The Negative and Destructive Effects of Male-Female Relationships Portrayed in the Writings of Susan Glaspell
Susan Glaspell, born in 1882 in Iowa, is a name commonly unknown amongst the popular group; however, it is a name that was once very popular and now it has become virtually forgotten. Many feminist critics including Linda Ben-Zvi have taken up the role of bringing Glaspell’s work back into the main stream. Over the career of Glaspell, she wrote nine novels, more than fifty short stories, and published fourteen plays including a 1931 Pulitzer Prize she won for her play “Alison’s House” (Glaspell 891). Her most famous writings include the short story “A Jury of her Peers” and the play Trifles which either one of the two “may be found in almost every anthology introducing college students to literature”(Carpentier 92). Because of these two works, Christine Dymkowski, another well known feminist critic has considered Glaspell as “one of the two most accomplished playwrights of the twentieth-century America” (Carpentier 92). Glaspell’s work has a strong topic of feminist ideas which is why “the stories [Trifles and “A Jury of her Peers”] have enjoyed a surge of popularity since feminist scholars rediscovered it in the early 1970’s…Recently [Trifles and “A Jury of her Peers”] have been republished in collections of works by female authors depicting women’s experiences” (Bryan 1294). Glaspell wrote Trifles in 1916 in a mere ten days and the following year she adapted the play as a short story called “A Jury of her Peers.” The two stories are very similar in nature, the only difference being that Trifles includes stage directions since it is written in the form of a drama.
Susan Glaspell normally “focuses on the negative and destructive effects that male-female relationships have on women, but she also stresses the ways in which women cope with their circumstances” (Glaspell 891). These ideas are commonly shared between Glaspell’s play Trifles in 1916 and her short story “A Jury of her Peers” in 1917. These two works are based on the real life trial of The John Hossack Murder in 1900. Glaspell was fresh out of Drake University as a twenty-four year old reporter working for the Des Moines Daily News when she was assigned to cover the case of the “foul” and “revolting” murder of a fifty-nine year old farmer (Bryan 1313). As the case goes, the well to do farmer John Hossack was found dead in his bed with two blunt blows to the head with an axe. When the police came and questioned the wife, Margaret Hossack of thirty three years of marriage, she responded that she was asleep in the bed beside John and only awoke when she heard the stair well door closing (Ben-Zvi 144). Glaspell reported on this case all the way to the end of the trial where the jury found the wife guilty. This would be Glaspell’s last story as a reporter for the newspaper. Shortly after resigning from the Des Moines Daily News she returned to her hometown and took up writing fictional short stories, and in 1913 she married George Cram Cook which resulted in a major turning point in her career (Carpentier 92). The concept of male dominance was not only apparent in her stories but also in her real life. Glaspell always considered herself to be a writer of fiction but when she married Cook he made her write plays for the Provincetown Theater. It was not till after the death of cook in 1924 that she returned to write fiction (Carpentier 93).
“Trifles is a feminist document because it sympathetically explores the lives of women who would normally be minor figures in a play” (Stephens 53). At the time Glaspell wrote Trifles she was living in a neighborhood that was not afraid of defending the concept of feminism (Ben-Zvi 160). As Glaspell wrote the play Trifles she recalled many experiences of her work that she did while covering the case of John Hossack, “I never forgot going into the kitchen of a woman locked up in town” (Ben-Zvi 143). This memory stuck...
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