A political issue is created when injustice exists. Any form of injustice is a crime. It is a crime if a citizen takes the life of another human being, unless it is self-defense. It is also a crime if a citizen arranges a refuge for a criminal to escape justice. As well as these political issues, a crime is committed when parents mentally or physically abuse their children or deny them proper care, supervision, or discipline, no matter what the reason. Regardless of time or place, there are laws that protect every citizen. In their plays, Glaspell and Synge portray the political issues of child abuse and neglect, homicide, and harboring a criminal; however, the playwrights reflect different views of realism.
In Act I of The Verge, Glaspell addresses the political matter of child neglect. Adelaide, Claire's sister, scolds her for not being a proper mother to Elizabeth, her daughter. Scolding Claire, Adelaide states, "A mother cannot cast off her own child simply because she does not interest her" (Levy 240). Adelaide pleads for Claire to nurture her daughter just like she nurtures her plants. However, Claire is not interested in symbolizing what Adelaide considers a proper woman who takes on her responsibilities. Adelaide is totally happy with the role for which society has dictated her, whereas Victorian society makes Claire feel trapped in a role for which she is unsuited. She is still expected to stay at home and be a dutiful wife to Harry and mother to Elizabeth.
Taking on her responsibilities, Adelaide is more interested in the welfare of her niece and continues to persuade Claire as she proposes, "A mother who does not love her own child! You are an unnatural woman, Claire" (240). And later Adelaide furthers her argument: "You've never known the faintest stirring of a mother's love" (Levy 243). In spite of Adelaide's pleas, Claire refuses to surrender to society's expectations. Without any reservations, she continues to reject her daughter.
As well as child neglect, Glaspell illustrates the political issue of homicide. In Act III of The Verge, Tom, Claire's platonic companion, does not realize that Claire hates him. Without knowledge of her hate, Tom expresses his true feelings:
I can't go away from you. I will never go way from you. It shall all be - as you wish. I can go with you where I could not go alone. If this is delusion, I want that delusion. It's more than any reality I could attain. Speak to me, Claire. You -are glad? (250)
Evidently, Claire realizes that Tom is just like all of the rest: a domineering man of Victorian society. Tom wants Claire on his own terms. Unfortunately, Claire is trapped in a situation that slowly pushes her to madness. She becomes very upset and snaps, strangling Tom. Claire's insanity is her escape from the conventions of society. Furthermore, it is the beginning of her revolution to express her individuality. Clearly, Glaspell reveals the struggle of women in a male-dominated society.
In addition to Glaspell, Synge depicts several political concerns in The Playboy of the Western World. In Act I, Synge portrays Christy Mahon as a hero, according to the other characters. The villagers feel that Christy has the right to murder his father. One of the villagers is Michael James, the owner of a public house. Michael declares, "That was a hanging crime, mister honey. You should have had good reason for doing the like of that" (203). Then Christy acknowledges the fact that his father has been domineering and abusive, motivating his crime. Unlike her father, Pegeen does not believe Christy's story. After Christy calls her a liar, she threatens to hit him. In an attempt to convince her, Christy confesses, "Don't strike me. I killed my poor father; Tuesday was a week, for doing the like of that" (Levy 203). He further confesses, "Then you'd have cursed mine I'm telling you, and he a man never gave peace to any" (206). Therefore, in Ireland or any country of the world, people have the right to defend themselves from mental or physical abuse, regardless of family.
Yet, on the other hand, the villagers in Act III are outraged when they think they witness Christy Mahon murdering his father for the second time. Pegeen suddenly cannot imagine any person killing his or her father. She realizes that hearing a story is one thing and witnessing murder is another. Horrified at the deed, Pegeen shouts:
I'll say, a strange man is a marvel, with his mighty talk; but what's a squabble in your back yard, and the blow of a loy, have taught me that there's a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed. Take him on from this, or the lot of us will be likely put on trial for his deed to-day. (222)
The villagers of Ireland recognize that everyone must abide by the law or be punished. Therefore, they prepare to hang Christy for murder. Miraculously, Mahon, Christy's father, survives the second attempt. So, when the villagers see him, they are shocked; but they allow Mahon to release his son from the rope.
The villagers not only understand the penalty for murder but also the penalty for harboring a criminal. Earlier in Act II, Pegeen is willing to aid Christy Mahon. Listening to his story, she believes that he is a hero; therefore, she wants to hide him from the police. Believing that Christy is a hero, Pegeen says, "I'm after going down and reading the fearful crimes of Ireland for two weeks or three, and there wasn't a word of your murder. They've likely not found the body. You're safe so with ourselves (211). Although later in Act III, Sara urges Christy to stay with Pegeen. And with sarcasm, Sara announces, "Ask Pegeen to aid you. Her like does often change" (Levy 221). In spite of the sarcasm, Pegeen refuses to support Christy Mahon. She believes that he is a liar and wants to take advantage of her and the small country villagers. Pegeen also dislikes Christy for abandoning his father. She thinks that Christy should not have left the scene of the crime without checking his father's vital signs. Evidently, Christy has no moral values, unlike the Irish Catholics who are expected to uphold them.
As well as Christy Mahon, Widow Quin must abide by the law. It is reported that Widow Quin kills her husband and does not pay for the crime. In Act II, Synge presents Widow Quin as a selfish woman who brags about escaping her capital punishment. Boasting, Widow Quin declares, "You'll be doing like myself, I'm thinking, when I did destroy my man, For I'm above many's the day, odd times in great spirits, abroad in the sunshine, darning a stocking or stitching a shift." (214). Synge makes the audience wonder why Widow Quin escapes her punishment. The audience can infer that her crime must have been justifiable homicide: Widow Quin is not incarcerated and has freedom to choose another husband.
In conclusion, the following political issues are addressed in the plays of Glaspell and Synge: child abuse and neglect, homicide, and harboring a criminal. Both authors illustrate similar forms of injustice, but for different reasons. In The Verge, Glaspell focuses on child neglect and murder. To escape a role for which she is unsuited, Claire Archer, the protagonist, clearly displays love and affection for her plants, rather than take responsibility for her daughter. Also, in a moment of madness, she strangles Tom Edgeworthy. Claire finally embraces insanity, rather than conform to the conventions of society. Glaspell emphasizes these political issues to expose the universal dilemma of individuality versus society.
In The Playboy of the Western World, Synge emphasizes all of the political issues. Christy Mahon, the main character, thinks he has murdered his abusive father, but later he realizes that his father lives. Later on in the play, the Irish villagers experience attempted murder firsthand, and they condemn Christy. Synge also emphasizes the unlawfulness of citizens to harbor a criminal. In certain scenes of the play, Synge misleads his audience. The audience cannot decide if they should commend the hero of patricide or condemn him. Ironically, the Irish villagers want to portray themselves as law-abiding citizens, rather than rebels against the British government. Overall, in his treatment of politics, Synge focuses on ironic realism that leaves his audience laughing at morality. Unlike Synge, Glaspell focuses on reality that leaves her audience challenging the restrictions imposed on women by society.
Levy, Walter. Modern Drama: Selected Plays from 1879 to the Present. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999.