The experimental seduction of mechanistic modernism in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Dynamo’ and the Federal Theatre Project’s ‘Altars of steel’

01 Sep 2002; Dennis G. Jerz
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 27.3 184-192 (2002)


In the 1920s and mid 1930s, American dramatists struggled to find theatrical form to express America’s development from an isolationist agrarian nation into an industrial world power. Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Dynamo’ (1929) features a scathing critique of blind faith in scientific progress, whereas ‘Altars of steel’ (1937) favourably presents a regional factory under the control of a benevolent capitalist. Neither work was considered a critical success by New York critics, but both used expressionistic staging devices and religious imagery to explore the seductive quality of technological progress. Modernism, futurism, technoeroticism, and the lofty optimism of the emerging industrial design profession form the backdrop against which historical sources and contemporary reviews are used to analyse these plays. Tracing the fault lines and stress patterns of these two flawed theatrical works raises complex questions about how people might actually live in the society of the future, as it was imagined in the early twentieth century.

A near-final proof of the full text (with illustrations) is available as a PDF document: Jerz-IDS.pdf

Note on British Writing Style

Eagle-eyed students of mine might notice that the titles of plays in this abstract aren't underlined, but are rather in single quotes. The paper itself doesn't follow MLA style, but instead a format devised by the journal editors.

Further, an editor has changed all my American spellings to British spellings, and removed hyphens from words that I would have hyphenated.

Since I had just finished editing a book co-written by a British author, and struggled to hyphenate words that he wanted joined, I was amused by this whole experience.

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