restricted access 3. “A Just War”: The Disintegration of American Values
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69 according to the “just war theory”—notably inspired by Saint Augustine—certain reasons can justify a war. For Woodrow Wilson , the United States had the duty to fight against barbarism, and for that good reason their involvement into the conflict was both legitimate and necessary. When the president announced the entry of the nation into the war, the Provincetown Players joined forces against the government and, as a reaction against what was perceived as political duplicity, scheduled a bill with war as their central topic. Although Glaspell never wrote a play with World War I as its central subject, she did denounce the deceitfulness of her government in curtailing the right to freedom of speech while pretending to launch a “just war” to make the world “safe for democracy” (256). To uncover the duplicity of nationalist rhetoric, as this third chapter demonstrates, the playwright notably concentrates on the abridgment of the right of free expression and on the manipulation of American history, which she views as propagandist stories justifying a conservative status quo at the expense of individual freedom. Her plays Close the Book, Free Laughter, and Inheritors, which will be the focus of “‘A Just War’: The Disintegration of American Values,” expose the downgrading of the great principles underpinning the foundation of the nation. Close the Book (1917): True Lies and Untrue Americans In Close the Book, which was initially entitled Family Pride, Glaspell explores the family as a site of conflicts and sheds light on the gap between generations who see the United States’ war policies differently. The curtain rises on a setting that connotes family pride—as the initial title of the play made clear: t h r e e • “A Just War” The Disintegration of American Values d r a m a o f d e n u n c i a t i o n 70 scene: The library in the Root home, the library of middle western people who are an important family in their community, and who think of themselves as people of culture. It is a room which shows pride of family: on the rear wall are two large family portraits—one of a Revolutionary soldier, the other a man of a later period. (37) The scenographer should thus imagine and construct a setting supposed to represent both the object “library,” which corresponds to the first degree of iconicity, and also, via the material stage sign, the people inhabiting the place (Ubersfeld 100). The reflective turn “think of themselves” introduces from the opening the idea of self-delusion, of a false representation of oneself and, as a consequence, of others. With this play, Glaspell questions the notion of familial identity and thus, widely, of national identity through the two conflicting prisms of liberalism and conservatism , the rising trends at the end of the 1910s. Inscribing her fiction in the social and political context of her time, Glaspell tackles the issue of freedom of speech and focuses on the ambivalence of this debate. She opposes the younger generation’s liberal stance to their parents’ conservative vision, characteristic of the mentalities of the Midwest, where the work is set. This comedy centers on Peyton and his girlfriend Jhansi: Peyton is the scion of the prestigious Root family; Jhansi is a nonconformist young woman who believes that she is the illegitimate child of gypsies . Peyton, who teaches at the university chaired by his uncle George, is criticized for having written a “highfalutin paper on free speech” (41). The family consequently holds Jhansi responsible for having led their son astray—“The matter with Peyton is this girl”; “she’s a bad influence. She’s leading our young people to criticize the society their fathers have builded up” (40, 41). In a highly comic dialogue, Mrs. Root—Peyton’s mother—expresses to her mother her dissatisfaction at her son’s political commitment: grandmother: . . . Doesn’t he still teach English right here in the university? mrs. root: I don’t know how much longer he will teach it. He said the other day that American literature was a toddy with the stick left out. Saying that of “A Just War” 71 the very thing he’s paid to teach! It got in the papers and was denounced in an editorial on “Untrue Americans.” Peyton—a descendant of John Peyton of Valley Forge! [motions to the Revolutionary portrait]—denounced in an article on Untrue Americans! And in one of those awful columns—those silly columns—they said maybe...