Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Rachel Crothers wrote, directed, and produced plays for almost forty years. Susan and God was her final play. Crothers was interested from her early life in social problem plays, including Ibsen’s Et dukkehjem (pr., pb. 1879; A Doll’s House, 1880; also known as A Doll House). In spite of her family’s objections, she studied acting and taught at New York’s Stanhope-Wheatcroft School, where she began writing plays for her students to perform. Believing in the importance of being trained in stagecraft, she directed, designed, and produced most of the professional productions of her own plays—unusual for any playwright, but astonishing for a woman working in American theater in the first half of the twentieth century. She credited other women in theater for helping her get these opportunities.

Her own experiences led her to focus on feminist heroines throughout her career. Her early plays portray women as reformers. He and She (1920) is the best known of these plays, featuring protagonist Ann Herford beating her husband in an important competition for an artistic commission, then being forced to choose between her child and her work.

From 1914 to 1919, Crothers wrote a series of sentimental plays with more conventional women characters. In the 1920’s, she returned to a feminist perspective, but with comic rather than dramatic protagonists. Her last four plays, including Susan and God, are more complicated, as was the status of the feminist heroine in the 1930’s. These final plays focus on the new challenges for women, who had more choices but still found fulfillment difficult to achieve. Crothers’s heroines of this period take a long-needed look at the idealized man and consider more honestly the relationships they have with men, with children, and with their careers. Crothers also examined the importance of women’s relationships with other women.

Rachel Crothers’s examination of the double standard and of the independent woman’s search for her place in society remain timely. Crothers understood these were complex issues without easy answers, and her best plays reflect that understanding.