restricted access 5. The Individualist Rebels: Standing Up on the Margins of the Community
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126 the bohemian celebration of the individual had made of Greenwich Village the heartland of individualism at the beginning of the twentieth century. Individualism had, however, been a long-standing tradition in America, the first modern liberal state founded on the principles of personal freedom. A nation of idealists, as Josiah Royce argues, the United States has also been defined as a nation of individualists. In 2001, Gregory B. Markus, in his article “American Individualism Reconsidered ,” asserts: “[E]ver since Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States more than 150 years ago, political observers have been fascinated by what they perceived to be the enduring centrality of individualistic values to the American ethos” (403). “The consensus among these observers, whether they be critics or celebrants ,” Markus latter adds, “is that most Americans cleave to the ideals of personal autonomy, self-reliance, and freedom from the unwelcome constraints of government” (403–404). Individualism, in both its political and philosophical forms, thus appears to be a type of idealism. Like the idealists, individualists actively resist an oppressive government to secure their countrymen’s right to self-determination. However, alongside her civic activists, Glaspell stages another category of insurgents who have no political agenda. I have called these malcontents “the individualist rebels” to differentiate them from the traditional definition of those “individualists ” who, as politicized idealists, revolt in the name of public rather than personal interest. Independence for its own sake is primary for these characters who, unlike their idealist counterparts, put their own prerogatives before the common good. The democratic ideal is also a driving f i v e • The Individualist Rebels Standing Up on the Margins of the Community The Individualist Rebels 127 force for the individualist rebels, but their claims to equality and liberty are first and foremost self-centered. The individualist rebels from The Outside, Wings, and Alison’s House, on which this chapter focuses, cherish choice and abhor limits: they are determined to make their own decisions about how to live their lives and thus willing to defy any external interferences , whether social or familial. At times, the individualist rebels verge on appearing misanthropic in demanding the right to be themselves in spite of society, a demand that set them apart from their peers. The Outside (1917): Life and Death The Outside, first performed by the Provincetown Players in 1917, centers on Mrs. Patrick and Allie, who, having suffered the loss of their husbands, have exiled themselves from the world on the far shore of Cape Cod, an area geographically known as “the Outside.” The eponymous location not only symbolizes geographical isolation but also social marginalization. No longer able to cope with the strains of hypocritical conventionality, the two women have deterritorialized themselves on the margins of society . Having turned their backs on their former traditional houses, they have secluded themselves in a former lifeguard station they call “home.” The setting is based on paradox: even though the place has changed its function from a “life-saving station” to a “house,” its aspect remains unchanged—“Since ceasing to be [a lifesaving station] it has taken on no other character, except that of a place which no one cares either to preserve or change” (59). From the start, Glaspell posits the house, but also its owner, as unconventional: the habitation differs from the traditional feminine space of cozy domesticity, just as Mrs. Patrick differs from the traditional image of the Angel in the House, whose task is to take “car[e]” of her interior. The audience first gets to know the two inhabitants of the former lifeguard station through the points of view of the male protagonists , the Captain and two lifesavers, Bradford and Tom, who have broken into the house to try to resuscitate a drowned man. As Bradford and Tom discuss the place, they fall back on traditional conceptions of domesticity: d r a m a o f r e s i s ta n c e 128 tony: A woman—she makes things pretty. This not like a place where a woman live. On the floor there is nothing—on the walls there is nothing. Things—[trying to express it with his hands] do not hang on other things. bradford: [imitating tony’s gesture] No—things do not hang on other things. (60) Mrs. Patrick is not “a woman,” since her house does not fit the traditional image of the cozy haven. The epiphoric repetition of “nothing” betrays Tony’s puzzled dismay at the unconformity of...