By Lahsini Elhoussine
By Lahsini Elhoussine
Morocco World News
Casablanca, May 29, 2012
“As long as there is theatre, as long as there are women, as long as there is an imperfect society, there will be women’s theatre.[i]”
The social and political marginalization of woman, as the quote above shows, which has been a dominant ideology since the settlement, has given birth to feminist dramatists.
With this newly born movement, there has been a shift from the voice of the male dominant society to female one. The voice of woman has emerged; no longer faint as was the case before, in concerns of women’s liberation. Playwrights have raised woman consciousness and initiated woman’s right movements in America. The aim has been to gain back their freedom, equality and abolish racial prejudices.
The feminist theater started with Honor Moore, Harotsvith, a dramatist obsessed with rape as a metaphor for male sin and the oppression of woman. Susan Glaspell depicted the kind of relationship between the husband and his wife as a relationship based on power and subordination. Rachel Crothers, Hellman, Lorrain Hansberry and others who have fought for woman rights through means of art as Sharon Friedman (1984:70) states:
[There was] a need to listen to women to recreate their own experiences through art, and to discern areas of commonality which grown out of their designation as a group.[ii]
With Susan Glaspell, Rachel Crothers, Lillian Hellman and Lorrain Hansberry, the American stage becomes a stage of woman’s liberation and fulfillment. These playwrights, who were motivated by aesthetics and poetic power, have explored woman’s conditions as a social and a psychological phenomenon. They have portrayed the subordinated and marginalized woman in public and private life. They have, as well, portrayed woman’s impulse towards resistance and emancipation from the economic exploitation of modern industrialization.
Susan Glaspell (1876-1948)
Susan Glaspell was the founder of the Princeton players group in 1915, a New York theater group. In her play, Trifles[iii] (1916), a one play act, woman’s frustration is depicted by the protagonist. The play is set in the kitchen of a desolate prairie frame-house after the arrest of a woman suspected of murdering her husband. Glaspell depicts the psychological motives for the woman’s murder of her tyrannical husband. She has portrayed a woman’s acute consciousness of self and a rudimentary feminism in her understanding of a relationship based upon power.
Rachel Crothers (1894-1937)
Rachel Crothers wrote a number of plays for the conventional theater. Most of her plays deal with woman issues. She wrote 23 full plays and a number of one act plays in 40 years, and later would be called the ‘American first Lady Dramatist.’
In her play “A man’s World[iv] (1910),” Crothers portrays a woman who does not compromise her principles. The protagonist female with a man’s name ‘Frank Ware’ writes successful novels of the Muckraking genre. These novels expose the poverty and destitute condition of poor woman, in New York’s Lower East Side, who suffer the burdens of unwanted pregnancies and the trap of prostitution as an alternative.
Lillian Hellman (1905-1984)
Lillian Hellman, however, was a ‘moral writer.’ Her plays were politically charged drama as Allan Lewis notes “her plays of 30s and 40s were, in some ways, a response to depression and world war“[v]. Hellman puts her focus and emphasis on economics. Her women characters are often portrayed against the socioeconomic structures that create and perpetuate their roles.
In her play The Little Foxes[vi] (1941), Hellman portrays a Southern aristocrat named Regina, who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th century society, where a father considered only sons as legal heirs.
Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965)
However, Lorraine Hansberry was concerned with issues and problems of black women, and she has portrayed these problems within the context of the American society as a whole. She was the fifth and the only black woman to win the New York Drama Critic Circle Award for the best play of the year in 1959 ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ Hansberry’s plays are the feminist concern woven into her exploration of racial and economic oppression, and the struggle against political and human alienation.
In her play, A Raisin In The Sun[vii] (1959), Hansberry portrays a family, living in poverty in a dilapidated one-bedroom apartment, anxious to leave their apartment on Chicago’s south side. The focus is on Lena or Mama as she is called, who comes into conflict with her son Walter who desires to change their monotonous wretched life after his mother got $10,000 insurance after the death of her husband.
Feminist playwrights have actually contributed greatly to the fulfillment of the American marginalized woman. The woman, with the feminist drama, is no longer an object of the male’s desire. It is no longer a machine in the post World War industrialized America. The fight for woman rights has been primarily existential.
El Houssine Lahsini is an MA student of “Moroccan American Studies” at Hassan II University/ faculty of Humanities/Ben M’sik, Casablanca. He holds a Bachelor degree in ‘English Studies’ and Licence Professionnelle in ‘English Language Teaching (ELT) from Chouaib Dokkali University-El Jadida. His is interested in applied linguistics, postcolonial studies, Gender Studies and Historiography.
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– Muckrake (v) to search out and publicly expose real or apparent misconduct of a prominent individual or business. The term refers to novelists and dramatists who sharply criticized political corruption and social injustice of the industrial age. (retrieved from: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h920.html and http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/muckrake)
[i]– Joanne Temple, “Women’s Theatre Finds a Stage of Its Own,” The Village Voice, October 27, 1975; 84.
[ii]– Sharon, Friedman. Feminism as the theme in the 20th Century American Woman’s Drama, American Studies 25.1 (1984): 69-89.
[iii]– Glaspell, Susan. Trifles: A Play in One Act. Charlottesville, Va: University of Virginia Library, 1996. Internet resource.
[iv]– Crothers, Rachel. A Man’s World. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2004. Internet resource.
[v]– Allan Lewis, American Plays and Playwrights of Contemporary Theatre, Revised Edition (New York, 1970), 307.
[vi]– Hellman, Lillian. The Little Foxes. New York: Random House, 1939. Print.
[vii]– Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun: A Drama in Three Acts. New York: Random House, 1959. Print.