Part II: Susan Glaspell’s Drama of Resistance
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93 p a r t i i • susan glaspell’s Drama of Resistance in The Theatre of Revolt, Robert Brustein reminds his readers that, according to Albert Camus, “rebellion arises from the spectacle of the irrational coupled with an unjust and incomprehensible condition” (Brustein 8; Camus 16). Trapped in a society of the democratic spectacle , Susan Glaspell’s protagonists rebel to restore a sense of the rational, a sense of justice. Having analyzed Glaspell’s plays from the perspective of the disintegration of democratic ideals which the playwright exposes, I will now consider her works from the angle of her protagonist’s reactions to this sense of loss and focus on her staging of rebellions. In this part, I will endeavor to determine the profiles of Glaspell’s fictitious malcontents . The playwright stages two types of rebels, whom I refer to as “idealist rebels” and “individualist rebels.” The individualist rebel can overstep the limits of rebellion and evolve into what Albert Camus calls a “revolutionary”—a word that should not be here mistaken for the Bohemians ’ acceptation of the term, as will be made clear in the discussion of The Outside. In his introduction to The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, Camus defines the rebel as a “man who says no: but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation” (19). In this seminal book first published in 1951 the French philosopher and writer defines the impulse toward rebellion as one of the basic dimensions of human nature, manifested in Man’s timeless Promethean struggle against injustice. Camus’s reflection on d r a m a o f r e s i s ta n c e 94 Man’s urge to rebel against the conditions of his existence resonates with Glaspell’s staging of characters who say no, not as a negative act of renunciation but as the positive affirmation of their democratic rights. Though published about thirty-five years after the playwright’s first dramatic productions , Camus’s interpretation of the phenomenon of rebellion is nevertheless relevant to Glaspell’s representations of people in revolt, since the philosopher bases his theory on a historical study of the natures and modes of expression of uprisings through time. In this historical analysis of revolts, Camus asserts that the rebel’s “ ‘no’ affirms the existence of a borderline, . . . that the other person is ‘exaggerating,’ that he is exerting his authority beyond a limit where he infringes on the rights of others” (19). As the characters embodying traditional mores or political institutions trespass on the borderline marked out by the democratic principles of equalities and free speech, Glaspell’s protagonists strive to restore the limits, to redefine the contours of their prerogatives. Susan Glaspell stages rebels—no ordinary rebels, as they are women, and indeed “no ordinary women, either.” In a tribute to Glaspell’s central place in the history of “American drama” published on February 9, 1930, in The World, Eugene Solow praises the playwright’s achievements: [Glaspell] gives the leading roles of every one of her long plays to women. No ordinary women, either, lest we be mistaken, for Susan Glaspell’s heroines are among the most distinguished achievements in character creation in the entire range of American drama. They are rebels, every one of them— idealistic rebels and Miss Glaspell bravely centers them in conflicts siding with the idealist minority, in its struggle with the overwhelming legions who serve Mammon and mediocrity, strength destroying conventionality and degrading compromise. “To rebel” derives from the Latin rebellare, “to wage war against.” As Glaspell’s insurgent rebel against the established order, the domestic set is symbolically metamorphosed into a battlefield. The safe haven of the home is turned upside down as an ideological war breaks out within its walls. The enactment of a rebellion within the domestic sphere is emblematic of the interconnection between the private and the public. d r a m a o f r e s i s ta n c e 95 In turning the domestic arena into a battleground, the playwright also reverses the traditional gender boundaries. Making war is conventionally regarded as a typically male activity. This departure from the canons of literary heroism is representative of the dramatist’s artistic and social revolt, giving center stage to women, who have for so long been relegated to supporting roles on both the literary and the political scene. With her theatre of revolt, Glaspell, a pioneer in American modern theatre, explored and pushed gender boundaries to...