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The Outside
by Susan Glaspell


The third bill of the Provincetown Players second New York season (1917-1918) closed with The Outside, a new Glaspell play, her first set in Provincetown and involving the Peaked Hill Life-Saving Station.  The station was one that Glaspell and Cook would see on their walks in Provincetown to “the outside,” referring to the part of Provincetown beach front that faces the north and the Atlantic Ocean (the town faces the south and the bay) that often felt cut-off from the town because of shifting sand dunes.  Separating the dunes and the town are woods that protect the town from the imposing and constantly moving dunes.  Mabel Dodge had moved into the Peaked Hill Lifesaving Station the summer of 1915 after remodeling it, the government having built a new station a short distance away and selling it to Dodge’s friend Sam Levinson for her to use, but Dodge had since stopped coming there.(1)  By the summer of 1917, when Glaspell was writing the play, the wood structure had endured a great shifting of sand around it and was partially buried from particularly severe storms that year.  Glaspell sets her story in this specific house, with the Station’s dual history as a central element.   In the play, the Station is now the private residence of a woman who has secluded herself off from the world after her husband’s departure, and the play begins as two lifesavers use the house to try to revive a man whom they have rescued right in front of the house.  When their Captain arrives, who had lived in the place for twenty-seven years before the new station was built, they inform him that the man was dead when they picked him up.  The Captain reminds them about Dannie Sears, who had been resuscitated though initially thought dead, and he begins to work on the man.  When he asks why they’ve brought the man to the house, Bradford, one of the lifesavers, replies, “Force of habit, I guess.  We brought so many of ‘em back up here.”  However, he calls the sea “friendly as a kitten” compared to the women that now live in the house,(2) calling both of the women who live there crazy, noting that the house had nothing on the floors or its grey walls, which makes it “not like a place where a woman live”;(3) the Captain later says “the old place used to be more friendly.”(4)  Mrs. Patrick enters “excited and angry,” and tells them they have no right to be there and she wants her home to herself.(5)  The Captain, exposing the arm of the unconscious man so we can see, informs her that as long as there is the possibility of life in this man they’ve rescued, her ownership demands mean nothing to him, and slams the door to the room he’s in.  Allie Mayo, a Provincetown woman who works for Mrs. Patrick, enters as the Captain speaks, and takes in the scene: the man being worked on, Mrs. Patrick leaving with “I—I don’t want them here! I must—,” and Bradford asking her why she works for such a “crazy fish,” telling how he’s watched her sit and look for extended periods at the place where the dunes and the woods meet.(6)  Allie leaves without speaking.  Bradford emphasizes the women’s strange behavior by saying sarcastically, “Some coffee’d be good.  But coffee, in this house?  Oh, no.  It might make somebody feel better.”(7)  He tells Tony, the other lifesaver, how he’d heard Mrs. Patrick and her husband, summer residents of Provincetown who would come to the Outside for picnics, discuss how they were going to “put in a fireplace and they was goin’ to paint it bright colors, and have parties over here—summer folks notions.”(8)  Bradford also tells Tony how she moved there, without her husband—he assumes he died—and how she looked to hire someone “that doesn’t say an unnecessary word!”  He tells that Allie has been that way for twenty years, but “she’s got her reasons.  Women whose men go to sea ain’t always talkative.”(9)  The Captain enters from the room and concedes the man has died; the three leave with the intent to come back for the body.

Allie enters the room with a pot of coffee, puts it down when she sees they have left, and then is drawn to the door leading to the room where the dead man is.  Just as she gets to the door, Mrs. Patrick enters and confirms with Allie that the man is dead, that they’ve left him here, and restates they had no right, before reaching for her coat and scarf to leave.  Allie stops her with “Wait,” which startles them both, and then with courage continues to speak, telling Mrs. Patrick that the dead man’s face “uncovered something.”  She tells Mrs. Patrick that for twenty years she has done what Mrs. Patrick is doing, “And I can tell you—it’s not the way.”  She opens up and tells her employer about her two-year marriage, and how her husband went to sea and never returned home.  When a lifelong friend asked her one day, “Suppose he was to walk in!” she made the woman leave and “from that time to this I’ve not said a word I didn’t have to say.”  After a pause filled with emotion, she says in a whisper, “The ice that caught Jim—caught me,” and reiterates that “It’s not the way. You’re not the only woman in the world whose husband is dead!”(10)  Mrs. Patrick, as she begins to cry, responds that her husband is not dead, and Allie begins to understand.  When Mrs. Patrick turns to leave again, Allie stops her by telling her that she knows that, as she watches the sand bury the woods she’s burying things herself, but that, in truth, the woods “fight for life the way the Captain fought for life in there!”  Mrs. Patrick retorts with, “And lose the way he lost in there.”(11)  This starts a discussion between them, mostly spoken in figurative language, showing how Allie sees “the Outside” as woods that protect the town, and Mrs. Patrick sees it as “hills of sand that move and cover.”(12)  Allie eventually tells her that where the two meet is “the edge of life.  Where life trails off to dwarfed things not worth a name,” that “other things are true beside[s] the things you want to see” and, over Mrs. Patrick’s protests, that she knows this because of being “outside” for twenty years herself.  Allie tells her she’ll never be able to look at the woods and dunes the same way again: “You’ll not find peace there again! Go back and watch them fight!”(13)  Mrs. Patrick finally opens up, showing anger and then pain, saying she “didn’t go to the outside,” she was “left there,” and that she wants to bury everything that hurts her or makes her feel.(14)  Allie grows in conviction about what she is saying as they argue about life, now using the Cape as a metaphor, Mrs. Patrick seeing it as a “a line of land way out to sea—land not life,” and Allie as “land that encloses and gives shelter from storm.”  After Mrs. Patrick claims the Outside is “the farthest life is buried,” Allie counters with “And life grows over buried life! (Lifted into that; then as one who states a simple truth with feeling.)  It will.  And Springs will come when you will want to know that it is Spring.”(15)  The Captain and Bradford return with a stretcher and take the body, the women stepping into the corners of the room to be away from them.  After they leave, the play ends as Mrs. Patrick calls after them sarcastically “Savers of life!” and then to Allie, “You savers of life!  Meeting the Outside! Meeting—(But she cannot say it mockingly again; in saying it, something of what it means has broken through, rises.  Herself lost, feeling her way into the wonder of life).”  She says again, but differently now “Meeting the Outside!” and the stage directions are simply “It grows in her as slowly.”(16)

The Outside is Glaspell’s first play that is not considered a comedy, Ozieblo stating that “This time, Glaspell does not strive to amuse her audience.”(17)  It is also clearly a play with little action and, though Glaspell’s shortest one-act, one that calls for the acting by the women to be skillful, particularly to communicate in subtext rather than words the revealing and changing of emotions that lead to transformations in each of them.  To accomplish this, two of the Players’ best actresses were cast, Ida Rauh as Mrs. Patrick and Glaspell herself as Allie.  The men in the cast were Hutchinson Collins as Bradford, Louis Ell as Tony, and Abram Gillette, in a second role during that bill, as the Captain.  Who played the body of the rescued man is not listed.  Ira Remsen, who was designing more and more for the Players, designed this set that was so crucial to the play’s message, and Nine Moise directed. 

The Outside was the play Glaspell had chosen to stay and work on further in Provincetown that fall; the playwright’s extra work is evident in the subtleties of language, visual images, and evolution of character.  Papke calls this “Glaspell’s first serious and highly philosophical drama of idea” and that the play “depends greatly for its effect upon set and sophisticated acting,” particularly because “the dialogue between the women is extremely tortured and oblique, at many points verging on the inarticulate or the unspeakable.”(18)  There is no known critical response at the time of the original production, but contemporary Glaspell scholars agree that this play is extremely significant in Glaspell’s evolution as a writer, particularly in its combining of non-representational elements put “to effective use within the representational framework.”  Murphy sees it as Glaspell fusing these “to create the new dramatic idiom that she was to make her own.”(19)  Gainor views the play as using a “heightened realism that bordered on the symbolic,” and that the play “exemplifies the unique development of American dramatic modernism . . . in its incorporation of multiple stylistic influences” versus the more separated style explorations that had been taking place in Europe.  She mentions that C. W. E. Bigsby, an early Glaspell commentator, sees the playwright’s use of symbol “disparagingly,” as if “somehow an artistic flaw,” yet the many imagistic metaphors and linguistic contrasts Glaspell creates, particularly between the world of the men and the women, allows one to see a depth of layering that gives the play a wealth of meaning(s).”(20)  Noe shows the play’s potential broader idea as pointing to the “ambiguity inherent” in the struggle of “living things against the forces of annihilation,” seeing that the play’s exposure of the lack of a “clear line of demarcation between woods and sand in the struggle to dominate” is similar to “the struggle between the forces of life and the forces of death.”(21)  Glaspell’s use of “poetic language within prose dialogue,”(22) perhaps “the most lyrical of Glaspell’s one acts,” and her use of “idiomatic rhythms” and “spareness” causes Ben-Zvi to see the influence of Irish playwright Synge in this play(23)  Many scholars use the idea of “liminality,” being in-between, to describe both the play’s dominant themes and images and also to its placement within the Glaspell and Players’ canon.  Many Glaspell scholars believe that O’Neill, in The Emperor Jones, explicitly used the devices Glaspell explored here; Larrabee even wondered how Glaspell might have felt when O’Neill’s play became so popular, “a play that clearly borrowed from her own metaphysical meditation on the transcendental Outside.”(24) The difference between them, as Ozieblo points out, is that “O’Neill’s protagonists submit to the destiny . . . imposed on them, but Glaspell’s women, though wounded by the insensitivity of men, are close enough to the life force to reassert their voices and claim a victory.”(25)  Glaspell would later use The Outside as the source material for a short story, titled “A Rose in the Sand: The Salvation of a Lonely Soul,” published in Pall Mallin 1927.  

© Jeff Kennedy, 2007.

(1) Dodge actually left New York in December 1917 for Taos, New Mexico, which became her new permanent home.   Murphy discusses the possible parallels between Dodge, her failed relationship with Reed, the Station and this play, citing the possibility of Glaspell coming to understand Dodge’s reaction. Murphy, Provincetown 4/5-6.

(2) Glaspell, Plays 101.

(3) Glaspell, Plays 103.

(4) Glaspell, Plays 108.

(5) Glaspell, Plays 103.

(6) Glaspell, Plays 105.

(7) Glaspell, Plays 105-106.

(8) Glaspell, Plays 106.

(9) Glaspell, Plays 107.

(10) Glaspell, Plays 109-110.

(11) Glaspell, Plays 111.

(12) Glaspell, Plays 113.

(13) Glaspell, Plays 114.

(14) Glaspell, Plays 115.

(15) Glaspell, Plays 116-117.

(16) Glaspell, Plays 117.

(17) Ozieblo, Glaspell 114.

(18) Mary E. Papke. Susan Glaspell, a Research and Production Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993) 31.

(19) Murphy, Provincetown 4/3.

(20) Gainor 74.

(21) Marcia Noe, Susan Glaspell, Voice from the Heartland (Macomb, IL: Western Illinois U Press, 1983) 39.

(22) Gainor, Glaspell 74.

(23) Ben-Zvi, Glaspell 192. 

(24) Ann E. Larrabee, “‘Meeting the Outside Face to Face’: Susan Glaspell, Djuna Barnes, and O’Neill’s Emperor Jones,” Modern American Drama ed. June Schlueter (Rutherford: Farleigh Dickinson U Press, 1990)78.

(25) Ozieblo, Glaspell 114.