy, Frances E. “Winterset: A Modern Revenge Tragedy.” Modern Drama 7 (September, 1964): 185-189. Provides a careful comparison of the play to Renaissance revenge tragedies, with special emphasis on Hamlet. Contrasts the Hebraic code of eye for an eye in Hamlet with the Christian gospel of love and forgiveness in Winterset.Hazelton, Nancy J. Doran, and Kenneth Krauss, eds. Maxwell Anderson and the New York Stage. Monroe, N.Y.: Library Research Association, 1991. A collection of essays in honor of Anderson’s centennial in 1988. Contains an insightful interview with George Schaefer regarding a production of Winterset.Shivers, Alfred S. The Life of Maxwell Anderson. Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Stein & Day, 1983. Provides numerous details about the writing and staging of Winterset.Shivers, Alfred S. Maxwell Anderson. Boston: Twayne, 1976. The best brief critical introduction to Anderson and his works. Sees Winterset as a continuation of Anderson’s compulsion to portray an idealistic central character “marked for some kind of self-willed defeat for the sake, usually, of a worthwhile cause.”Shivers, Alfred S. Maxwell Anderson: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Works. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. A very complete listing, often with annotations, of works by and about Anderson, including numerous citations about Winterset.
Categories: Places