Anarchism and Other Essays
Part 4 out of 4
harmful to life and growth--ethical and social conventions--were left
to take care of themselves; and they have taken care of themselves.
They seem to get along as beautifully in the heads and hearts of the
most active exponents of woman's emancipation, as in the heads and
hearts of our grandmothers.
These internal tyrants, whether they be in the form of public opinion
or what will mother say, or brother, father, aunt, or relative of any
sort; what will Mrs. Grundy, Mr. Comstock, the employer, the Board of
Education say? All these busybodies, moral detectives, jailers of
the human spirit, what will they say? Until woman has learned to
defy them all, to stand firmly on her own ground and to insist upon
her own unrestricted freedom, to listen to the voice of her nature,
whether it call for life's greatest treasure, love for a man, or her
most glorious privilege, the right to give birth to a child, she
cannot call herself emancipated. How many emancipated women are
brave enough to acknowledge that the voice of love is calling, wildly
beating against their breasts, demanding to be heard, to be
The French writer, Jean Reibrach, in one of his novels, NEW BEAUTY,
attempts to picture the ideal, beautiful, emancipated woman. This
ideal is embodied in a young girl, a physician. She talks very
cleverly and wisely of how to feed infants; she is kind, and
administers medicines free to poor mothers. She converses with a
young man of her acquaintance about the sanitary conditions of the
future, and how various bacilli and germs shall be exterminated by
the use of stone walls and floors, and by the doing away with rugs
and hangings. She is, of course, very plainly and practically
dressed, mostly in black. The young man, who, at their first
meeting, was overawed by the wisdom of his emancipated friend,
gradually learns to understand her, and recognizes one fine day that
he loves her. They are young, and she is kind and beautiful, and
though always in rigid attire, her appearance is softened by a
spotlessly clean white collar and cuffs. One would expect that he
would tell her of his love, but he is not one to commit romantic
absurdities. Poetry and the enthusiasm of love cover their blushing
faces before the pure beauty of the lady. He silences the voice of
his nature, and remains correct. She, too, is always exact, always
rational, always well behaved. I fear if they had formed a union,
the young man would have risked freezing to death. I must confess
that I can see nothing beautiful in this new beauty, who is as cold
as the stone walls and floors she dreams of. Rather would I have the
love songs of romantic ages, rather Don Juan and Madame Venus, rather
an elopement by ladder and rope on a moonlight night, followed by the
father's curse, mother's moans, and the moral comments of neighbors,
than correctness and propriety measured by yardsticks. If love does
not know how to give and take without restrictions, it is not love,
but a transaction that never fails to lay stress on a plus and a
The greatest shortcoming of the emancipation of the present day lies
in its artificial stiffness and its narrow respectabilities, which
produce an emptiness in woman's soul that will not let her drink from
the fountain of life. I once remarked that there seemed to be a
deeper relationship between the old-fashioned mother and hostess,
ever on the alert for the happiness of her little ones and the
comfort of those she loved, and the truly new woman, than between
the latter and her average emancipated sister. The disciples of
emancipation pure and simple declared me a heathen, fit only for the
stake. Their blind zeal did not let them see that my comparison
between the old and the new was merely to prove that a goodly number
of our grandmothers had more blood in their veins, far more humor and
wit, and certainly a greater amount of naturalness, kind-heartedness,
and simplicity, than the majority of our emancipated professional
women who fill the colleges, halls of learning, and various offices.
This does not mean a wish to return to the past, nor does it condemn
woman to her old sphere, the kitchen and the nursery.
Salvation lies in an energetic march onward towards a brighter and
clearer future. We are in need of unhampered growth out of old
traditions and habits. The movement for woman's emancipation has so
far made but the first step in that direction. It is to be hoped
that it will gather strength to make another. The right to vote, or
equal civil rights, may be good demands, but true emancipation begins
neither at the polls nor in courts. It begins in woman's soul.
History tells us that every oppressed class gained true liberation
from its masters through its own efforts. It is necessary that woman
learn that lesson, that she realize that her freedom will reach as
far as her power to achieve her freedom reaches. It is, therefore,
far more important for her to begin with her inner regeneration, to
cut loose from the weight of prejudices, traditions, and customs.
The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and
fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and
be loved. Indeed, if partial emancipation is to become a complete
and true emancipation of woman, it will have to do away with the
ridiculous notion that to be loved, to be sweetheart and mother, is
synonymous with being slave or subordinate. It will have to do away
with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and
woman represent two antagonistic worlds.
Pettiness separates; breadth unites. Let us be broad and big. Let
us not overlook vital things because of the bulk of trifles
confronting us. A true conception of the relation of the sexes will
not admit of conqueror and conquered; it knows of but one great
thing: to give of one's self boundlessly, in order to find one's self
richer, deeper, better. That alone can fill the emptiness, and
transform the tragedy of woman's emancipation into joy, limitless
MARRIAGE AND LOVE
The popular notion about marriage and love is that they are
synonymous, that they spring from the same motives, and cover the
same human needs. Like most popular notions this also rests not on
actual facts, but on superstition.
Marriage and love have nothing in common; they are as far apart as
the poles; are, in fact, antagonistic to each other. No doubt some
marriages have been the result of love. Not, however, because love
could assert itself only in marriage; much rather is it because few
people can completely outgrow a convention. There are today large
numbers of men and women to whom marriage is naught but a farce, but
who submit to it for the sake of public opinion. At any rate, while
it is true that some marriages are based on love, and while it is
equally true that in some cases love continues in married life, I
maintain that it does so regardless of marriage, and not because of
On the other hand, it is utterly false that love results from
marriage. On rare occasions one does hear of a miraculous case of a
married couple falling in love after marriage, but on close
examination it will be found that it is a mere adjustment to the
inevitable. Certainly the growing-used to each other is far away
from the spontaneity, the intensity, and beauty of love, without
which the intimacy of marriage must prove degrading to both the woman
and the man.
Marriage is primarily an economic arrangement, an insurance pact. It
differs from the ordinary life insurance agreement only in that it is
more binding, more exacting. Its returns are insignificantly small
compared with the investments. In taking out an insurance policy one
pays for it in dollars and cents, always at liberty to discontinue
payments. If, however, woman's premium is her husband, she pays for
it with her name, her privacy, her self-respect, her very life,
"until death doth part." Moreover, the marriage insurance condemns
her to life-long dependency, to parasitism, to complete uselessness,
individual as well as social. Man, too, pays his toll, but as his
sphere is wider, marriage does not limit him as much as woman. He
feels his chains more in an economic sense.
Thus Dante's motto over Inferno applies with equal force to marriage.
"Ye who enter here leave all hope behind."
That marriage is a failure none but the very stupid will deny. One
has but to glance over the statistics of divorce to realize how
bitter a failure marriage really is. Nor will the stereotyped
Philistine argument that the laxity of divorce laws and the growing
looseness of woman account for the fact that: first, every twelfth
marriage ends in divorce; second, that since 1870 divorces have
increased from 28 to 73 for every hundred thousand population; third,
that adultery, since 1867, as ground for divorce, has increased 270.8
per cent.; fourth, that desertion increased 369.8 per cent.
Added to these startling figures is a vast amount of material,
dramatic and literary, further elucidating this subject. Robert
Herrick, in TOGETHER; Pinero, in MID-CHANNEL; Eugene Walter, in PAID
IN FULL, and scores of other writers are discussing the barrenness,
the monotony, the sordidness, the inadequacy of marriage as a factor
for harmony and understanding.
The thoughtful social student will not content himself with the
popular superficial excuse for this phenomenon. He will have to dig
deeper into the very life of the sexes to know why marriage proves so
Edward Carpenter says that behind every marriage stands the life-long
environment of the two sexes; an environment so different from each
other that man and woman must remain strangers. Separated by an
insurmountable wall of superstition, custom, and habit, marriage has
not the potentiality of developing knowledge of, and respect for,
each other, without which every union is doomed to failure.
Henrik Ibsen, the hater of all social shams, was probably the first
to realize this great truth. Nora leaves her husband, not--as the
stupid critic would have it--because she is tired of her
responsibilities or feels the need of woman's rights, but because she
has come to know that for eight years she had lived with a stranger
and borne him children. Can there be anything more humiliating, more
degrading than a life-long proximity between two strangers? No need
for the woman to know anything of the man, save his income. As to
the knowledge of the woman--what is there to know except that she has
a pleasing appearance? We have not yet outgrown the theologic myth
that woman has no soul, that she is a mere appendix to man, made out
of his rib just for the convenience of the gentleman who was so
strong that he was afraid of his own shadow.
Perchance the poor quality of the material whence woman comes is
responsible for her inferiority. At any rate, woman has no
soul--what is there to know about her? Besides, the less soul a
woman has the greater her asset as a wife, the more readily will she
absorb herself in her husband. It is this slavish acquiescence to
man's superiority that has kept the marriage institution seemingly
intact for so long a period. Now that woman is coming into her own,
now that she is actually growing aware of herself as being outside
of the master's grace, the sacred institution of marriage is
gradually being undermined, and no amount of sentimental lamentation
can stay it.
From infancy, almost, the average girl is told that marriage is her
ultimate goal; therefore her training and education must be directed
towards that end. Like the mute beast fattened for slaughter, she is
prepared for that. Yet, strange to say, she is allowed to know much
less about her function as wife and mother than the ordinary artisan
of his trade. It is indecent and filthy for a respectable girl to
know anything of the marital relation. Oh, for the inconsistency of
respectability, that needs the marriage vow to turn something which
is filthy into the purest and most sacred arrangement that none dare
question or criticize. Yet that is exactly the attitude of the
average upholder of marriage. The prospective wife and mother is
kept in complete ignorance of her only asset in the competitive
field--sex. Thus she enters into life-long relations with a man only
to find herself shocked, repelled, outraged beyond measure by the
most natural and healthy instinct, sex. It is safe to say that a
large percentage of the unhappiness, misery, distress, and physical
suffering of matrimony is due to the criminal ignorance in sex
matters that is being extolled as a great virtue. Nor is it at all
an exaggeration when I say that more than one home has been broken up
because of this deplorable fact.
If, however, woman is free and big enough to learn the mystery of sex
without the sanction of State or Church, she will stand condemned as
utterly unfit to become the wife of a "good" man, his goodness
consisting of an empty brain and plenty of money. Can there be
anything more outrageous than the idea that a healthy, grown woman,
full of life and passion, must deny nature's demand, must subdue her
most intense craving, undermine her health and break her spirit, must
stunt her vision, abstain from the depth and glory of sex experience
until a "good" man comes along to take her unto himself as a wife?
That is precisely what marriage means. How can such an arrangement
end except in failure? This is one, though not the least important,
factor of marriage, which differentiates it from love.
Ours is a practical age. The time when Romeo and Juliet risked the
wrath of their fathers for love, when Gretchen exposed herself to the
gossip of her neighbors for love, is no more. If, on rare occasions,
young people allow themselves the luxury of romance, they are taken
in care by the elders, drilled and pounded until they become
The moral lesson instilled in the girl is not whether the man has
aroused her love, but rather is it, "How much?" The important and
only God of practical American life: Can the man make a living? can
he support a wife? That is the only thing that justifies marriage.
Gradually this saturates every thought of the girl; her dreams are
not of moonlight and kisses, of laughter and tears; she dreams of
shopping tours and bargain counters. This soul poverty and
sordidness are the elements inherent in the marriage institution.
The State and Church approve of no other ideal, simply because it is
the one that necessitates the State and Church control of men and
Doubtless there are people who continue to consider love above
dollars and cents. Particularly this is true of that class whom
economic necessity has forced to become self-supporting. The
tremendous change in woman's position, wrought by that mighty factor,
is indeed phenomenal when we reflect that it is but a short time
since she has entered the industrial arena. Six million women wage
workers; six million women, who have equal right with men to be
exploited, to be robbed, to go on strike; aye, to starve even.
Anything more, my lord? Yes, six million wage workers in every walk
of life, from the highest brain work to the mines and railroad
tracks; yes, even detectives and policemen. Surely the emancipation
Yet with all that, but a very small number of the vast army of women
wage workers look upon work as a permanent issue, in the same light
as does man. No matter how decrepit the latter, he has been taught
to be independent, self-supporting. Oh, I know that no one is really
independent in our economic treadmill; still, the poorest specimen of
a man hates to be a parasite; to be known as such, at any rate.
The woman considers her position as worker transitory, to be thrown
aside for the first bidder. That is why it is infinitely harder to
organize women than men. "Why should I join a union? I am going to
get married, to have a home." Has she not been taught from infancy
to look upon that as her ultimate calling? She learns soon enough
that the home, though not so large a prison as the factory, has more
solid doors and bars. It has a keeper so faithful that naught can
escape him. The most tragic part, however, is that the home no
longer frees her from wage slavery; it only increases her task.
According to the latest statistics submitted before a Committee "on
labor and wages, and congestion of population," ten per cent. of the
wage workers in New York City alone are married, yet they must
continue to work at the most poorly paid labor in the world. Add to
this horrible aspect the drudgery of housework, and what remains of
the protection and glory of the home? As a matter of fact, even the
middle-class girl in marriage can not speak of her home, since it is
the man who creates her sphere. It is not important whether the
husband is a brute or a darling. What I wish to prove is that
marriage guarantees woman a home only by the grace of her husband.
There she moves about in HIS home, year after year, until her aspect
of life and human affairs becomes as flat, narrow, and drab as her
surroundings. Small wonder if she becomes a nag, petty, quarrelsome,
gossipy, unbearable, thus driving the man from the house. She could
not go, if she wanted to; there is no place to go. Besides, a short
period of married life, of complete surrender of all faculties,
absolutely incapacitates the average woman for the outside world.
She becomes reckless in appearance, clumsy in her movements,
dependent in her decisions, cowardly in her judgment, a weight and a
bore, which most men grow to hate and despise. Wonderfully inspiring
atmosphere for the bearing of life, is it not?
But the child, how is it to be protected, if not for marriage? After
all, is not that the most important consideration? The sham, the
hypocrisy of it! Marriage protecting the child, yet thousands of
children destitute and homeless. Marriage protecting the child, yet
orphan asylums and reformatories overcrowded, the Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children keeping busy in rescuing the little
victims from "loving" parents, to place them under more loving care,
the Gerry Society. Oh, the mockery of it!
Marriage may have the power to bring the horse to water, but has it
ever made him drink? The law will place the father under arrest, and
put him in convict's clothes; but has that ever stilled the hunger of
the child? If the parent has no work, or if he hides his identity,
what does marriage do then? It invokes the law to bring the man to
"justice," to put him safely behind closed doors; his labor, however,
goes not to the child, but to the State. The child receives but a
blighted memory of his father's stripes.
As to the protection of the woman,--therein lies the curse of
marriage. Not that it really protects her, but the very idea is so
revolting, such an outrage and insult on life, so degrading to human
dignity, as to forever condemn this parasitic institution.
It is like that other paternal arrangement--capitalism. It robs man
of his birthright, stunts his growth, poisons his body, keeps him in
ignorance, in poverty, and dependence, and then institutes charities
that thrive on the last vestige of man's self-respect.
The institution of marriage makes a parasite of woman, an absolute
dependent. It incapacitates her for life's struggle, annihilates her
social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its
gracious protection, which is in reality a snare, a travesty on human
If motherhood is the highest fulfillment of woman's nature, what
other protection does it need, save love and freedom? Marriage but
defiles, outrages, and corrupts her fulfillment. Does it not say to
woman, Only when you follow me shall you bring forth life? Does it
not condemn her to the block, does it not degrade and shame her if
she refuses to buy her right to motherhood by selling herself? Does
not marriage only sanction motherhood, even though conceived in
hatred, in compulsion? Yet, if motherhood be of free choice, of
love, of ecstasy, of defiant passion, does it not place a crown of
thorns upon an innocent head and carve in letters of blood the
hideous epithet, Bastard? Were marriage to contain all the virtues
claimed for it, its crimes against motherhood would exclude it
forever from the realm of love.
Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of
hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all
conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human
destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that
poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?
Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains,
but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has
subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue
love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not
conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has
been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the
splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate,
if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant
with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to
make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other
atmosphere. In freedom it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly,
completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the
universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root.
If, however, the soil is sterile, how can marriage make it bear
fruit? It is like the last desperate struggle of fleeting life
Love needs no protection; it is its own protection. So long as love
begets life no child is deserted, or hungry, or famished for the want
of affection. I know this to be true. I know women who became
mothers in freedom by the men they loved. Few children in wedlock
enjoy the care, the protection, the devotion free motherhood is
capable of bestowing.
The defenders of authority dread the advent of a free motherhood,
lest it will rob them of their prey. Who would fight wars? Who
would create wealth? Who would make the policeman, the jailer, if
woman were to refuse the indiscriminate breeding of children? The
race, the race! shouts the king, the president, the capitalist, the
priest. The race must be preserved, though woman be degraded to a
mere machine,--and the marriage institution is our only safety valve
against the pernicious sex awakening of woman. But in vain these
frantic efforts to maintain a state of bondage. In vain, too, the
edicts of the Church, the mad attacks of rulers, in vain even the arm
of the law. Woman no longer wants to be a party to the production of
a race of sickly, feeble, decrepit, wretched human beings, who have
neither the strength nor moral courage to throw off the yoke of
poverty and slavery. Instead she desires fewer and better children,
begotten and reared in love and through free choice; not by
compulsion, as marriage imposes. Our pseudo-moralists have yet to
learn the deep sense of responsibility toward the child, that love in
freedom has awakened in the breast of woman. Rather would she forego
forever the glory of motherhood than bring forth life in an
atmosphere that breathes only destruction and death. And if she does
become a mother, it is to give to the child the deepest and best her
being can yield. To grow with the child is her motto; she knows that
in that manner alone can she help build true manhood and womanhood.
Ibsen must have had a vision of a free mother, when, with a master
stroke, he portrayed Mrs. Alving. She was the ideal mother because
she had outgrown marriage and all its horrors, because she had broken
her chains, and set her spirit free to soar until it returned a
personality, regenerated and strong. Alas, it was too late to rescue
her life's joy, her Oswald; but not too late to realize that love in
freedom is the only condition of a beautiful life. Those who, like
Mrs. Alving, have paid with blood and tears for their spiritual
awakening, repudiate marriage as an imposition, a shallow, empty
mockery. They know, whether love last but one brief span of time or
for eternity, it is the only creative, inspiring, elevating basis for
a new race, a new world.
In our present pygmy state love is indeed a stranger to most people.
Misunderstood and shunned, it rarely takes root; or if it does, it
soon withers and dies. Its delicate fiber can not endure the stress
and strain of the daily grind. Its soul is too complex to adjust
itself to the slimy woof of our social fabric. It weeps and moans
and suffers with those who have need of it, yet lack the capacity to
rise to love's summit.
Some day, some day men and women will rise, they will reach the
mountain peak, they will meet big and strong and free, ready to
receive, to partake, and to bask in the golden rays of love. What
fancy, what imagination, what poetic genius can foresee even
approximately the potentialities of such a force in the life of men
and women. If the world is ever to give birth to true companionship
and oneness, not marriage, but love will be the parent.
THE MODERN DRAMA: A POWERFUL DISSEMINATOR OF RADICAL THOUGHT
So long as discontent and unrest make themselves but dumbly felt
within a limited social class, the powers of reaction may often
succeed in suppressing such manifestations. But when the dumb unrest
grows into conscious expression and becomes almost universal, it
necessarily affects all phases of human thought and action, and seeks
its individual and social expression in the gradual transvaluation of
An adequate appreciation of the tremendous spread of the modern,
conscious social unrest cannot be gained from merely propagandistic
literature. Rather must we become conversant with the larger phases
of human expression manifest in art, literature, and, above all, the
modern drama--the strongest and most far-reaching interpreter of our
What a tremendous factor for the awakening of conscious discontent
are the simple canvasses of a Millet! The figures of his
peasants--what terrific indictment against our social wrongs; wrongs
that condemn the Man With the Hoe to hopeless drudgery, himself
excluded from Nature's bounty.
The vision of a Meunier conceives the growing solidarity and defiance
of labor in the group of miners carrying their maimed brother to
safety. His genius thus powerfully portrays the interrelation of the
seething unrest among those slaving in the bowels of the earth, and
the spiritual revolt that seeks artistic expression.
No less important is the factor for rebellious awakening in modern
literature--Turgeniev, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Andreiev, Gorki,
Whitman, Emerson, and scores of others embodying the spirit of
universal ferment and the longing for social change.
Still more far-reaching is the modern drama, as the leaven of radical
thought and the disseminator of new values.
It might seem an exaggeration to ascribe to the modern drama such an
important role. But a study of the development of modern ideas in
most countries will prove that the drama has succeeded in driving
home great social truths, truths generally ignored when presented in
other forms. No doubt there are exceptions, as Russia and France.
Russia, with its terrible political pressure, has made people think
and has awakened their social sympathies, because of the tremendous
contrast which exists between the intellectual life of the people and
the despotic regime that is trying to crush that life. Yet while the
great dramatic works of Tolstoy, Tchechov, Gorki, and Andreiev
closely mirror the life and the struggle, the hopes and aspirations
of the Russian people, they did not influence radical thought to the
extent the drama has done in other countries.
Who can deny, however, the tremendous influence exerted by THE POWER
OF DARKNESS or NIGHT LODGING. Tolstoy, the real, true Christian, is
yet the greatest enemy of organized Christianity. With a master hand
he portrays the destructive effects upon the human mind of the power
of darkness, the superstitions of the Christian Church.
What other medium could express, with such dramatic force, the
responsibility of the Church for crimes committed by its deluded
victims; what other medium could, in consequence, rouse the
indignation of man's conscience?
Similarly direct and powerful is the indictment contained in Gorki's
NIGHT LODGING. The social pariahs, forced into poverty and crime,
yet desperately clutch at the last vestiges of hope and aspiration.
Lost existences these, blighted and crushed by cruel, unsocial
France, on the other hand, with her continuous struggle for liberty,
is indeed the cradle of radical thought; as such she, too, did not
need the drama as a means of awakening. And yet the works of
Brieux--as ROBE ROUGE, portraying the terrible corruption of the
judiciary--and Mirbeau's LES AFFAIRES SONT LES AFFAIRES--picturing
the destructive influence of wealth on the human soul--have
undoubtedly reached wider circles than most of the articles and books
which have been written in France on the social question.
In countries like Germany, Scandinavia, England, and even in
America--though in a lesser degree--the drama is the vehicle which is
really making history, disseminating radical thought in ranks not
otherwise to be reached.
Let us take Germany, for instance. For nearly a quarter of a century
men of brains, of ideas, and of the greatest integrity, made it their
life-work to spread the truth of human brotherhood, of justice, among
the oppressed and downtrodden. Socialism, that tremendous
revolutionary wave, was to the victims of a merciless and inhumane
system like water to the parched lips of the desert traveler. Alas!
The cultured people remained absolutely indifferent; to them that
revolutionary tide was but the murmur of dissatisfied, discontented
men, dangerous, illiterate troublemakers, whose proper place was
behind prison bars.
Self-satisfied as the "cultured" usually are, they could not
understand why one should fuss about the fact that thousands of
people were starving, though they contributed towards the wealth of
the world. Surrounded by beauty and luxury, they could not believe
that side by side with them lived human beings degraded to a position
lower than a beast's, shelterless and ragged, without hope or
This condition of affairs was particularly pronounced in Germany
after the Franco-German war. Full to the bursting point with its
victory, Germany thrived on a sentimental, patriotic literature,
thereby poisoning the minds of the country's youth by the glory of
conquest and bloodshed.
Intellectual Germany had to take refuge in the literature of other
countries, in the works of Ibsen, Zola, Daudet, Maupassant, and
especially in the great works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgeniev.
But as no country can long maintain a standard of culture without a
literature and drama related to its own soil, so Germany gradually
began to develop a drama reflecting the life and the struggles of its
Arno Holz, one of the youngest dramatists of that period, startled
the Philistines out of their ease and comfort with his FAMILIE
SELICKE. The play deals with society's refuse, men and women of the
alleys, whose only subsistence consists of what they can pick out of
the garbage barrels. A gruesome subject, is it not? And yet what
other method is there to break through the hard shell of the minds
and souls of people who have never known want, and who therefore
assume that all is well in the world?
Needless to say, the play aroused tremendous indignation. The truth
is bitter, and the people living on the Fifth Avenue of Berlin hated
to be confronted with the truth.
Not that FAMILIE SELICKE represented anything that had not been
written about for years without any seeming result. But the dramatic
genius of Holz, together with the powerful interpretation of the
play, necessarily made inroads into the widest circles, and forced
people to think about the terrible inequalities around them.
Sudermann's EHRE* and HEIMAT** deal with vital subjects. I have
already referred to the sentimental patriotism so completely turning
the head of the average German as to create a perverted conception of
honor. Duelling became an every-day affair, costing innumerable
lives. A great cry was raised against the fad by a number of leading
writers. But nothing acted as such a clarifier and exposer of that
national disease as the EHRE.
Not that the play merely deals with duelling; it analyzes the real
meaning of honor, proving that it is not a fixed, inborn feeling, but
that it varies with every people and every epoch, depending
particularly on one's economic and social station in life. We
realize from this play that the man in the brownstone mansion will
necessarily define honor differently from his victims.
The family Heinecke enjoys the charity of the millionaire Muhling,
being permitted to occupy a dilapidated shanty on his premises in the
absence of their son, Robert. The latter, as Muhling's
representative, is making a vast fortune for his employer in India.
On his return Robert discovers that his sister had been seduced by
young Muhling, whose father graciously offers to straighten matters
with a check for 40,000 marks. Robert, outraged and indignant,
resents the insult to his family's honor, and is forthwith dismissed
from his position for impudence. Robert finally throws this
accusation into the face of the philanthropist millionaire:
"We slave for you, we sacrifice our heart's blood for you, while you
seduce our daughters and sisters and kindly pay for their disgrace
with the gold we have earned for you. That is what you call honor."
An incidental side-light upon the conception of honor is given by
Count Trast, the principal character in the EHRE, a man widely
conversant with the customs of various climes, who relates that in
his many travels he chanced across a savage tribe whose honor he
mortally offended by refusing the hospitality which offered him the
charms of the chieftain's wife.
The theme of HEIMAT treats of the struggle between the old and the
young generations. It holds a permanent and important place in
Magda, the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Schwartz, has committed an
unpardonable sin: she refused the suitor selected by her father. For
daring to disobey the parental commands she is driven from home.
Magda, full of life and the spirit of liberty, goes out into the
world to return to her native town, twelve years later, a celebrated
singer. She consents to visit her parents on condition that they
respect the privacy of her past. But her martinet father immediately
begins to question her, insisting on his "paternal rights." Magda is
indignant, but gradually his persistence brings to light the tragedy
of her life. He learns that the respected Councillor Von Keller had
in his student days been Magda's lover, while she was battling for
her economic and social independence. The consequence of the
fleeting romance was a child, deserted by the man even before birth.
The rigid military father of Magda demands as retribution from
Councillor Von Keller that he legalize the love affair. In view of
Magda's social and professional success, Keller willingly consents,
but on condition that she forsake the stage, and place the child in
an institution. The struggle between the Old and the New culminates
in Magda's defiant words of the woman grown to conscious independence
of thought and action: ". . .I'll say what I think of you--of you
and your respectable society. Why should I be worse than you that I
must prolong my existence among you by a lie! Why should this gold
upon my body, and the lustre which surrounds my name, only increase
my infamy? Have I not worked early and late for ten long years?
Have I not woven this dress with sleepless nights? Have I not built
up my career step by step, like thousands of my kind? Why should I
blush before anyone? I am myself, and through myself I have become
what I am."
The general theme of HEIMAT was not original. It had been previously
treated by a master hand in FATHERS AND SONS. Partly because
Turgeniev's great work was typical rather of Russian than universal
conditions, and still more because it was in the form of fiction, the
influence of FATHERS AND SONS was limited to Russia. But HEIMAT,
especially because of its dramatic expression, became almost a world
The dramatist who not only disseminated radicalism, but literally
revolutionized the thoughtful Germans, is Gerhardt Hauptmann. His
first play VOR SONNENAUFGANG*, refused by every leading German
theatre and first performed in a wretched little playhouse behind a
beer garden, acted like a stroke of lightning, illuminating the
entire social horizon. Its subject matter deals with the life of an
extensive landowner, ignorant, illiterate, and brutalized, and his
economic slaves of the same mental calibre. The influence of wealth,
both on the victims who created it and the possessor thereof, is
shown in the most vivid colors, as resulting in drunkenness, idiocy,
and decay. But the most striking feature of VOR SONNENAUFGANG, the
one which brought a shower of abuse on Hauptmann's head, was the
question as to the indiscriminate breeding of children by unfit
* BEFORE SUNRISE.
During the second performance of the play a leading Berlin surgeon
almost caused a panic in the theatre by swinging a pair of forceps
over his head and screaming at the top of his voice: "The decency and
morality of Germany are at stake if childbirth is to be discussed
openly from the stage." The surgeon is forgotten, and Hauptmann
stands a colossal figure before the world.
When DIE WEBER* first saw the light, pandemonium broke out in the
land of thinkers and poets. "What," cried the moralists,
"workingmen, dirty, filthy slaves, to be put on the stage! Poverty
in all its horrors and ugliness to be dished out as an after-dinner
amusement? That is too much!"
* THE WEAVERS.
Indeed, it was too much for the fat and greasy bourgeoisie to be
brought face to face with the horrors of the weaver's existence. It
was too much because of the truth and reality that rang like thunder
in the deaf ears of self-satisfied society, J'ACCUSE!
Of course, it was generally known even before the appearance of this
drama that capital can not get fat unless it devours labor, that
wealth can not be hoarded except through the channels of poverty,
hunger, and cold; but such things are better kept in the dark, lest
the victims awaken to a realization of their position. But it is the
purpose of the modern drama to rouse the consciousness of the
oppressed; and that, indeed, was the purpose of Gerhardt Hauptmann in
depicting to the world the conditions of the weavers in Silesia.
Human beings working eighteen hours daily, yet not earning enough for
bread and fuel; human beings living in broken, wretched huts half
covered with snow, and nothing but tatters to protect them from the
cold; infants covered with scurvy from hunger and exposure; pregnant
women in the last stages of consumption. Victims of a benevolent
Christian era, without life, without hope, without warmth. Ah, yes,
it was too much!
Hauptmann's dramatic versatility deals with every stratum of social
life. Besides portraying the grinding effect of economic conditions,
he also treats of the struggle of the individual for his mental and
spiritual liberation from the slavery of convention and tradition.
Thus Heinrich, the bell-forger, in the dramatic prose-poem, DIE
VERSUNKENE GLOCKE*, fails to reach the mountain peaks of liberty
because, as Rautendelein said, he had lived in the valley too long.
Similarly Dr. Vockerath and Anna Maar remain lonely souls because
they, too, lack the strength to defy venerated traditions. Yet their
very failure must awaken the rebellious spirit against a world
forever hindering individual and social emancipation.
* THE SUNKEN BELL.
Max Halbe's JUGEND* and Wedekind's FRUHLING'S ERWACHEN** are dramas
which have disseminated radical thought in an altogether different
direction. They treat of the child and the dense ignorance and
narrow Puritanism that meet the awakening of nature. Particularly
this is true of FRUHLING'S ERWACHEN. Young boys and girls sacrificed
on the altar of false education and of our sickening morality that
prohibits the enlightenment of youth as to questions so imperative to
the health and well-being of society,--the origin of life, and its
functions. It shows how a mother--and a truly good mother, at
that--keeps her fourteen-year-old daughter in absolute ignorance as
to all matters of sex, and when finally the young girl falls a victim
to her own ignorance, the same mother sees her daughter killed by
quack medicines. The inscription on her grave states that she died
of anaemia, and morality is satisfied.
** THE AWAKENING OF SPRING.
The fatality of our Puritanic hypocrisy in these matters is
especially illumined by Wedekind in so far as our most promising
children fall victims to sex ignorance and the utter lack of
appreciation on the part of the teachers of the child's awakening.
Wendla, unusually developed and alert for her age, pleads with her
mother to explain the mystery of life:
"I have a sister who has been married for two and a half years. I
myself have been made an aunt for the third time, and I haven't the
least idea how it all comes about. . . . Don't be cross, Mother,
dear! Whom in the world should I ask but you? Don't scold me for
asking about it. Give me an answer.--How does it happen?--You cannot
really deceive yourself that I, who am fourteen years old, still
believe in the stork."
Were her mother herself not a victim of false notions of morality, an
affectionate and sensible explanation might have saved her daughter.
But the conventional mother seeks to hide her "moral" shame and
embarrassment in this evasive reply:
"In order to have a child--one must love--the man--to whom one is
married. . . . One must love him, Wendla, as you at your age are
still unable to love.--Now you know it!"
How much Wendla "knew" the mother realized too late. The pregnant
girl imagines herself ill with dropsy. And when her mother cries in
desperation, "You haven't the dropsy, you have a child, girl," the
agonized Wendla exclaims in bewilderment: "But it's not possible,
Mother, I am not married yet. . . . Oh, Mother, why didn't you tell
With equal stupidity the boy Morris is driven to suicide because he
fails in his school examinations. And Melchior, the youthful father
of Wendla's unborn child, is sent to the House of Correction, his
early sexual awakening stamping him a degenerate in the eyes of
teachers and parents.
For years thoughtful men and women in Germany had advocated the
compelling necessity of sex enlightenment. MUTTERSCHUTZ, a
publication specially devoted to frank and intelligent discussion of
the sex problem, has been carrying on its agitation for a
considerable time. But it remained for the dramatic genius of
Wedekind to influence radical thought to the extent of forcing the
introduction of sex physiology in many schools of Germany.
Scandinavia, like Germany, was advanced through the drama much more
than through any other channel. Long before Ibsen appeared on the
scene, Bjornson, the great essayist, thundered against the
inequalities and injustice prevalent in those countries. But his was
a voice in the wilderness, reaching but the few. Not so with Ibsen.
His BRAND, DOLL'S HOUSE, PILLARS OF SOCIETY, GHOSTS, and AN ENEMY OF
THE PEOPLE have considerably undermined the old conceptions, and
replaced them by a modern and real view of life. One has but to read
BRAND to realize the modern conception, let us say, of
religion,--religion, as an ideal to be achieved on earth; religion as
a principle of human brotherhood, of solidarity, and kindness.
Ibsen, the supreme hater of all social shams, has torn the veil of
hypocrisy from their faces. His greatest onslaught, however, is on
the four cardinal points supporting the flimsy network of society.
First, the lie upon which rests the life of today; second, the
futility of sacrifice as preached by our moral codes; third, petty
material consideration, which is the only god the majority worships;
and fourth, the deadening influence of provincialism. These four
recur as the LEITMOTIF in Ibsen's plays, but particularly in PILLARS
OF SOCIETY, DOLL'S HOUSE, GHOSTS, and AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.
Pillars of Society! What a tremendous indictment against the social
structure that rests on rotten and decayed pillars,--pillars nicely
gilded and apparently intact, yet merely hiding their true condition.
And what are these pillars?
Consul Bernick, at the very height of his social and financial
career, the benefactor of his town and the strongest pillar of the
community, has reached the summit through the channel of lies,
deception, and fraud. He has robbed his bosom friend, Johann, of his
good name, and has betrayed Lona Hessel, the woman he loved, to marry
her step-sister for the sake of her money. He has enriched himself
by shady transactions, under cover of "the community's good," and
finally even goes to the extent of endangering human life by
preparing the INDIAN GIRL, a rotten and dangerous vessel, to go to
But the return of Lona brings him the realization of the emptiness
and meanness of his narrow life. He seeks to placate the waking
conscience by the hope that he has cleared the ground for the better
life of his son, of the new generation. But even this last hope soon
falls to the ground, as he realizes that truth cannot be built on a
lie. At the very moment when the whole town is prepared to celebrate
the great benefactor of the community with banquet praise, he
himself, now grown to full spiritual manhood, confesses to the
"I have no right to this homage--. . .My fellow-citizens must know
me to the core. Then let everyone examine himself, and let us
realize the prediction that from this event we begin a new time. The
old, with its tinsel, its hypocrisy, its hollowness, its lying
propriety, and its pitiful cowardice, shall lie behind us like a
museum, open for instruction."
With A DOLL'S HOUSE Ibsen has paved the way for woman's emancipation.
Nora awakens from her doll's role to the realization of the injustice
done her by her father and her husband, Helmer Torvald.
"While I was at home with father, he used to tell me all his
opinions, and I held the same opinions. If I had others I concealed
them, because he would not have approved. He used to call me his
doll child, and play with me as I played with my dolls. Then I came
to live in your house. You settled everything according to your
taste, and I got the same taste as you, or I pretended to. When I
look back on it now, I seem to have been living like a beggar, from
hand to mouth. I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald, but
you would have it so. You and father have done me a great wrong."
In vain Helmer uses the old philistine arguments of wifely duty and
social obligations. Nora has grown out of her doll's dress into full
stature of conscious womanhood. She is determined to think and judge
for herself. She has realized that, before all else, she is a human
being, owing the first duty to herself. She is undaunted even by the
possibility of social ostracism. She has become sceptical of the
justice of the law, the wisdom of the constituted. Her rebelling
soul rises in protest against the existing. In her own words: "I
must make up my mind which is right, society or I."
In her childlike faith in her husband she had hoped for the great
miracle. But it was not the disappointed hope that opened her vision
to the falsehoods of marriage. It was rather the smug contentment of
Helmer with a safe lie--one that would remain hidden and not endanger
his social standing.
When Nora closed behind her the door of her gilded cage and went out
into the world a new, regenerated personality, she opened the gate of
freedom and truth for her own sex and the race to come.
More than any other play, GHOSTS has acted like a bomb explosion,
shaking the social structure to its very foundations.
In DOLL'S HOUSE the justification of the union between Nora and
Helmer rested at least on the husband's conception of integrity and
rigid adherence to our social morality. Indeed, he was the
conventional ideal husband and devoted father. Not so in GHOSTS.
Mrs. Alving married Captain Alving only to find that he was a
physical and mental wreck, and that life with him would mean utter
degradation and be fatal to possible offspring. In her despair she
turned to her youth's companion, young Pastor Manders who, as the
true savior of souls for heaven, must needs be indifferent to earthly
necessities. He sent her back to shame and degradation,--to her
duties to husband and home. Indeed, happiness--to him--was but the
unholy manifestation of a rebellious spirit, and a wife's duty was
not to judge, but "to bear with humility the cross which a higher
power had for your own good laid upon you."
Mrs. Alving bore the cross for twenty-six long years. Not for the
sake of the higher power, but for her little son Oswald, whom she
longed to save from the poisonous atmosphere of her husband's home.
It was also for the sake of the beloved son that she supported the
lie of his father's goodness, in superstitious awe of "duty and
decency." She learned, alas! too late, that the sacrifice of her
entire life had been in vain, and that her son Oswald was visited by
the sins of his father, that he was irrevocably doomed. This, too,
she learned, that "we are all of us ghosts. It is not only what we
have inherited from our father and mother that walks in us. It is
all sorts of dead ideas and lifeless old beliefs. They have no
vitality, but they cling to us all the same and we can't get rid of
them. . . . And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of
light. When you forced me under the yoke you called Duty and
Obligation; when you praised as right and proper what my whole soul
rebelled against as something loathsome; it was then that I began to
look into the seams of your doctrine. I only wished to pick at a
single knot, but when I had got that undone, the whole thing ravelled
out. And then I understood that it was all machine-sewn."
How could a society machine-sewn, fathom the seething depths whence
issued the great masterpiece of Henrik Ibsen? It could not
understand, and therefore it poured the vials of abuse and venom upon
its greatest benefactor. That Ibsen was not daunted he has proved by
his reply in AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.
In that great drama Ibsen performs the last funeral rites over a
decaying and dying social system. Out of its ashes rises the
regenerated individual, the bold and daring rebel. Dr. Stockman, an
idealist, full of social sympathy and solidarity, is called to his
native town as the physician of the baths. He soon discovers that
the latter are built on a swamp, and that instead of finding relief
the patients, who flock to the place, are being poisoned.
An honest man, of strong convictions, the doctor considers it his
duty to make his discovery known. But he soon learns that dividends
and profits are concerned neither with health nor principles. Even
the reformers of the town, represented in the PEOPLE'S MESSENGER,
always ready to prate of their devotion to the people, withdraw their
support from the "reckless" idealist, the moment they learn that the
doctor's discovery may bring the town into disrepute, and thus injure
But Doctor Stockman continues in the faith he entertains for has
townsmen. They would hear him. But here, too, he soon finds himself
alone. He cannot even secure a place to proclaim his great truth.
And when he finally succeeds, he is overwhelmed by abuse and ridicule
as the enemy of the people. The doctor, so enthusiastic of his
townspeople's assistance to eradicate the evil, is soon driven to a
solitary position. The announcement of his discovery would result in
a pecuniary loss to the town, and that consideration induces the
officials, the good citizens, and soul reformers, to stifle the voice
of truth. He finds them all a compact majority, unscrupulous enough
to be willing to build up the prosperity of the town on a quagmire of
lies and fraud. He is accused of trying to ruin the community. But
to his mind "it does not matter if a lying community is ruined. It
must be levelled to the ground. All men who live upon lies must be
exterminated like vermin. You'll bring it to such a pass that the
whole country will deserve to perish."
Doctor Stockman is not a practical politician. A free man, he
thinks, must not behave like a blackguard. "He must not so act that
he would spit in his own face." For only cowards permit
"considerations" of pretended general welfare or of party to override
truth and ideals. "Party programmes wring the necks of all young,
living truths; and considerations of expediency turn morality and
righteousness upside down, until life is simply hideous."
These plays of Ibsen--THE PILLARS OF SOCIETY, A DOLL'S HOUSE, GHOSTS,
and AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE--constitute a dynamic force which is
gradually dissipating the ghosts walking the social burying ground
called civilization. Nay, more; Ibsen's destructive effects are at
the same time supremely constructive, for he not merely undermines
existing pillars; indeed, he builds with sure strokes the foundation
of a healthier, ideal future, based on the sovereignty of the
individual within a sympathetic social environment.
England with her great pioneers of radical thought, the intellectual
pilgrims like Godwin, Robert Owen, Darwin, Spencer, William Morris,
and scores of others; with her wonderful larks of liberty--Shelley,
Byron, Keats--is another example of the influence of dramatic art.
Within comparatively a few years, the dramatic works of Shaw, Pinero,
Galsworthy, Rann Kennedy, have carried radical thought to the ears
formerly deaf even to Great Britain's wondrous poets. Thus a public
which will remain indifferent reading an essay by Robert Owen, on
Poverty, or ignore Bernard Shaw's Socialistic tracts, was made to
think by MAJOR BARBARA, wherein poverty is described as the greatest
crime of Christian civilization. "Poverty makes people weak,
slavish, puny; poverty creates disease, crime, prostitution; in fine,
poverty is responsible for all the ills and evils of the world."
Poverty also necessitates dependency, charitable organizations,
institutions that thrive off the very thing they are trying to
destroy. The Salvation Army, for instance, as shown in MAJOR
BARBARA, fights drunkenness; yet one of its greatest contributors is
Badger, a whiskey distiller, who furnishes yearly thousands of pounds
to do away with the very source of his wealth. Bernard Shaw,
therefore, concludes that the only real benefactor of society is a
man like Undershaft, Barbara's father, a cannon manufacturer, whose
theory of life is that powder is stronger than words.
"The worst of crimes," says Undershaft, "is poverty. All the other
crimes are virtues beside it; all the other dishonors are chivalry
itself by comparison. Poverty blights whole cities; spreads horrible
pestilences; strikes dead the very soul of all who come within sight,
sound, or smell of it. What you call crime is nothing; a murder
here, a theft there, a blow now and a curse there: what do they
matter? They are only the accidents and illnesses of life; there are
not fifty genuine professional criminals in London. But there are
millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill-fed,
ill-clothed people. They poison us morally and physically; they kill
the happiness of society; they force us to do away with our own
liberties and to organize unnatural cruelties for fear they should
rise against us and drag us down into their abyss. . . . Poverty and
slavery have stood up for centuries to your sermons and leading
articles; they will not stand up to my machine guns. Don't preach at
them; don't reason with them. Kill them. . . . It is the final test
of conviction, the only lever strong enough to overturn a social
system. . . . Vote! Bah! When you vote, you only change the name
of the cabinet. When you shoot, you pull down governments,
inaugurate new epochs, abolish old orders, and set up new."
No wonder people cared little to read Mr. Shaw's Socialistic tracts.
In no other way but in the drama could he deliver such forcible,
historic truths. And therefore it is only through the drama that Mr.
Shaw is a revolutionary factor in the dissemination of radical ideas.
After Hauptmann's DIE WEBER, STRIFE, by Galsworthy, is the most
important labor drama.
The theme of STRIFE is a strike with two dominant factors: Anthony,
the president of the company, rigid, uncompromising, unwilling to
make the slightest concession, although the men held out for months
and are in a condition of semi-starvation; and David Roberts, an
uncompromising revolutionist, whose devotion to the workingman and
the cause of freedom is at white heat. Between them the strikers are
worn and weary with the terrible struggle, and are harassed and
driven by the awful sight of poverty and want in their families.
The most marvellous and brilliant piece of work in STRIFE is
Galsworthy's portrayal of the mob, its fickleness, and lack of
backbone. One moment they applaud old Thomas, who speaks of the
power of God and religion and admonishes the men against rebellion;
the next instant they are carried away by a walking delegate, who
pleads the cause of the union,--the union that always stands for
compromise, and which forsakes the workingmen whenever they dare to
strike for independent demands; again they are aglow with the
earnestness, the spirit, and the intensity of David Roberts--all
these people willing to go in whatever direction the wind blows. It
is the curse of the working class that they always follow like sheep
led to slaughter.
Consistency is the greatest crime of our commercial age. No matter
how intense the spirit or how important the man, the moment he will
not allow himself to be used or sell his principles, he is thrown on
the dustheap. Such was the fate of the president of the company,
Anthony, and of David Roberts. To be sure they represented opposite
poles--poles antagonistic to each other, poles divided by a terrible
gap that can never be bridged over. Yet they shared a common fate.
Anthony is the embodiment of conservatism, of old ideas, of iron
"I have been chairman of this company thirty-two years. I have
fought the men four times. I have never been defeated. It has been
said that times have changed. If they have, I have not changed with
them. It has been said that masters and men are equal. Cant. There
can be only one master in a house. It has been said that Capital and
Labor have the same interests. Cant. Their interests are as wide
asunder as the poles. There is only one way of treating men--with
the iron rod. Masters are masters. Men are men."
We may not like this adherence to old, reactionary notions, and yet
there is something admirable in the courage and consistency of this
man, nor is he half as dangerous to the interests of the oppressed,
as our sentimental and soft reformers who rob with nine fingers, and
give libraries with the tenth; who grind human beings like Russell
Sage, and then spend millions of dollars in social research work; who
turn beautiful young plants into faded old women, and then give them
a few paltry dollars or found a Home for Working Girls. Anthony is a
worthy foe; and to fight such a foe, one must learn to meet him in
David Roberts has all the mental and moral attributes of his
adversary, coupled with the spirit of revolt, and the depth of modern
ideas. He, too, is consistent, and wants nothing for his class short
of complete victory.
"It is not for this little moment of time we are fighting, not for
our own little bodies and their warmth; it is for all those who come
after, for all times. Oh, men, for the love of them don't turn up
another stone on their heads, don't help to blacken the sky. If we
can shake that white-faced monster with the bloody lips that has
sucked the lives out of ourselves, our wives, and children, since the
world began, if we have not the hearts of men to stand against it,
breast to breast and eye to eye, and force it backward till it cry
for mercy, it will go on sucking life, and we shall stay forever
where we are, less than the very dogs."
It is inevitable that compromise and petty interest should pass on
and leave two such giants behind. Inevitable, until the mass will
reach the stature of a David Roberts. Will it ever? Prophecy is not
the vocation of the dramatist, yet the moral lesson is evident. One
cannot help realizing that the workingmen will have to use methods
hitherto unfamiliar to them; that they will have to discard all those
elements in their midst that are forever ready to reconcile the
irreconcilable, namely Capital and Labor. They will have to learn
that characters like David Roberts are the very forces that have
revolutionized the world and thus paved the way for emancipation out
of the clutches of that "white-faced monster with bloody lips,"
towards a brighter horizon, a freer life, and a deeper recognition of
No subject of equal social import has received such extensive
consideration within the last few years as the question of prison and
Hardly any magazine of consequence that has not devoted its columns
to the discussion of this vital theme. A number of books by able
writers, both in America and abroad, have discussed this topic from
the historic, psychologic, and social standpoint, all agreeing that
present penal institutions and our mode of coping with crime have in
every respect proved inadequate as well as wasteful. One would
expect that something very radical should result from the cumulative
literary indictment of the social crimes perpetrated upon the
prisoner. Yet with the exception of a few minor and comparatively
insignificant reforms in some of our prisons, absolutely nothing has
been accomplished. But at last this grave social wrong has found
dramatic interpretation in Galworthy's JUSTICE.
The play opens in the office of James How and Sons, Solicitors. The
senior clerk, Robert Cokeson, discovers that a check he had issued
for nine pounds has been forged to ninety. By elimination, suspicion
falls upon William Falder, the junior office clerk. The latter is in
love with a married woman, the abused, ill-treated wife of a brutal
drunkard. Pressed by his employer, a severe yet not unkindly man,
Falder confesses the forgery, pleading the dire necessity of his
sweetheart, Ruth Honeywill, with whom he had planned to escape to
save her from the unbearable brutality of her husband.
Notwithstanding the entreaties of young Walter, who is touched by
modern ideas, his father, a moral and law-respecting citizen, turns
Falder over to the police.
The second act, in the court-room, shows Justice in the very process
of manufacture. The scene equals in dramatic power and psychologic
verity the great court scene in RESURRECTION. Young Falder, a
nervous and rather weakly youth of twenty-three, stands before the
bar. Ruth, his married sweetheart, full of love and devotion, burns
with anxiety to save the young man whose affection brought about his
present predicament. The young man is defended by Lawyer Frome,
whose speech to the jury is a masterpiece of deep social philosophy
wreathed with the tendrils of human understanding and sympathy. He
does not attempt to dispute the mere fact of Falder having altered
the check; and though he pleads temporary aberration in defense of
his client, that plea is based upon a social consciousness as deep
and all-embracing as the roots of our social ills--"the background of
life, that palpitating life which always lies behind the commission
of a crime." He shows Falder to have faced the alternative of seeing
the beloved woman murdered by her brutal husband, whom she cannot
divorce; or of taking the law into his own hands. The defence pleads
with the jury not to turn the weak young man into a criminal by
condemning him to prison, for "justice is a machine that, when
someone has given it a starting push, rolls on of itself. . . . Is
this young man to be ground to pieces under this machine for an act
which, at the worst, was one of weakness? Is he to become a member
of the luckless crews that man those dark, ill-starred ships called
prisons? . . . I urge you, gentlemen, do not ruin this young man.
For as a result of those four minutes, ruin, utter and irretrievable,
stares him in the face. . . . The rolling of the chariot wheels of
Justice over this boy began when it was decided to prosecute him."
But the chariot of Justice rolls mercilessly on, for--as the learned
Judge says--"the law is what it is--a majestic edifice, sheltering
all of us, each stone of which rests on another."
Falder is sentenced to three years' penal servitude.
In prison, the young, inexperienced convict soon finds himself the
victim of the terrible "system." The authorities admit that young
Falder is mentally and physically "in bad shape," but nothing can be
done in the matter: many others are in a similar position, and "the
quarters are inadequate."
The third scene of the third act is heart-gripping in its silent
force. The whole scene is a pantomime, taking place in Falder's
"In fast-falling daylight, Falder, in his stockings, is seen standing
motionless, with his head inclined towards the door, listening. He
moves a little closer to the door, his stockinged feet making no
noise. He stops at the door. He is trying harder and harder to hear
something, any little thing that is going on outside. He springs
suddenly upright--as if at a sound--and remains perfectly motionless.
Then, with a heavy sigh, he moves to his work, and stands looking at
it, with his head down; he does a stitch or two, having the air of a
man so lost in sadness that each stitch is, as it were, a coming to
life. Then, turning abruptly, he begins pacing his cell, moving his
head, like an animal pacing its cage. He stops again at the door,
listens, and, placing the palms of his hands against it with his
fingers spread out, leans his forehead against the iron. Turning
from it, presently, he moves slowly back towards the window, holding
his head, as if he felt that it were going to burst, and stops under
the window. But since he cannot see out of it he leaves off looking,
and, picking up the lid of one of the tins, peers into it, as if
trying to make a companion of his own face. It has grown very nearly
dark. Suddenly the lid falls out of his hand with a clatter--the
only sound that has broken the silence--and he stands staring
intently at the wall where the stuff of the shirt is hanging rather
white in the darkness--he seems to be seeing somebody or something
there. There is a sharp tap and click; the cell light behind the
glass screen has been turned up. The cell is brightly lighted.
Falder is seen gasping for breath.
A sound from far away, as of distant, dull beating on thick metal, is
suddenly audible. Falder shrinks back, not able to bear this sudden
clamor. But the sound grows, as though some great tumbril were
rolling towards the cell. And gradually it seems to hypnotize him.
He begins creeping inch by inch nearer to the door. The banging
sound, traveling from cell to cell, draws closer and closer; Falder's
hands are seen moving as if his spirit had already joined in this
beating, and the sound swells till it seems to have entered the very
cell. He suddenly raises his clenched fists. Panting violently, he
flings himself at his door, and beats on it."
Finally Falder leaves the prison, a broken ticket-of-leave man, the
stamp of the convict upon his brow, the iron of misery in his soul.
Thanks to Ruth's pleading, the firm of James How and Son is willing
to take Falder back in their employ, on condition that he give up
Ruth. It is then that Falder learns the awful news that the woman he
loves had been driven by the merciless economic Moloch to sell
herself. She "tried making skirts. . .cheap things. . . . I never
made more than ten shillings a week, buying my own cotton, and
working all day. I hardly ever got to bed till past twelve. . . .
And then. . .my employer happened--he's happened ever since." At
this terrible psychologic moment the police appear to drag him back
to prison for failing to report himself as ticket-of-leave man.
Completely overwhelmed by the inexorability of his environment, young
Falder seeks and finds peace, greater than human justice, by throwing
himself down to death, as the detectives are taking him back to
It would be impossible to estimate the effect produced by this play.
Perhaps some conception can be gained from the very unusual
circumstance that it had proved so powerful as to induce the Home
Secretary of Great Britain to undertake extensive prison reforms in
England. A very encouraging sign this, of the influence exerted by
the modern drama. It is to be hoped that the thundering indictment
of Mr. Galsworthy will not remain without similar effect upon the
public sentiment and prison conditions of America. At any rate, it
is certain that no other modern play has borne such direct and
immediate fruit in wakening the social conscience.
Another modern play, THE SERVANT IN THE HOUSE, strikes a vital key
in our social life. The hero of Mr. Kennedy's masterpiece is Robert,
a coarse, filthy drunkard, whom respectable society has repudiated.
Robert, the sewer cleaner, is the real hero of the play; nay, its
true and only savior. It is he who volunteers to go down into the
dangerous sewer, so that his comrades "can 'ave light and air."
After all, has he not sacrificed his life always, so that others may
have light and air?
The thought that labor is the redeemer of social well-being has been
cried from the housetops in every tongue and every clime. Yet the
simple words of Robert express the significance of labor and its
mission with far greater potency.
America is still in its dramatic infancy. Most of the attempts along
this line to mirror life, have been wretched failures. Still, there
are hopeful signs in the attitude of the intelligent public toward
modern plays, even if they be from foreign soil.
The only real drama America has so far produced is THE EASIEST WAY,
by Eugene Walter.
It is supposed to represent a "peculiar phase" of New York life. If
that were all, it would be of minor significance. That which gives
the play its real importance and value lies much deeper. It lies,
first, in the fundamental current of our social fabric which drives
us all, even stronger characters than Laura, into the easiest way--a
way so very destructive of integrity, truth, and justice. Secondly,
the cruel, senseless fatalism conditioned in Laura's sex. These two
features put the universal stamp upon the play, and characterize it
as one of the strongest dramatic indictments against society.
The criminal waste of human energy, in economic and social
conditions, drives Laura as it drives the average girl to marry any
man for a "home"; or as it drives men to endure the worst indignities
for a miserable pittance.
Then there is that other respectable institution, the fatalism of
Laura's sex. The inevitability of that force is summed up in the
following words: "Don't you know that we count no more in the life of
these men than tamed animals? It's a game, and if we don't play our
cards well, we lose." Woman in the battle with life has but one
weapon, one commodity--sex. That alone serves as a trump card in the
game of life.
This blind fatalism has made of woman a parasite, an inert thing.
Why then expect perseverance or energy of Laura? The easiest way is
the path mapped out for her from time immemorial. She could follow
A number of other plays could be quoted as characteristic of the
growing role of the drama as a disseminator of radical thought.
Suffice to mention THE THIRD DEGREE, by Charles Klein; THE FOURTH
ESTATE, by Medill Patterson; A MAN'S WORLD, by Ida Croutchers,--all
pointing to the dawn of dramatic art in America, an art which is
discovering to the people the terrible diseases of our social body.
It has been said of old, all roads lead to Rome. In paraphrased
application to the tendencies of our day, it may truly be said that
all roads lead to the great social reconstruction. The economic
awakening of the workingman, and his realization of the necessity for
concerted industrial action; the tendencies of modern education,
especially in their application to the free development of the child;
the spirit of growing unrest expressed through, and cultivated by,
art and literature, all pave the way to the Open Road. Above all,
the modern drama, operating through the double channel of dramatist
and interpreter, affecting as it does both mind and heart, is the
strongest force in developing social discontent, swelling the
powerful tide of unrest that sweeps onward and over the dam of
ignorance, prejudice, and superstition.
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