The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Susan Glaspell, "The Inheritors"

What social and political concerns of the time (1921) may lie behind the themes and plot of this play? (fear of loss of original democratic ideals of the United States and in particular, of the Midwest; ambivalence about U. S. involvement in WWI; concern for treatment of conscientious objectors)

What, for example, were some of the provisions of the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918?

What is the significance of the title?

What are some features of the play's use of language? Of current slang? Do these complement or detract from its themes?

Are the stage directions neutral, or do they embody the author’s viewpoints? What are some instances of authorial commentary?

Act I:
What do we learn about the original settlers, Grandmother Morton and her husband? About the character and abilities of their son Silas?

In 1921, would Silas’s attitude toward the Indians have been unusual? His attitude toward animals?

What has been the early settlers' relationship with the Indians who formerly owned the land? To their neighbors and other would-be-settlers?

How do the characters differ in their response to this past?

What is the background of the older Felix Fejevary? What bond exists between him and Silas?

What do we learn about Felix's son Felix? His relationship to the older generation?

What issues are introduced by the arrival of Mr. Smith? What argument does he make in favor of selling the hill for "development"?

What response do these arguments evoke from Silas? Are some of these issues still present with us today?

What alternate plans does Silas have, and what response does this draw from his mother, Felix and the others?

What ideals prompt the founding of the college? What aspects of the past are these intended to honor?

Do you think the account of a “college on a hill” is based on any specific Iowa college or university? Why or why not? What do we learn about the college’s location?

If the “college on a hill is a composite,” what does this ambiguity add to the play?

Act II

What do we learn has happened to the characters seen in Act I? To the college founded as a result of Silas and the senior Felix's efforts?

What has happened to Felix II in the intervening years? What does he believe to be his life mission? In particular, what does he believe will most help the college?

What ultimatum is given him by Senator Lewis, and how does Felix react?

What do we learn of the character and actions of his son, Horace? Do he and his wife approve of Horace’s harassment of foreign students?

Judging by Doris and Fussie, what seems to be the intellectual level of many of the college's current undergraduates?

What do we learn indirectly about the granddaughter of the founder? When she appears, what seem to be her attitudes toward Silas Morton and her ancestors? Toward freedom of speech?

What events suddenly interrupt the peace of the college? How do the characters differ in their responses to the resulting melee? (Lewis/Felix/Holden/Madeline/Horace)

What act prompts Madeleine’s attack on the police? What ideals and beliefs about her country have motivated her responses? Is there any symbolism to her means of resistance?

What conception of patriotism is held by Fejevary II and the others?

How might Glaspell’s audience have felt about the desire of Indian nationalists to free themselves from British rule? Were they eventually successful?

What is significant about the fact that the Indian nationalists appeal to words of Abraham Lincoln?

What are some comparisons and contrasts which underlie and help structure the plot?

What is the substance of the conversation between Professor Holden and Fejevary II?

What do we learn of Holden's ideas? In which authors had he found inspiration?

What do we learn of his past? What conversation with Silas Morton had motivated his decision to spend his life at the college?

What opinion had he held of the arrested Indian students?

What has prompted him to attempt to secure his former student's release from imprisonment?

What does Fejevary tell Madeleine about the death of her mother, and her father's response to his loss? Do we fully understand the causes of her death?

What final means does Fejevary II use to pressure Holden into silence?

What does Fejevary II tell Madeleine about her grandfather, and do his memories have the effect on her that he expects?

What seems her response at first? With which of Silas’s ideals does she come to identify?

What events threaten her? How does Madeleine react to the news that her family has obtained a promise that if she apologizes she will not be convicted?

To what idea of “America” does she appeal? Who else had held this ideal?

How does she intend to use her inheritance from Uncle Silas?

Act IV
Why does Madeleine choose to attend court with Emil Johnson rather than her family? What is the symbolism of her choice, and what may be the consequences?

Why do you think Glaspell introduces the scenes in which Professor Holden and Aunt Isabel attempt to induce Madeleine to tell the court that she hadn’t intended to do what she had done, and would refrain from future resistance?

What values does Professor Holden seem to represent? Why has he decided to cease expressing his political views? What ironies does Madeline see in his choice?

To what does her aunt appeal, and what is Madeleine’s response?

What has happened to Ira Morton in the years since his wife’s death? What now preoccupies him? (doesn’t wish to share his corn) Does Madeleine share his views on how they should preserve their inheritance?

On what grounds does he appeal to Madeleine to avoid a prison term in order to remain with him? Is he concerned for her welfare?

What do we learn has caused the death of Madeleine’s brother Fred Morton? What had motivated him to enlist in the war?

What has happened to Madeleine’s friend Fred Jordan, and why do you think this plot element is introduced into the play?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              What is the significance of her farewell to her father? To her Aunt Isabel?

On what grounds does Professor Holden urge her to avoid acts of dissent? What are her criticisms of his behavior, and how does he respond?

How does she interpret the act which led to her mother's death? Her father's desire to breed a better species of corn?

What is the significance of the final scene? What attitudes do the others evince when bidding her farewell?

What do we expect for the future? For Madeleine? For Morton College? For the United States?

What symbolism is inherent in Madeleine’s placing of her tennis racquet in the closet? Her appeals to metaphors of the corn and wind?

Would the play have been improved had Madeleine been declared innocent by the judge and released from the threat of prison? If we were certain of her future fate?

What are some themes of this play? Do you think they are well conveyed? Are any of the problems it identifies still with us?


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