Awake and Sing!
Awake and Sing negotiates a family’s economic struggle influenced by communist and capitalist ideals during the Depression in 1935. Jacob drove the plot yet remained floating in the background throughout the play. What stood out to me was the relationship Jacob has with his grandson, Ralph. Both characters are “trying to find the right path” for themselves and questions the family’s “real and ideal sense of life” (Odets 38).
Jacob mostly observes and listens to each family member’s perspective throughout the play. As the elder in the family, he’s experienced a lot in his life and can make some predictions. Ralph, young and romantic, wants to make his way in the world and chase the American Dream, which Jacob encourages. For example, Jacob urges Ralph to “go out and fight so life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills” and to live a dignified life (Odets 48). However, Jacob contradicts his value of nonmaterialism. Jacob’s presumed suicide births Ralph’s aspirations by gifting his legacy to him.
Although Jacob is committed to his Marxist idealism, he also is inactive about making a change. For example, Jacob’s advice to Ralph is to “do what is in your heart, and you carry in yourself a revolution. But you should act. Not like me. A man who had golden opportunities but drank instead a glass tea” (Odets 78). Jacob’s strong belief in revolution eventually metamorphized in his tragic practical action through self-sacrifice. He counsels his grandson against passivity to try to ignite an active spirit in him. Thus, it will partially allow that aspect of Jacob to live vicariously through Ralph. In a broader context, Ralph also symbolizes the birth of social activism and political reform.