restricted access 2. “The Angel in the House”: Patriarchy, Traditions, and Female Alienation
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47 through her writing, Susan Glaspell shows her allegiance to feminism by taking up the prison metaphor, which typified the rhetoric of suffrage campaigners and radical Villagers defending women’s emancipation in both the public and private spheres. When, in 1914, Marie Jenny Howe, leader of the Heterodoxy Club organized two famous “feminist mass meetings” at Cooper Union under the title “What Is Feminism?” the influential New York Times, qualified as an “anti-paper” by Howe, reported the leader’s definition of “feminism”: “Marie Jenny Howe . . . said that feminism was the ‘entire woman movement,’ and she added that ‘while men were held in prison by convention, custom, and tradition, women were confined to one room in the prison and had to watch the men walk about in the corridors in comparative freedom’” (qtd. in Schwarz 29). We can logically surmise that, being a Heterodoxy Club member, Glaspell’s definition of feminism must have been akin to Howe’s. When Howe refers to “the prison” to which conventions confined women, Glaspell’s friend Mabel Dodge Luhan argued in favor of “the liberation of women” and the picketers of the National Woman’s Party, who urged the government to “liberate its people” (128). The cell metaphor encapsulated the paradox of American democracy, which proclaimed equality as its mainstay but condemned half of its population to live metaphorically behind bars. In her plays, Glaspell literalizes the topos by representing female characters imprisoned within the walls of patriarchal laws and convention, as Glaspell’s first play illustrates. As we are now going to see in chapter 2, the playwright extends the jail metaphor in Woman’s Honor and Alison’s House to denounce the duplicity of the defenders of Victorian mores who pretended to contribute to the well-being of their compatriots while, in t w o • “The Angel in the House” Patriarchy, Traditions, and Female Alienation d r a m a o f d e n u n c i a t i o n 48 effect, oppressing women by confining them to their functions of Angels in the House. Glaspell does not directly broach the issues of women’s suffrage in her dramatic works, which focus on the domestic side of life. Yet by publicly displaying the private in her domestic plays, Glaspell suggests that the “private is political,” as Second Wave feminists later argued. In lifting the veil on the injustices women face in their personal lives, the playwright exposes the “symbolic violence,” in Pierre Bourdieu’s term, bred by patriarchal ideology, which shapes every stratum of society from its most concealed side to its most public aspects. Woman’s Honor (1918): Of Double Standards and Stereotypes In Woman’s Honor: A Comedy in One Act, first performed by the Provincetown Players on MacDougal Street in April 1918, the playwright explicitly connects the injustices suffered in the private and in the public spheres. With this play, Glaspell returns to the juridical setting that marked her early years as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. By locating her play in “a room in the sheriff’s house” adjoining “a jail,” Glaspell not only literalizes the feminist prison metaphor but she also spatially conveys the interactions between the “private and the political” (68). The topography of the setting is relevant to the symbolic proximity between the domestic sphere and the judicial one, between the “house” and the “jailhouse.” By setting her plot in “the sheriff’s house” used as a meeting room for a lawyer and his client, Glaspell stages what goes on behind the judicial scene. In Woman’s Honor, praised for its wit and humorous vein by both contemporary reviewers of the original performances and scholars, Glaspell playfully—and ironically—twists the symbolic paradigms of “men and freedom” versus “women and confinement” for greater persuasive ends: the character behind bars is a man, while the female protagonists seemingly enjoy relative freedom. What Glaspell actually demonstrates through this apparent symbolic reversal is that if Gordon Wallace is now held in prison, the women who have come to provide him with an alibi are the ones who are deprived of liberty because of the mores and laws that confine them to the domestic sphere. At the opening of the play, the audience learns that Wallace, charged “The Angel in the House” 49 with murder, is facing the death sentence because he refuses to betray the name of the woman he spent the night of the crime with. Horrified at the idea...