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Great Divide


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AT: The Sabine Women A: William Vaughn Moody Pf: 1906, Chicago Pb: 1909 G: Drama in 3 acts S: A cabin in the Arizona desert, a home in the Cordilleras Mountains, and a house in Milford Corners, Massachusetts, early 20th c. C: 10m, 3f, 1 child (m)With her brother Philip and his wife Polly, 19-year-old Ruth Jordan has left New England to live simply in the Arizona desert in order to establish a cactus-fibre industry. Refusing the hand of a young doctor, she dreams of a grander relationship – with ‘a sublime abstraction – of the West’. Her yearning is cruelly realized. Three drunks threaten to rape her. She bargains with one of them, Stephen Ghent: if he saves her, she will marry him. He bribes one companion and shoots the other. About a year later, Ghent is a prosperous partner in a gold mine. Despite immaculate behaviour towards her, he is met by unforgiving coldness from Ruth. Refusing financial support, she earns her keep selling home-made baskets and rugs. Paying Ghent back the bribe for preventing the rape, she claims to have bought freedom for herself and her baby son, and leaves with her brother, who has tracked her down. Some months later in Massachusetts, Ruth is unhappy and sick. Her family face financial ruin, because the cactus-fibre project was sold when she disappeared. When Ghent offers to buy back the cactus-fibre enterprise for the family, Ruth reveals the truth of their first meeting. Ghent speaks of the Great Divide: between their puritan existence and his own free life beyond the Rockies. Ruth, recognizing that he has become a better man through her, relents and joyfully agrees to return to the West with him.

AT: The Sabine Women A: William Vaughn Moody Pf: 1906, Chicago Pb: 1909 G: Drama in 3 acts S: A cabin in the Arizona desert, a home in the Cordilleras Mountains, and a house in Milford Corners, Massachusetts, early 20th c. C: 10m, 3f, 1 child (m)

That The Great Divide was thought by many at the time to be the greatest American play ever written, suggests that, all too often, size rather than quality appears to matter. The bombastic language and melodramatic action do not reveal greatness. However, the play does offer a model exploration of the ‘divide’ in American consciousness between urban sophistication and the robustly assertive ‘romance of the West’, which made cowboy films so attractive, and is arguably still a force in American foreign policy.

Subjects: Theatre — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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