Miss Lulu Bett

by Zona Gale

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Critical Context

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In its basic plot structure, Miss Lulu Bett is a Cinderella story: The good-hearted young woman has been virtually enslaved by her domineering, self-serving brother-in-law and sister, with the passive assistance of the other family members. Her trap is sprung by a Prince Charming of sorts, but a truly happy ending depends upon her learning to make her own choices, whether or not they will involve a man. The dramatic arc of Lulu’s gradual progress toward discovering her own self-worth—not defined in terms of what she contributes to the domestic comfort of others, but as an individual—has led some critics to compare the character to Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s Et dukkehjem (pr., pb. 1879; A Doll’s House, 1880; also known as A Doll House).

In 1920 Miss Lulu Bett was hailed as innovative in several respects and was the first Pulitzer Prize-winning play by a woman. In his foreword to the published play, Robert C. Benchley commented:Zona Gale is the first author, to my knowledge, who has dared to write genuinely dull dialogue . . . [b]ut Miss Gale saw the truth and kept it whole. She was depicting uninspired American family life (almost for the first time in our literature) and she held fast to the ideals of American family conversation.

Benchley also signaled the originality of the “old lady who is not sweet, and a child who is not cute.” Ludwig Lewisohn declared that “no other American dramatist has succeeded in so fully and richly transferring to the stage the exact moral atmosphere of a class, a section, and a period, as Miss Gale.”

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Critical Overview