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Government Goat

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Government Goat

by Susan Glaspell

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Setting: America, Rural
Format of Original Source: Short Story
Recommended Adaptation Length: 45 Minutes, 60 Minutes, 90 Minutes, Two Hours

Candidate for Adaptation? Promising


Suddenly he stood still. Would she have any black to wear? He had thought of a joke before which all other jokes he had ever thought of were small and sick. Suppose he were to take himself out of the way and then they didn’t get the things they thought they’d have in place of him? He walked on fast–fast and crafty, picking his way among the smaller stones in between the giant stones in a fast, sure way he never could have picked it had he been thinking of where he went. He went along like a cat who is going to get a mouse. And in him grew this giant joke. Who’d give them the fireless cooker? Would it come into anybody’s head to give young Joe Doane a sail-boat just because his father was dead? They’d rather have a goat than a father. But suppose they were to lose the father and get no goat? Myrtie’d be a mourner without any mourning. She’d be ashamed to go to the cemetery.

He laughed so that he found himself down, sitting down on one of the smaller rocks between the giant rocks, on the side away from town, looking out to sea.

He forgot his joke and knew that he wanted to return to the sea. Doanes belonged at sea. Ashore things struck you funny–then, after they’d once got to you, hurt. He thought about how he used to come round this Point when Myrtie was a baby. As he passed this very spot and saw the town lying there in the sun he’d think about her, and how he’d see her now, and how she’d kick and crow. But now Myrtie wanted to go and visit him–in the cemetery. Oh, it was a joke all right. But he guessed he was tired of jokes. Except the one great joke–joke that seemed to slap the whole of life right smack in the face.


This is an amazing story, and could make for a very strong play along the lines of Arthur Miller. When a shipwreck takes the life of an immigrant’s family’s breadwinner, the government steps in and helps, as does the entire community. The cumulative acts of kindness and charity begin to rankle the head of the family next door, when the immigrants start having things which HIS family can’t afford. He begins to feel useless, and worth less than the goat which the government has provided the immigrant family. There’s a building sense of tragedy throughout the story, as in a Steinbeck novel. Some of the politics are dated, and you’d probably need to find a substitute for the actual physical goat (which might prove problematic as the goat is also a plot point), but this story is well worth your examination. It’s exciting fodder.


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