Waiting for Lefty

Waiting for Lefty Summary and Analysis of V. Interne Episode

An elderly man in a white coat, Dr. Barnes, angrily talks into a phone and says that since he was outvoted and that "you did this to Dr. Benjamin yourselfŠyou can tell him yourself." He hangs up, takes a drink, and Dr. Benjamin joins him. Benjamin is upset that he has been replaced for surgery on a woman in critical condition by an incompetent doctor named Leeds, the nephew of a senator. He says he especially minds being replaced because of "class distinction," because the woman is "poor." Barnes warns him against using "radical" language like that, as it may some day cost him his life. Barnes also tells him that the hospital is closing up Ward C, the charity ward, since it is rapidly losing money. Furthermore, they are firing some staff members, including Benjamin. Though Benjamin has seniority, as Barnes hints, and Benjamin states, he is losing his job because he is Jewish.

Barnes explains that doctors "don't run medicine in this country," and that very few people who know their jobs truly control their jobs. He believes that the country has always been run by the rich since the Revolutionary War. Barnes takes a phone call and learns that the woman operated on has died. Benjamin throws down his operation gloves, and Barnes praises his idealism. Benjamin says he wasn't fully convinced of the ideas of radicals until now. He brings up the idea of working in Russia in their "socialized medicine," but then decides he has to work on America, and possibly get a job such as driving a taxi to allow him to keep studying. He vows to fight, though it may mean death.

A man named Agate talks to the taxi drivers and tells them they are "ladies." He says he is proud of his glass eye, a symbol of his working-class origins. He insults Fatt and gains the audience's approval. He says his union button "blushed itself to death" that morning. Fatt and the gunman try to detain him, tearing his shirt, but he gets away with the help of the committee men. Agate proclaims that if "we're reds because we wanna strike, then we take over their salute too!" He salutes with an uppercut punch, Communist-style. While the committee men join in or take over part of his speech, Agate incites the taxi drivers with fiery rhetoric about the rich killing them off. He tells them to "unite and fight!" He says the "reds" have helped him in the past. He tells them not to wait for Lefty, who may never arrive. A man runs into the house and says they just found Lefty, shot and dead. Agate yells to his fellow "WORKERS OF THE WORLD," and urges them to die to "make a new world." He leads them in a chorus to "STRIKE!"


In the first part of this scene, we see further evidence of the government's destructive meddling in private affairs: government nepotism has allowed an incompetent doctor to replace a good one. However, not all government involvement is bad, in Odets's view. As Benjamin admits, he would like to work within Russia's "socialized medicine." (Remember, also, that Benjamin is one of the elected committee members in the taxi drivers' union.)

The debate over the activity of the government has long been a contentious one in America, and Franklin Roosevelt was the first President in the 20th century to insist upon the necessity for the widespread power of the federal government. To Odets, government intervention is effective only when it limits the extent of "harmful" power (as when it allows unions to balance out the power of industry), not when it imposes regulations on "good" power (such as replacing a good doctor with an incompetent one, or not supplying enough funds for the hospital's charity ward). Government intervention walks a fine line, Odets suggests, between aiding and stifling independent practices.

The answer for Odets, then, is again unions, in letting the workers wield the power. Agate, the "agitator," reminds the taxi drivers that they are basically dying anyway, and that death might as well come with freedom. He stirs them into a Communist frenzy, lifting a line directly from the end of Marx and Engels's "The Communist Manifesto": "WORKERS OF THE WORLD" (the original line tells them to "unite.") Lest Odets scare off his audience, who may, like Barnes, be wary of language that is "Too radical," he first introduces the idea of Communism humorously. Agate performs the Communist salute, then quickly makes a joke, and the audience laughs. But he turns just as quickly to more serious issues, and brings up historical evidence of the goodness of the "reds."

If that is not enough, Agate warns the audience not to wait for Lefty, for their left-wing savior to deliver them from bondage. He wants them to act with each other, through the group. When they discover Lefty has been murdered, rather than deflate them, the news rallies the men. They are ready to adopt Communism (or at least Communist principles of equal power); they are ready to cooperate with each other; they are ready to sacrifice themselves for their fellow man; they are ready to die for their cause; and they are finally ready to strike, a position their chants in unison make abundantly clear.