Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477
Judd Rankin’s Daughter was the last of Glaspell’s nine novels. The final three—The Morning Is Near Us (1940), Norma Ashe (1942), and Judd Rankin’s Daughter—were written close together; each of the three features a memorable heroine seeking to rediscover her midwestern heritage in order to better understand the present. In the first two of these books, the protagonists must struggle through the corruption and dissipation of their early idealism to a gradual reawakening in themselves. Judd Rankin’s Daughter, which is not representative of most of Glaspell’s work, delineates a much more complex and interesting heroine involved with the major problems of modern life.
Judd Rankin’s Daughter is about three wonderful people: Judd Rankin, a lovable old Iowa farmer and philosopher who has finally written a book about people living in the Midwest; Frances Rankin Mitchell, his liberal daughter, who is living in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and who embodies both midwestern and eastern values; and Cousin Adah Elwood Logan, a nonconforming sophisticate whose love lives on long after her death.
The novel opens with the anticipated death of Cousin Adah. She lived a rich and happy life, had lovers before and during marriage, and kept a salon where writers and workers met. Frances is present as witness to the death of someone she loved, someone who symbolized freedom and a piece of the pioneering spirit of women. A young soldier arrives at the deathbed, wishing to speak to Cousin Adah about the meaning of life. Frances tries to comfort him and warns against following ideologies. Her adoption of this spiritual son brings Frances to understand her biological son, Judson, who has returned from World War II’s Pacific theater of operations. He now hates his parents, particularly his father, whom he believes helped to provoke the war.
Frances is forced to reexamine her beliefs. Her husband hates Judd for his conservative, isolationist views. Her friend, a left-wing writer, is slowly turning into a fascist. Her best friend reveals herself to be anti-Semitic. Her son’s accusations about her husband’s politics combine with Frances’s other concerns to shatter her complacency. She visits Judd, her father, in Iowa to help pull her life together and to seek his help with her son. Judd writes a powerful letter to his grandson that changes Judson’s mind, and Frances’s dearest wish is realized on New Year’s Eve, when her father, husband, and son are reunited.
Glaspell’s last literary work is marked by a mature fluidity of style that reveals her as an artist of integrity. She offers up a prevailingly hopeful picture of honest people and grass-roots wisdom, and she does so in a pleasant, witty, and thoughtful manner. Judd Rankin’s Daughter reveals the faith in the American heritage, particularly the midwestern tradition of common sense, that suffuses Glaspell’s art.
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