Plays by Susan Glaspell Critical Essays

Susan Glaspell


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Glaspell’s moralistic midwestern origins and her acquaintance with radical thought both served to foster the themes of her major plays. Coupled with a dedication to the traditional values of integrity and social responsibility are such issues as the freedom of individuals (especially women) to self-expression or to experience life fully and experimentally, the right of true feeling over prescriptive morality, the compassionate justice of women versus instituted male laws, and the constriction of women’s achievement in a man’s world. In Trifles, the women realize in examining Minnie Wright’s effects that she was caged and strangled like the songbird, choked to death by her hard, insensitive husband. The symbol of Minnie as songbird, although unmistakably obvious, is telling: A cheerful, lively woman has been stifled. Male condescension motivates the women to ally with Minnie, conceal the incriminating clues ironically found in what the men consider trifles, and reject male justice. It is significant that the sheriff’s wife takes the decisive step of concealing the evidence. Within the context of a short play in which the author’s exposition masterfully reconstructs a whole life through a series of trifles, from broken fruit jars to a dead bird, Glaspell clearly articulates issues of justice and the deserved fulfillment of women confronting a male-controlled world.

Inheritors is Glaspell’s most serious comment on the American...

(The entire section is 589 words.)