Themes and Meanings
The subtitle of the published play, An American Comedy of Manners, signals the ironic tone of the work. The term “comedy of manners” implies sparkling drawing-room repartee, but the verbal interactions in this middle-class domestic setting, presumably in Zona’s Gale’s native Wisconsin, achieve their comic effect by means of their utter banality. In the first scene, for example, Dwight puts on patriarchal airs yet harps on the food and the cost of small items and then declares: “The conversation at my table must not deal with domestic matters.” Ina’s frequent (mis)corrections of Dwight’s mispronunciations are an amusing inversion of the sophisticated wordplay in traditional comedies of manners. The first two scenes of act 2 contain sequences of virtually identical dialogue spoken by the same characters, a forceful yet humorous illustration of the smallness of these characters’ lives. Thus, the play might well be described as a satire on small-town American, middle-class life, emphasizing the limited horizons, lack of imagination, self-delusion, excessive concern for what others might think and the selfish pursuit of petty comforts.
Compounding the limitations of this middle-class mentality were some generally conflicted attitudes about the place of women in the changing American social landscape of the early twentieth century. Although women had begun entering the American workforce even before World War I, spinsterhood was...
(The entire section is 476 words.)