Susan Keating Glaspell was born 1 July 1882 in Davernport, Iowa, to Alice Keating and Elmer S. Glaspell (Papke, par. 2). Arthur Waterman suggests that Susan often lied about her age and could have been born in 1870 (Noe, par. 2). After attending Davenports public schools she attended Drake University in 1899 (Waterman, par. 2). She continued her studies at the University of Chicago during the summer of 1902 (Now, par. 2). Upon graduating she held several journalistic positions reporting the “News Girl” position for the Des Moines Daily News, literary editor for her college newspaper, published stories in The Delphic, and was the society editor for the Davenport Weekly Outlook . Susan continued to publish stories in several popular magazines and journals (Papke, par. 3). She was a member of the Tuesday Club and the Monist Society, both women's organizations, where she met several influential people, including her husband, George Cram Cook (Papke, par. 4).
Before Susan started writing plays she wrote several short stories that had themes that would appeal to women who read Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Home Companion . Many of her stories were fiction based with idealistic and romantic themes (Waterman, par. 2). In Trifles , Glaspell’s first play, she introduced a common literary device that she used in several other plays. Many times she would have the main character remain off stage throughout the entire show. An example is shown by Minnie Wright being completely off stage throughout Trifles (France, par. 13). Another common theme Susan Glaspell uses is a common setting, she used Freeport, her fictional name for Davenport, in twenty-six of her stories. She also used local-color writing (Waterman, par. 2), which can be defined as “t he interest or flavor of a locality, imparted by the customs and sights peculiar to it or the use of regional detail in a literary or artistic work” according to The American Heritage Dictionary. Susan often liked to concentrate on the theme of pursuing life’s meaning no matter what stood in the way (Waterman, par. 6).
After writing Trifles in 10 days, it was put into rehearsal. Trifles was first produced on 8 August 1916 (Gainor, pg. 39). “ Susan Glaspell’s one-act play, Trifles , is based on actual events that occurred in Iowa at the turn of the century” (Trifles Introduction, par. 1). Even though Trifles was originally written as a one-act for the Provincetown Players she re-wrote it as a short story “Jury of Her Peers” that was published in The Best Short Stories of 1917 (France, par. 14).
From 1899-1901 Susan Glaspell covered the murder trial of Margaret Hossack for the Des Moines News (Trifles Introduction, par. 1). She wrote 26 articles during the 16 months of trial where she found herself feeling more and more sympathetic for Margaret. During the first investigations John Hossack, a predominate farmer from Indianola, Iowa, was assumed to have been murdered by burglars (Trifles Introduction, par. 1). “ Firsthand accounts describe the victim, John Hossack, as a cruel and unstable man” ( Barclay, par. 5). Later, Margaret Hossack was convicted of murder by hitting her husband, John, several times with the head of an ax while he was sleeping ( Barclay, par. 5). Margaret was sentenced to life in prison (Trifles Introduction, par. 2).
In 1914 George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell decided to start an acting group in New York City called the Provincetown Players (Kennedy, par. 1). They planned to perform more contemporary works that were often rejected by traditional theater companies (Kennedy, par. 1). The many friends who joined Cook and Glaspell decided to perform for their own amusement (Kennedy, par. 3). The friends were to open their first show in the summer of 1916 at the Warf Theater, but it burned down two days before opening (Kennedy, par. 4). The Provincetown Players opened The Playwrights Theater in New York on 139 MacDougal on November 3 (Kennedy, par. 4).
In the opening scene of Trifles , it is important to note the separate entrances of men and women. By starting the scene in this way Susan Glaspell introduces the main theme of feminism throughout the play (Hinz-Bode, Kristina, pg. 57). Looking at the names of the characters one should understand the pun in Minnie Wright’s last name. It’s Minnie’s rights that lead her to commit the crime of killing her husband (Susan Glaspell Trifles, sec. 3, par. 3). The several broken jars of preserved fruit represent Minnie’s Life. According to Beverly A. Smith they symbolized “Minnie… unbefriended on the farm, until the coldness of her marriage, her life in general, broke her apart. Her secrets kept under pressure burst from their fragile containers…The single intact jar symbolizes the one remaining secret, the motive to complete the prosecutor’s case” (qtd. in Susan Glaspell Trifles, sec. 3, par. 5). According to Veronica Makowsky it’s common in literature to have a bird’s song represent the voice of the soul. This metaphor is used by Susan Glaspell in Trifles to represent that by John Wright killing the canary, he actually killed his wife's spirit. According to Karen Alkalay-Gut, the killing of the canary can also represent John Wright cutting his wife off from society by not allowing her to communicate (Susan Glaspell Trifles, sec. 3, par. 8). According to Karen Alkalay-Gut this image “conveys the sense of knotting the rope around the husband’s neck: they have discovered the murderess. And they will ‘knot’ tell” (qtd. in Susan Glaspell Trifles sec. 3, par. 9).
This section in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles , establishes the play’s feminist theme. Then, by discussing the woman’s trifles, it’s showing the men’s ideal of superiority they hold over the women. This section is also important because it has the play’s title in it (Hinz-Bode, Kristina, pg. 57.).
Met George Cram Cook in 1907 when he resigned from university teaching to return to his family’s country estate. (Waterman, par. 5) During Cooks second marriage, Susan Glaspell was a part of his life (Papke, par. 4). After George Cram Cook divorced his second wife, he married Susan Glaspell on 14 April 1913, in Weekawken, New Jersey (Noe, par. 3) Floyd Dell, Cook’s friend and noted socialist, remembers that Glaspell “with the determination of every woman in love had taken Cook away from his wife and children.” (France, par. 5).
Many of Susan Glaspells plays center around a character who struggles with the demands of life. This concept leads one to believe that Susan is writing from personal experience because of her own interruption of life to become involved with her husband’s love for theater (Noe, par. 7). At one point there was a shift in the style of Susan Glaspell’s writing. Her usual novels where written in the style of local-color writing, but starting with The Visioning, her novels began to be filled with socialist ideas, escapism, and more contemporary themes (Waterman, par. 5). The plot of many of Susan Glaspell’s novels seem to be closely related to Susans personal life. In Fidelity, Glaspell’s main character suffers from the same experiences that are closely related to Susan’s own affair with George Cram Cook (Susan Glaspell 1882-1948, par. 5). Originally Susan Glaspell had planned to be a novelist but she began to write plays because her husband forced her. In The Road to the Temple , a biography of George Cram Cook’s life, written by Susan Glaspell she claimed ‘to have no interest in drama until her husband pressured her to write a play’” (Papke, par. 6) According to Judith Fetterley, who studied the trend of women’s writing during the nineteenth century, remarked that women ‘chose to write about themselves’” (qtd. In Susan Glaspell Trifles , sec. 1, par. 2).
Because George Cram Cook’s family was well known, ‘his outrageous behavior was all the more upsetting’” (qtd. In Waterman, par. 5). Even though Cook was involved in theater and was a playwright, he often was jealous of his wife’s success and wanted her to change (Waterman, par. 5). When Cook and Glaspell first met Cook was engaged to be married. This didn’t seem to bother Susan at the time but later his many affairs made him difficult to live with him (Susan Glaspell Trifles , sec 2. par. 2). According to Marsha Noe, George Cook tended to “sometimes drink to excess” (qtd. in Susan Glaspell Trifles , sec. 2. par. 2). All of the oppressive behavior by Cook proves how difficult it would be to live with him. The theme of a wife being oppressed by her husband is predominate in Susan Glaspell’s one act play, Trifles . This is important to remember when noting that a common theme of women writers in the nineteenth century was to write about themselves. This would suggest that Susan Glaspell based the character of Minnie Wright, in her play Trifles , on her own personal experiences with her husband George Cram Cook.
When Cook and Glaspell started their own theater group in Greenwich, New York, George Cook turned to his wife to provide material for their first season. Cook “demanded that Glaspell write a play”. Glaspell turned to her many life experiences such as “reporting in Iowa, her feminist philosophy, and life with Cook,” to provide the plot for her first play (Susan Glaspell Trifles , sec. 2, par. 5). “ Susan Glaspell is quoted as saying in Judd Rankin’s Daughter (1945): ‘I began writing plays because my husband…forced me to. ‘I have announced a play of yours for the next bill,” he told me, soon after we started The Provincetown Players. I didn’t want my marriage to break up so I wrote Trifles.’” (qtd. in Gainor, J. Ellen, pg. 38). By using the word “forced” in the above quote Susan Glaspell implies that at one point she refused to write a play for him even though in the end she gave into his demands (Gainor, J. Ellen, pg. 38). “ She describes the inception of Trifles in The Road to the Temple (1926): ‘I went to the wharf, sat alone on one of our wooden benches without a back, and looked for a long time at that bare little stage. After a time, the stage became a kitchen…Then the door at the back opened, and people all bundled up came in—two or three men, I wasn’t sure which, but sure enough about the two women, who hung back, reluctant to enter that kitchen. When I was a newspaper reporter out in Iowa, I was sent down-state to do a murder trial, and I never forgot going to the kitchen of a woman who had been locked up in town.’” (France, par. 11). Based on this quote it is evident that Susan drew from past experiences to provide the plot for her play. Is it just coincidence that after being forced to write a play for her husband, Susan Glaspell provided him a play centered around a character who was oppressed by her husband that was based on a true story?
The character of Minnie Wright can easily be seen as a very oppressed character. We know this by her want of a party telephone, her jars of fruit, and her dead canary. We also know that Minnie often felt dominated by her husband because Trifles was based of the real life murder trial of Margaret Hossack who murdered her husband because of the way he treated her. Susan Glaspell was also oppressed by her husband George Cram Cook by his tendencies of outrageous behavior, jealousy, affairs, and abuse of alcohol, not to mention the fact that he literally forced her to write a play to provide material for his theater troupe. Susan Glaspell is often noted for her “evocative portrayals of women’s psychological oppression” (Papke, par. 1). If Glaspell often writes about the oppression of woman and that “Susan Glaspell could write about this conflict from personal experience” (Noe, par. 7) it is easy to see that Susan used Minnie and John Wright’s relationship as a parallel to her own relationship with George Cram Cook. Even though it never says that John Wright was a necessarily a brutal man, it can be assumed so since his character is based on John Hossack, who can be described as “a cruel and unstable man” ( Barclay, par. 5). It is clear, however, that Minnie never reached out for help when Mrs. Hale says “I’ve not seen much of her of late years.” (Susan Glaspell Trifles , sec 3. par 42). It is also clear that Susan Glaspell never reached out because the first time she talked about her husband forcing her to write a play was in her novel, The Road to the Temple .
Did Susan Glaspell become a feminist writer in response to her relationship with her husband George Cram Cook? Abby Glenn Block 7 1-28-07 < http://www.nndb.com/people/691/000114349/ >.
“ Among her first plays produced by the Provincetown Players is the one-act Trifles , in which two women talk in a kitchen while their husbands conduct a murder investigation. The women, who are dismissed by the men as inconsequential, realize that the killer, a reclusive woman, had been driven to kill her husband by his abusive behavior.” (Susan Glaspell 1882-1948, par. 6).
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