An Analysis of the Status of Women in Trifles, a One-Act by Susan Glaspell
Susan Glaspell’s drama “Trifles” is a play about a woman who was suspected for the murder of her husband. The play is set during the 19th century, a time where it was known for women to be treated poorly, especially as wives. Most women were treated as objects rather than as equals in a relationship. However, in our society today, that has definitely changed. In Glaspell’s drama, she focuses mainly on the wife which ultimately gives this writing the ability to be viewed as a feminist piece.
In “Trifles”, a woman is taken into custody under the suspicion of the murder of her husband. The play focuses on two women who enter her house with the sheriff and an attorney, who are searching for evidence. While the men are searching, the women are discussing the case. During this play, the women end up finding more evidence than the men do, but because they’re women they aren’t taken seriously. Glaspell shows that the women aren’t viewed as equal when Hale says, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.” The men in the play continuously make snide remarks towards the women. Another example is when they reenter the room while the two women are discussing the accused’s stitching. The two women were examining it and noticed her stitching was off, which prompted one of them to wonder why she was so nervous. This shows that the women are much more observant than the men, because they realize that her hasty stitching meant she was agitated for some reason. However, the men enter when they’re discussing the pattern and the attorney asks in a condescending manner, “Well. ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?” This example shows that while the men aren’t taking the women seriously, they are the ones who have it all figured out and hold evidence that could easily convict the wife, thus making this a feminist piece.
Situations of abuse have definitely changed over the years. Back in the 19th century, women were treated as objects rather than equals. In the actual case that the drama “Trifles” was based off of, the wife had actively sought out help against her abusive husband. She spoke with neighbors and told them of her husband’s cruel acts, but because he was so well-liked and known throughout the community, and she was just his wife, nobody took her seriously. In fact, people began to scorn her for speaking against her husband. However, in today’s society, women are treated as equal and abuse is taken very seriously. For example, a case similar to the one Glaspell wrote about occurred in 2013. A woman shot her husband as an act of self defense after he threatened her and her children. In this case, there was no question as to whether or not it was her who shot him; yet she wasn’t charged at all because it was in self defense. Even if it was a clear case of self defense in the 19th century, the wife would’ve most likely been charged. In “Trifles”, the wife was being held when she claimed she didn’t kill him, and while the only evidence the police had against her was the fact that she was asleep in bed next to him, they still arrested her. But in the current case where it was without a doubt the wife that shot her husband, she wasn’t charged because it was a case of self defense. The situations of abuse for women have definitely evolved over the years.
Women have fought a long time in order to be viewed as equals in today’s society. Before having the rights they do now, they were treated like objects, which made cases of abuse quite common. Glaspell’s play “Trifles” is a feminist piece of writing that focuses on a wife who murders her abusive husband. This play is a good example of showing how situations of abuse once were, and how things are different in today’s society.
A Historical Perspective on “Trifles”
The play Trifles by Susan Glaspell depicts the repressed roles of women in 1916 and holds underlying tones of the feminist movement shown through the two female lead characters, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. This play paved the way for female writers in many areas, especially in journalism and playwriting. Performed at the turn of the century, Glaspell’s work depicted the events that were still going on at the time, and was used at a feminist tool by Glaspell to show the repression that was still so prevalent.
Glaspell refused to go with the societal grain that people held for women of her time, which is shown by her life’s journey. Susan Glaspell, born in 1876 in Davenport, Iowa, was a woman who rebelled at most societal expectations of her time (Ozieblo). She graduated from Drake University in 1899 and then continued on to work for her local newspaper the Des Moines Daily News. Glaspell married her husband just three years before the play was performed. Unlike most women of her time, who were repressed by society, Glaspell was not restricted to household duties. She was discovered as a writer when she covered a case about a woman who murdered her husband, the Hossack Case. She then went on to write the play Trifles, which is loosely based on this trial. This became what she was most known for as a writer, even today, and Glaspell also turned the work into a short story, “A Jury of Her Peers” (Ozieblo). She became a respected author with many articles published in sophisticated magazines, a number of short stories, and a novel that was published in 1909 (Ozieblo). Because of her status as a well-known and respected author, Susan Glaspell was able to portray her feminist feelings through her writing so it would actually be seen and heard by the public.
Glaspell, using the trial that she covered during her stint as a journalist, was able to write the play through feminist lenses. This case, known as the Hossack case, was a very large case and the newspaper published more than two dozen articles about it from December 1900 to April 1901 (Bryan). This case involved a woman who allegedly killed her husband in cold blood. Because of the repression that was still going on for women at the time, Mrs. Hossack, the wife and alleged murderer, did not receive much, if any, support from the outside. The article “Goes to the Grand Jury” by Susan Glaspell states “Public sentiment is still very much against the prisoner, Mrs. Hossack” (Brady). While it was never fully developed in the testimony of a Mr. William Haines, it is known that “the public generally accepts the story to that effect as true and will sympathize with the county attorney in his efforts to convict the woman” (Bryan). Being a woman, Hossack did not have much of a chance in the way of getting a fair trial, so she decided not to appear for her preliminary hearing and went straight to the grand jury. Hossack did not have a fair trial in that she was not governed by a jury of her peers as the law states, but instead a jury of men who most likely wanted to convict her (Bryan). This was the same for the trial of the character, Mrs. Wright, in Glaspell’s play Trifles.
Glaspell did not agree with the outcome of the trials of Mrs. Hossack and used her play to depict her dislike in the way it was handled, as well as depicting the two sides of the feminist movement through her two female characters. The two women described in the play are very opposite in nature and in physical appearance. While setting the scene of the play, the stage directions describe them as “The SHERIFF’s wife first, she is a slight wiry woman, a thin nervous face. MRS. HALE is larger and would ordinarily be called more comfortable looking” (Glaspell 1156). Glaspell is setting these women up in such a way so the reader is aware of the two differing physical appearances, which could in fact represent the two differing personalities of the feminist movement at the time. Mrs. Hale represents the people like Susan Glaspell who were very outspoken about the feminist movement and wanted to provoke change in the United States for women and fight for their rights. Mrs. Peters on the other hand, represents the quieter women in the United States who do not know how to find their voice yet and for the most part have identity only through their husbands. The fact that while Mrs. Hale is given a name and described as “comfortable looking”, while Mrs. Peters is only identified as “the SHERIFF’s wife” and as having a “nervous face” shows how little say Mrs. Peters has in her life and her home.
Throughout the play, the male characters treat the women as if they are stupid. They brush them off as silly and the things that they concern themselves with as stupid. At one point Mrs. Peters makes a comment about how Mrs. Wright will be upset if her preserves freeze and the jars broke. The men make light of this and the Sheriff comments “Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves” and instead of defending his wife,” to which Mr. Hale responds with “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (1158). They do this again when Mrs. Hale comments on some quilting of Mrs. Wright’s. She comments “It’s a log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn’t it? I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it?” To this, the Sheriff steps in and makes fun of the women saying “They wonder if she is going to quilt it or just knot it” (1160) and the men laugh. This continues throughout the whole play showing the reader the disregard that the men have for the women. Glaspell is showing the men as unsupportive of the women, using the men in the play as a metaphor for the men and husbands during the feminist movement who scoffed at the women and their wives who were trying to stand up for their rights. There is also a metaphor in the bird that the women find that belonged to Mrs. Wright. The women talk about how lonely Mrs. Wright was and that she must have gotten the bird to keep her company and to sing, but the bird is dead. This is a metaphor for Mrs. Wright who may have just discovered her voice in her marriage and Mr. Wright killed it, or put a stop to her standing up for her rights.
Ultimately, Glaspell gives the women the upper hand in the play by giving them the evidence that the men need for the trial to convict Mrs. Wright without question. The women take a stand in the final pages of the play by deciding to hide the evidence that they have found from the men. Glaspell turns the table and makes the men look stupid when they brush the women away, not giving them any credit for finding anything of use, when in fact they have found the motive for the crime. The County Attorney asks the women what they have taken to bring to Mrs. Wright in prison. When he sees what they have he responds with “Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law” (1164) as if to suggest most other women so need supervising while brushing off the piece of evidence that Mrs. Peters has in her possession. Glaspell uses Mrs. Peters to hide the evidence at the end very deliberately as if to show the woman who used to be meek and quiet as finally taking a stand for another woman in a small way. This is Glaspell’s way of encouraging women to speak up and stand up for themselves and other women in a discreet way.
Glaspell’s work incited many women to start their careers in writing, as well as other careers and helped to move the feminist movement in America along a little further. This play, along with other works of hers, inspired many women across the country and still inspire women today for the feminist movement that is still so prevalent. Her way of tying in feminist ideals and feelings into her work was very bold, making her one of the great female writers of her time.
Ozieblo, Barbara. “About Susan Glaspell.” International Susan Glaspell Society, 2010. blogs.shu.edu/glaspellsociety/. Accessed
Bryan, Particia, and Thomas Wolf. “Susan Glaspell.” Midnight Assassin, www.midnightassassin.com/SGarticles.html. Accessed
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, Shorter 12th ed.,W.W. Norton, 2016, pp. 1155-165.
Racism, Materialism, and Sexism in Revolt of the Evil Fairies, A Perfect Day for Bananafish, and Trifles
Revolt of the Evil Fairies”, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, and “Trifles” each have an unseen presence that is so prevalent that it might as well be a character. “Revolt of the Evil Fairies” indirectly discusses the topic of racism, while “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” alludes to materialism, and “Trifles” mentions the subject of sexism.
In “Revolt of the Evil Fairies” by Ted Poston, a young African-American boy is denied the role of Prince Charming in the school play. Not because of a lack of ability or talent, but for his skin color. Evidently, the unseen presence in this short story is racism. While the narrator, a sixth grader, talks about the play and the events that occur itself, the short story is indirectly discussing racism and the fact that it is almost always swept under the rug and ignored. Like many other situations in real life, where it doesn’t matter how hard he or another person of color worked, “it was an accepted fact that a lack of pigmentation was a decided advantage” (Poston). The play is ironically called, “a modern morality play of conflict between the forces of good and evil,” by Miss LaPrade, while she and the other teachers discriminate against their students based on skin color alone (Poston). After the narrator is denied the role of Prince Charming he can see that “the teachers sensed my resentment. They were almost apologetic,” (Poston). Meaning they knew what they were doing was wrong but didn’t entirely regret it. The play is interrupted by a fight between the narrator and the boy who was chosen to be Prince Charming. Eventually, the entire stage breaks into a fight, resulting in the curtains being momentarily closed. Shortly after, “they rang the curtain back up fifteen minutes later, and we finished the play” (Poston). This epitomizes how the issue of racism is dealt with in society. When a problem arises, it’s tucked away until it calms down and can be forgotten again. Each of these points are relevant because just like today, racism is usually ignored or accepted without question.
J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” symbolically deals with the issue of materialism. There are two main symbols for materialism in this story: greedy “bananafish” and sunburns. It begins with a phone call between a woman, Muriel, and her mother. The conversation constantly goes from idle gossip to Seymour, Muriel’s husband, and quickly back to gossip. Though the two can’t stray from the gossip for long, what Muriel’s mother says strongly suggests that Seymour has a serious mental health issue. During the phone call it is important to note that Muriel states that she is “so sunburned she can hardly move” and Seymour is “pale” and “won’t take his bathrobe off” (Salinger). Though it is apparent that Seymour isn’t well, the severity of his illness is not because Muriel does not seem worried in the slightest. When they are about to hang up she says, “Call me the instant he does, or says, anything at all funny – you know what I mean” to which Muriel replies, “Mother, I’m not afraid of Seymour” (Salinger). At the beach, a little girl named Sybil is being slathered with sun tan oil by her mother. The action of the mother putting sun tan oil, which will probably result in a sunburn, on her daughter represents how materialism is passed down in an almost natural way by our parents or people we look up to. Sybil is innocent and only allows her mother to use the sun tan oil because she doesn’t know any better. She runs along on the beach and finds Seymour, who tells her a story about bananafish. Seymour says the bananafish, “lead a very tragic life,” “they swim into a hole where there’s a lot of bananas. They’re very ordinary-looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I’ve known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas,” (Salinger). The bananafish represent people in society who start out ordinary and become materialistic. Sybil says she sees a bananafish, but it only had six bananas in its mouth. This bananafish represents Sybil – she is young and innocent for the time being but is becoming a materialistic person just as the sun tan oil symbolized before. The two go their separate ways and Seymour heads to his hotel room where he suddenly commits suicide next to his sleeping wife. In the beginning of the story it is obvious that Seymour Glass is psychologically damaged from the war, but as the story goes on it becomes clear that he not able to cope with the materialism of society among other possibly unnamed things.
“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell revolves around the subject of sexism. A woman, Mrs. Wright, is jailed for murdering her husband and while the sheriff and county attorney investigate her home, their wives accidentally solve the entire crime while “worrying over trifles” (Glaspell). The two wives, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, wait downstairs while the men investigate and begin discussing a quilt Mrs. Wright had begun to piece together. Mrs. Hale says, “I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it?” just as the men come downstairs (Glaspell). The sheriff interrupts with “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it,” to which the men laugh (Glaspell). This was an attempt to degrade the women who were only there to help. The men go outside, and Mrs. Hale continues examining the quilt, “look at this one,”, “look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It’s all over the place!”, “what do you suppose she was so nervous about?” (Glaspell). They then find an empty bird-cage and a fancy box. Upon opening the box, Mrs. Hale finds a bird which has had its neck-wrung, like how Mr. Wright had been with a rope in his sleep. It is apparent that the bird was special to Mrs. Wright and it was murdered. The men interrupt again, and Mrs. Hale hides the bird. This time it is the County Attorney who decides to be rude towards the two women, “well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?” (Glaspell). They then leave once more to continue the investigation upstairs. With the men gone, Mrs. Hale continues the conversation about the bird, “[Mr.] Wright wouldn’t like the bird – a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too,” (Glaspell). After marrying Mr. Wright, Mrs. Wright became reclusive, so much that her friend didn’t even know about her pet bird and she stopped singing. Mrs. Hale says, “I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be – for women, I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things – it’s all just a different kind of the same thing,” meaning most, if not all, women experience some level of sexism in their lifetime. The men return to the kitchen for the third time with nothing new of the murder except for the rope. The County Attorney says. “at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to – what is it you call it, ladies?” (Glaspell). This shows that even after three times, he didn’t care or pay enough attention to remember what he was talking about when degrading the two women. While the men were ironically being rude, sarcastic, and sexist, they didn’t come up with anything new for the murder case while the two women who were “worrying over trifles” solved the whole case (Glaspell).
Each story has had at least one unseen presence that is so prevalent that it might as well be a character. “Revolt of the Evil Fairies”, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, and “Trifles” each touch on major subjects such as racism, materialism, and sexism. These stories were all written before the 1950’s and the topics mentioned in them are still relevant today because they have either gotten worse or stayed the same.
Literary Analysis Susan Glespell’s Trifle Analytical Essay
Susan Glespell’s ‘Trifle’ is a play that presents a diverse view of the male-dominated society. Susan Glespell presents a somewhat critical view of society through a murder scene in which a woman is accused of murder and an investigation takes place to determine whether she is the murder or not (Glaspell).
The investigation eventually divides into two teams; the first constituting the men, and the second constituting the women. The actions of the two teams present a view toward modern day society that strongly brings the play forth as a feminist work.
The character of Minnie Wright in Susan Glespell’s Trifles is a very interesting character since it is never seen and yet she steer’s the play ad influences it more than any of the other characters. It is imperative to note at this point that ‘Trifles’ is mainly a feminist work and advocates against the traditional housewife concept.
In this regard, the character of Minnie Wright plays a key role by serving as the source for the turns that the plot takes (Glaspell). As the women look around the house, each object they find and scrutinize provides a deeper insight into Minnie Wright’s persona. Through this relationship, Minnie Wright continues to drive the other characters in the play.
When the women come across the dead canary in Minnie Wright’s belongings, the dead bird serves as a development of Minnie Wright’s character and this development in her character serves to have an almost immediate influence on the decisions taken by the women in the play (Glaspell).
It can therefore be observed that as Minnie Wright’s personality is explored through the investigation that the women carry out through the house, Minnie Wright’s character continues to develop significantly. Eventually, the termination of the plot is also influenced by an act that owes its origin to Minnie Wright’s character.
It can therefore be surmised that Trifles is mainly a feminist play. Through the character of Minnie Wright, the play seeks to speak out against the growing prevalence of the male-dominated model of society (Glaspell).
The actions of the female characters in the play are symbolic for the manner in which Susan Glespell seeks to highlight the need for the role of women in society to be realized. Susan Glespell stresses upon the need for women to stick together while shedding a blunt and somewhat generalizing light on the men. She gives very little attention to the men but makes sure that the men are shown to be in power every time they come forth.
Susan Glespell tops off her play by showing that the men consider themselves to have done all the work, whereas the decision has been modeled silently by the women (Glaspell). By doing so, Susan Glespell seeks to highlight the need to realize the actual power that women have in society.
It can also be observed that Susan Glespell highlights the need for women to assist each other. By pocketing the dead canary, the female character protected the murderer and allowed the murderer to live even though she realized that this would be wrong.
Through this act, Susan Glespell highlights that the quest for right and wrong requires the realization of integrity and respect for women in society (Perkins and Perkins). It can therefore be justly concluded that Susan Glespell’s ‘Trifle’ is indeed a feminist work and seeks to engage in feminist objectives through the plot and the characters.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. California: D’arts Publishing, 2009.
Perkins, George and Barbara Perkins. The American Tradition in Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2008.
Susan Glaspell’s biography and historical context in relation to Trifles Research Paper
Written by Susan Glaspell, Trifles is a masterpiece rich in both historical and biographical elements. Glaspell hinges this story on a murder story she had to cover as a journalist and this offers the biographical part of it. The historical element of Trifles sprouts from some of the themes presented in this play. Therefore, Trifles is both a biographical and historical play.
As the play opens, police are investigating the murder of John Wright in his farmhouse. More people arrive amongst them the Sheriff, his wife, the county attorney, his wife and a witness. Controversy surrounds Mr. Wright’s death, whilst the attorney and police officers believe Mrs. Wright’s story that someone murdered Mr. Wright, as she was sleep, the women in this play suspect that Mrs. Wright was involved in the killing after collecting some ‘trifle’ evidence from this farmhouse.
The men in this play cannot understand why women are always concerned about small things. For instance, they cannot understand why these women are so concerned about a guilt they have found in the house.
In turn of events, these women find an empty birdcage, and after continued search, they discover a dead bird in a box; strangled just like Mr. Wright. At this point, Mrs. Hale reminisces how felicitous Mrs. Wright was, as a kid; how she loved singing and how miserable she became after marrying Mr. Wright.
It appears that Mr. Wright killed his wife’s bird and in retaliation, Mrs. Wright murdered him. Nevertheless, these women sympathize with Mrs. Wright’s sufferings as a wife and they decide to hide this information from the police officers to cover Mrs. Wright’s guilt. Nevertheless, as aforementioned, the biographical and historical context of this play can give a better interpretation.
Written in 1921, Trifles is a chronicle of John Hossack’s controversial murder, which Glaspell happened to cover as a journalist “with the Des Moines Daily New” (Holstein 2003, p. 29).
On December 2, 1900, John Hossack was murdered. According to his wife of 33 years, “…was sleeping beside him and awoke to the sound of an axe twice striking something that turned out later to be her husband’s head. She leapt out of bed and ran into the living room, where she saw a light and heard the door closing…returned to her bedroom with her children and discovered him to be mortally injure” (Reuben, 2008, p. 13).
The coroner’s results could not find any crucial information about the death. However, after rigorous investigations, police officers arrested Margaret Hossack after finding the murder weapon hidden in a maize garner. Moreover, a neighbor indicated that the Hossack’s marriage was strained.
Glaspell played key role in profiling this murder. She, “provided thorough coverage of the case…she often made use of a lurid combination of gossip, rumor, and truth to report her stories. Glaspell’s descriptions of Margaret generally painted her as an insane murderer until her visit to the farmhouse in mid-December, after which her depiction softened Mrs. Hossack into a meek, elderly woman” (Reuben, 2008, p.16).
Unfortunately, Mrs. Hossack was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, her judges appealed for a second trail and after reaching no verdict, Mrs. Hossack was released on for lack of evidence.
Margaret’s initial conviction was inevitable for she could not be trusted because; for one, she had a child out of wedlock and she acted inappropriately and disrespectfully by exposing her marital problems. On the other hand, men involved in this case defended Mr. Hossack as an honorable citizen and a good person.
Trifles offer women’s perspective towards this case and their different point of view in domestic troubles and marital strife. The fact that the women in Trifles did not divulge the crucial information leading to Mrs. Wright’s acquittal, it shows that their ‘trifles’ are significant as opposed to men’s view of the same. Glaspell simply chronicled the events surrounding Mr. Hossack’s death by changing character’s names.
“Trifles” is essentially a presentation of challenges that women faced in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Born in 1876, Glaspell was among the first women to pursue higher education and a profession at a time when this was a preserve of the men.
By writing Trifles, Glaspell sought to address issues like, “women’s suffrage, birth control, socialism, union organizing, and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud” (Godwin, 1999, p. 46). At this time, women could not participate in juries or even vote. Women earned way below their male counterparts; moreover, as aforementioned most women qualified as ‘housewives’ and nothing more.
The same case applied to urban women; a subject that Trifles addresses. Women were not recognized as important figures in the society; something that Mrs. Wright experienced. Nevertheless, Glaspell finally manages to show that women were significant after all. Their ‘trifles’ were significant if only men would recognize it. For instance, their ‘trifles’ led to discovery of a strangled bird; something that would convict Mrs. Wright; therefore, women would sit in juries, if given opportunity.
Mrs. Peters explicates how women suffered and lived at the mercies of their ever-busy husbands. She remembers how Mrs. Wright would sing melodiously as a bird during her childhood; however, she bemoans that things changed the moment Mrs. Wright married. She notes that Mr. Wright “first killed the song in her and finally killed the song in her bird” (Glaspell, 1951, p. 14). Loneliness was consuming many women including those who did not face marital strife.
For instance, Mrs. Peters painfully recalls, “…we were homesteaders in the Dakota Territory, when our first baby died leaving me alone in the house most of the day while my husband worked outside…” (Glaspell, 1951, p. 18). Glaspell sought to highlight these historical issues that affected women relegating them to insignificant figures in society. This theme offers the historical interpretation of this play.
By writing Trifles, Glaspell had two distinct issues in her mind. First, she wanted to chronicle her experience as a journalist and two, she wanted to highlight historical challenges that women faced in her era.
The events surrounding Mr. Wright’s death in Trifles are similar to those, which surrounded the murder of Mr. Hossack on December 2, 1900. Glaspell changes the names of the characters but the incidences are the same. Even though she tried to paint Mrs. Hossack as a murderer, her stance changed when she visited Hossack’s house only to realize what Mrs. Hossack went through as a wife.
Therefore, Trifles is a dramatized personal experience touching the life and career of Glaspell as a journalist. Historically, women were not recognized in the society. Most of them lived miserable lives, something that Glaspell highlights in this play. Urban women lived lonely lives, as their husbands were ever busy. Therefore, Trifles is both a biographical and historical play.
Glaspell, S. (1951). Trifles: A Play in One Act. New York; Walter H. Baker.
Godwin, L. (1999). Preface to Fidelity. New York; Persephone Books.
Holstein, S. (2003). Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s Trifles. The Midwest Quarterly. 44(2); 282-290.
Reuben, P. (2008). Susan Glaspell. Perspectives in American Literature. Retrieved from;
Round and Flat Characters in “Trifles” by S.Glaspell’s Essay
Susan Glaspell, the author of the play Trifles, exhibits the behavioral nature of major and minor characters, which groups them as either round or flat characters. She constructs the play after working as a journalist researching on the murder of John Hossack hence categorizing it as a real story. In Glaspell’s play, the characters display stereotypes especially the gender and cultural stereotypes.
According to Wiehardt, round characters are the main characters in a piece of writing who face problems in their life that become their turning point (1). They undergo an awful experience that pressure them to change their character.
On the other hand, a flat character is an unprogressive minor character in a story that remains in the same position throughout the story (Wiehardt 1). In the play Trifles, the author strategically features two round characters like Minnie Foster and John Wright. However, the play has a good share of the flat characters like Mrs. Hale and Mr. Hale among others.
In her early days, Minnie Foster is a felicitous, melodious and always in good spirits girl (Glaspell 7). All her dresses have bright colors hence making her famous among other girls. Unfortunately, after her marriage to Mr. Wright her cheerful character turns into sorrow hence only somber mood prevails in her house.
One of Mrs. Wright’s neighbors, Mrs. Hale describes her character as a beautiful, fearful and cautious but all her behaviors disappear immediately after the marriage ceremony (Glaspell 5). Mr. Wright is Minnie’s husband whose character as uncouth, crude harsh turns him oppressive especially to his loyal wife. Minnie’s thirty year of marriage is void of happiness.
However, one night, Mr. Wright dies when he is asleep. Surprisingly, Minnie says that someone strangled her husband while she is deep asleep. Unfortunately, her husband’s friend Mr. Hale discovers the death and reports to the authority. The Sheriff and attorney ignore her claims hence choose to put her in remand. After critical investigations, the law convicts her of murder because there is no trace another person as she claims.
According to Wiehardt’s description of a round character, Minnie’s unchanging character categorizes her as one. Although Minnie has subservient and scheming character, her husband’s oppressive nature turns her into a murderer and outrageous woman hence kills her him after three decades of marriage. John Wright stands out as a round character dominated by chauvinism.
John Wright chauvinistic character makes him an oppressor especially to his wedded wife. He disrespects, hates and abuses his wife all the time hence turning his wife against him. Although he is uncouth, unfriendly and selfish, his wife overpowers him killing him instantly. John Wright becomes powerless and weak loosing his ability to overpower or control his wife.
The ability of Mr. Wright to change his domineering nature describes him as a round character. However, Gorge Henderson is a round character who is tough as presented by the author.
The county attorney, Mr. George Henderson is among the flat characters as described by Wiehardt. He is one of the law enforcers carrying out the murder case of Mr. Wright. He bases on his professional qualifications and experience to carry out the investigation. He is tough, serious and dismisses opinion from other people. Ironically, as a crime expert, he does not concentrate on Mrs. Wright’s Kitchen, which is woman place.
However, he focuses in the bedroom and the barn where her husband spends most of his time. As a law enforcer, he convicts Mrs. Wright to prison yet he has inadequate evidence. Additionally, he is unable to unfold one of the main evidence, a box, which describes Mrs. Wright as a murderer. The inability of the attorney to consider and be keen to other people especially women puts him under a flat character.
The other law enforcer at the crime scene is the Sheriff, Henry Peters. He backs up the attorney during the investigation. Likewise, he overlooks the areas in the house like the kitchen, which could nail Mrs. Wright down. Additionally, he has a contempt character hence kicks a basket belonging to Mrs. Wright yet it might the source of evidence. Peters has a non-dynamic, unchanging character categorizing him as a flat character. Mrs. Hale stands out as an ignorant but obedient flat character as the play unveils.
Mrs. Hale is the wife to Mr. Hale. Additionally, she is a neighbor to the Wrights but due to frequent fights in the home, she abandons the family. However, she turns up when a calamity hits the family, the death Mr. Wright. Although the sheriff and the attorney disapprove her contribution to the murder case, she loiters around the crime scene hence discovering a box that contains evidence against Mrs. Wright.
As a woman, she decides to ignore the law officers and hides the box. She displays her submissive and quietness as the society expects from her. Mrs. Hale’s character as obedient and submissive describes her as a flat character, she is not ready to break the law, therefore, secretly keeps the box with evidence.
Lewis Hale is a farmer, neighbor and a friend to the Wrights family (Wade 2). When he comes to visit his neighbors, he discovers the death of Mr. Wright from the wife. He decides to report the murder case to the police station. During the investigation, he follows the Sheriff and attorney because he is determined to unravel the truth.
However, his presence at the crime scene does not change situation. Mr. Hale character as a good neighbor, friendly and loyal to his character is non-dynamic even after he discovers a crime. The issue of stereotypes assumes a good share in the play through the way the author strategically allocates the different roles to her different characters who in turn successfully depicts the stereotypes ranging from gender to cultural.
The characters in the play display a high level of stereotype. There is both cultural and gender stereotyping. The men oppress women in the society, a situation women are unable to change. The play describes the kitchen as the woman’s place and not bedroom or barn. Due to discrimination, Mrs. Hale decides to protect Mrs. Wright as a fellow woman hence keeps away the evidence that she is a murderer.
In summary, there are two types of character in the play; round and flat characters. Mr. and Mrs. Wright are the round characters because of their dynamic nature. The rest of the characters fall under flat characters because their situation and behavior is stagnant in the play. Finally, stereotyping is an issue that the author fully exhibits in the play. The women are submissive standing out as ones who face oppression from the society, a role they willingly accept.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. England: Oxford UP, 1916. Print.
Wade, Bradford. ‘Trifles’ by Susan Glaspell – Plot and Character Analysis, 2009. Web. plays.About.com
Wiehardt, Ginny. ‘Flat character’ About .com. Need. Know. Accomplish. New York: Winnipeg, 2011. Print.
Wiehardt, Ginny. ‘Round character’ About .com. Need. Know. Accomplish, 2011. Web. Apr. 11 2011. Fictionwriting.about.com/od/glossary/g/Roundcharacter.htm
A Play “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell Critical Essay
Written by Susan Glaspell, Trifles is a play, based on a true occurrence in Iowa. The author focuses on the development of the both the minor and major characters. Through the development of the characters, Glaspell vividly describes their stereotypes.
In Glaspell’s play, Minnie Wright exhibits the role of a round character. During her youth days, she is always a happy, cheerful, and social songstress. Additionally, her wardrobe consists of bright colored clothes that made her outstanding among other girls. Unfortunately, after Mr. Wright married her, she drastically changed her behavior. Mrs. Hale describes her as “sweet, pretty, timid and fluttery but all the characters disappeared after marriage” (Glaspell Para. 5).
On the other hand, Minnie’s husband is tyrannical, abrasive, domineering and aweless, a fact that Minnie respects during her thirty years of marriage. However, from the blues, Mr. Wright dies or killed at night depending on one’s perspective. Surprisingly, Minnie confesses that someone strangled her husband without her noticing. Unfortunately, the Sheriff and the attorney disapprove her claims and choose to imprison her as the prime suspect. After critical investigations, the law convicts her of murder.
Minnie has a dynamic character that makes her to adapt to the prevailing situation. Although she is submissive to her husband, she turns a murderer after tolerating her husband’s unbecoming behavior. One moment of rage and bitterness from her husband is enough to kill him and this ability o change depending on the prevailing situation underscores roundness in character development.
John Wright is a powerful, rough and crude husband; he turns his cheerful wife to a sad and antisocial woman. However, one day his wife strangles him with a rope killing him instantly. The roundness in Mr. Wright’s character comes out clearly given the fact that at one point he is strong, abrasive and ‘masculine’ but she dies in the hands of one considered weak. Therefore, in essence, Mr. Wright changes from a strong character to a weak one and this defines the roundness of his character.
On the other hand, George Henderson; the county attorney, represents one of the flat characters; characters who remain rigid throughout a story; no change of thought or persona. During the murder of Mr. Wright, he comes to the scene to carry out an investigation. He is a tough and bully but dismisses the kitchen as a source of evidence of the murder. Ironically, he concentrates in the bedroom and barn places which belong to men.
Although he convicts Mrs. Wright as the murder, he is unable to discover solid evidences apparently evident in the kitchen. His character is stagnant he neither changes his behavior nor listens to women. Similarly, Henry Peters is a Sheriff who accompanies the attorney in the murder investigation.
However, just like Henry, he overlooks some of the important places that might give evidence about the murder case. Additionally, his contemptuous nature comes into limelight when he kicks some items in the house disapproving them as source of evidence. He concentrates in the bedroom to search for evidence and his rigidness passes him for a flat character.
There is a high degree of gender and culture stereotyping in the play. Mr. Wright follows the society culture of being domineering especially to women. The role of women is in the kitchen and they are not supposed to talk before men. Mrs. Wright ends up losing her happiness and cheerful nature because she is a submissive woman. On the other hand, the sheriff and attorney do not involve the women in the murder cases.
They dismiss a woman’s place like the kitchen and concentrate in the bedroom. Similarly, Clarkson observes that women like Mrs. Hale remain silent when they discover the box-containing evidence because the society demands such of them (286). In summary, Mr. and Mrs. Wright are the round characters in the play; their characters are dynamic hence changes depending on the situation at Hand. On the other hand, the flat characters include the law enforcers and Mr. Hale.
Clarkson, Suzy. “Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s Trifles.” The MidwestQuarterly 44.6 (2003): 282-290.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles, N.d. Web.
Trifles by Susan Glaspell Research Paper
Trifles, a play written by Susan Glaspell, is one of the most famous works of literature published in the United States. It touches sensitive issues which are burning for the American society, particularly during her life time.
The play is a one-act piece, and seeks to illustrate woman’s sorrow when the main character is trapped in a relationship with her husband. Susan Glaspell also tries to present the nature of woman’s intelligence. On the other hand, the play, Trifles, depicts men as insensitive and judgmental. Prejudice prevents them from making the right decisions in their quest to resolve a case of the murder (Mael 21).
Eventually, the women determine the course of the investigation by concealing the evidence that can incriminate a fellow woman. They understand the suspect’s situation and circumstances under which she might have committed that crime and killed her husband. Through the drama, it is possible to see the attitude of the author to the issue as well as her views since her literature presents her feelings and her opinion on the sensitive social matters (Smith 36).
Susan Keating Glaspell’s background
Susan Keating Glaspell was born on July 1, 1876, and died the same month 72 years later. By the time of her death, she became a well-known poet, a novelist, a playwright, and a screenplay director who won many prizes. It is evident that Susan Glaspell’s plays and novels have a deep meaning and sympathetic characters that many people thought to be a result of her personal life experiences (Makowsky 45).
Apart from Trifles, she also wrote A Jury of Her Peers, which is known to have some feminine inclination. During her early years as a writer, she wrote and published a fiction called For the Love of the Hills in a journal and received a critical acclaim from many media houses. Ladies Home Journal and Women’s Home Companion were among some of the magazines that praised her. (Makowsky, 321)
Susan Glaspell grew up with two brothers, and when she was younger, she accompanied her father who sold hay and animal feed for a living. At a tender age, she gained a significant experience in farms and the farming culture. (Ben-Zvi, 211). Later she explored farming in her fictional works as an adult.
Having grown up as the only girl in the family and having spent her childhood on the farm, Susan knew the many challenges women faced, either in their matrimonial homes or in the society. This explains why most of her works were deeply sympathetic to the feminine gender. In addition, her experience on the family farm as well as the farms she visited with her father is also reflected in her works.
As seen in the play Trifles, Susan was a devout feminist and always pointed out the problems women faced. According to the play, Mrs. Wright acted in anger, directed not just to her husband in particular, but to all the males in general. Her husband, Cook, stole her life away from her. It was also a man who killed her only companion when he had failed to be there for her. (Alkaley-Gut 612).
The family setting
Glaspell used Trifles to express her view on women in an average family setting. She was a feminist who tried to present a radical view on women in her plays and books. While married, she was the major income earner, not her husband, Cook. She took this responsibility for all those years that she lived with Cook. However, the events in the play seem to illustrate the course of her life. In the play, after the crime has been committed, strange circumstances surround the case.
There is no apparent motive for the murder. However, due to Mrs. Wright’s reserved nature and her denial of knowing anything, she is arrested for the murder. On the other hand, Glaspell lost her husband in 1924 (Alkaley-Gut 25). However, he was not murdered. In addition, there were no severe differences between Glaspell and her husband since they were still together. On the other hand, Mrs. Wright, the main character in the play, has been leading a sad life with her husband until he has been eventually murdered.
Susan Glaspell contrasted men and women in her plays. Women are presented as sympathetic and emotional as compared to men. On the other hand, men are presented as objective and cold-blooded in their conduct. However, women are only sympathetic to one of their own. Mrs. Hale claims to have known Mrs. Wright since she was a girl.
She recalls her observation of the singing talent in Mrs. Wright. She also regrets that she has not visited Mrs. Wright for a long time. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are worried about Mrs. Wright’s preserves, despite the fact that she is already in jail and probably about to face murder charges.
All men in the play are presented as unemotional and objective. When Mr. Hale is asked to give his account of the incident, he describes how he and Harry arrived at Mr. Wright’s house and got a cold reception by his wife. She reluctantly responded to his queries by telling him that Mr. Wright was dead. She was knitting a garment and apparently unperturbed by the death of her husband. After they confirmed that Mr. Wright was dead, they also noticed that he had been strangled.
Mrs. Wright denied o being aware of who was her husband’s murderer, and this implied that she could have killed him herself. Consequently, the men acted objectively by reporting the incident to the authorities. The sheriff and the county attorney portrayed men’s insensitivity when they were inspecting the house. They laughed at the fact that the women were more concerned with jars and clothing rather than the circumstances of the murder.
Women have little sympathy for Mr. Wright, despite the fact that he was murdered. They describe him as an insensitive man. They do not want to accept the possibility that Mrs. Wright could be guilty of the murder. This seems to be an effort by Susan Glaspell to present the nature of women’s interpretation of situation. Women are more concerned with the plight of people that are alive at that moment.
This is why Mrs. Wright’s predicament appeals to their emotions. Susan Glaspell was a feminist, and her feminist stance is further exemplified in her portrayal of women’s intelligence in case when Mr. Peters, the sheriff, and Mr. Henderson, the county attorney, are investigating the murder. They move all over the house. They are convinced that Mrs. Peters is the murderer. The only remaining piece of evidence is the motive behind the murder.
The men do not consider the possibility that Mrs. Wright might have been in a psychological distress. Consequently, the sheriff and the county attorney miss all the important pieces of evidence.
On the other hand, the women do not move much. This is an effort by the author to express the docile nature of feminism. They uncover compelling evidence without having to score the house. Feminism is portrayed as a superior characteristic as compared to masculinity. Throughout her life, Glaspell remained true to her view regarding feminism
Allusion to Glaspell’s life
The drama, Trifles, slightly alludes to Susan Glaspell’s life. She was born in a relatively rural setting. This is portrayed in the characters of the play as Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s neighbor, Mr. Hale, is a farmer. This means that the neighborhood is obviously located in a rural setting.
There are as well other instances that refer to her life albeit with a slight difference. Although her life was not as sad as that of Mrs. Wright, she drew a parallel between Mrs. Wright and herself. Just as Susan formed a drama group in her youth, Mrs. Wright sings in a choir in her youth too. However, her talent is not exploited due to the life led with her husband. It is apparent that her marriage has a significant influence on her talent.
Susan’s first husband, George Cook, was a farmer. He had a passion for literature, and did farming as a means of earning an income (Fetterley 74).
He adopted this lifestyle since he believed that creative writing should not have been done for financial gain. In several screenplays for Trifles, Susan would play the part of Mrs. Hale, the wife of the farmer. This shows that Susan Glaspell could relate her life to the plot of the play. She pictured herself as a part of the female gender suppressed by the males due to the women’s seemingly passive nature.
The literature was Susan Glaspell’s way of expression, as seen in the play. All men in the play look down on women. They agree that Minnie Foster is not a good housekeeper (Bigsby 54). This is an assumption based on the dirty utensils found in the house, the dirty garments and a table that is halfway cleaned. County attorney and the sheriff do not consider the contribution of Mr. Wright to the situation in the house.
Apart from several instances in the play that have allusion to Susan’s experiences in her life, the whole play also alludes to a real life incident. When Susan became a reporter for a newspaper, she was required to report on a sensational murder case for the daily. She created the play in the perspective of the case she had reported. The part of the play where Harry confirmed that Mr. Wright was dead can be directly related to the murder case she had investigated.
The play, Trifles, revolves around the role of women in the society and oppression of females by men (Mael 12). The sheriff and the county attorney do not adequately engage the two women in their investigation. In addition, women are likened to imprisoned people who eventually end up in a bad situation.
Mrs. Wright led a sad life with her husband and was finally imprisoned on suspicion of murdering her husband. Like the bird she kept, she spent her life in a cage until she was eventually killed. Susan Glaspell had a similar experience where she had a troubled marriage and eventually lost he husband. This is all a part of the author’s feminist agenda (Mael 4). Her plays are aimed at sensitizing the female audience of their situation.
Furthermore, she encourages women to take action and fight for their rights and equality. This is why the women in the play control the course of the investigation and eventually decide to pardon Mrs. Wright on their own terms (Bigsby 38). During Susan’s time, women were not allowed to sit in the jury since they were considered unfit to give a sound judgment. For this reason, Glaspell decided to urge women to struggle for their involvement in such matters.
Clearly, Glaspell was influenced by the course and experiences of her life to write her play, Trifles. Most of the characters in the play correspond to real life characters. For example, her husband, Cook, corresponds to Mr. Wright, an honest but unemotional person as Glaspell’s husband was also honest and cooperative.
He helped Susan to build her career and become a prominent writer and playwright. However, the couple had constant differences in their views on life, so Cook decided to start a new career away form Glaspell’s drama activities. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Wright represent different phases and situations in Susan’s life. Her appearance is similar to that of Mrs. Wright regarding dressing and vigor. Such biographical aspects of the play Trifles are also evident in other works by Susan Glaspell.
Alkaley-Gut, Karen. Jury of Her Peers: The Importance of Trifles. 2002. PDF File. Web.
Ben-Zvi, Linda. “‘Murder, She Wrote’: The Genesis of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” Theatre Journal 44.2(1992): 141-162. Print.
Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. Print.
Fetterley, Judith. Provisions: A Reader from 19th–Century American Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Print.
Mael, Phyllis. “”Trifles”: The Path to Sisterhood.” Literature/Film Quarterly 17.4 (1989): 281-84. Print.
Makowsky, Veronica A. Susan Glaspell’s Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.
Smith, Beverly A. “Women’s Work – “Trifles”: The Skill and Insights of Playwright Susan Glaspell”. International Journal of Women’s Studies 5.2 (1982): 172-–84. Print.
“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell and Solidarity Between Women Essay (Critical Writing)
In Susan Glaspell’s Trifles one of basic themes is solidarity between women. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters show compassion towards Mrs. Wright, who is accused of killing her own husband. This points to an unconditional and sincere support of representatives of their gender.
While men treat Mrs. Wright as a cruel killer, women found a way to justified her from a solely woman’s position: “I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be — for women” (Glaspell 323). Moreover, the women decide to hide the evidence (a dead bird). When the men asked about the bird, women replied: “We think the — cat got it” (Glaspell 320), even though they knew that there could be no cat: “… she didn’t have a cat. She’s got that feeling some people have about cats — being afraid of them” (Glaspell 318).
Among the characters, I found Mrs. Hale very interesting. Mrs. Hale shows a rare ability to sense the emotions of other people; in addition, she is very compassionate and sentimental. Mrs. Hale even feels guilty of not helping Mrs. Wright when she needed her: “I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes” (Glaspell 319).
One of the central issues opened in Ibsen’s A Doll House is confrontation of selfishness and altruism. Torvald, a personification of selfishness and narcissism, cares only about his reputation.
Thus, he fires Krogstad because he dares to “adopt a familiar tone with me” (Ibsen 190). In addition, he views himself as a savior and master of his wife, who is totally helpless without him. At the same time, Nora is fighting her own dissatisfaction with her life, and is even ready to sacrifice it in the name of her husband’s reputation, which is a paramount example of altruism.
Undoubtedly, Nora is the most important character of the play, as the whole story is connected to her inner world, her emotions and discoveries. The culmination of the play, when Krogstad’s letter to Torvald is revealed, is also a culmination moment of Nora’s life, as she realizes the true nature of a person she spent her life with: “It was tonight, when the wonderful thing did not happen; then I saw you were not the man I had thought you were” (Ibsen 249).
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the most popular works ever written by Oscar Wilde. One of the themes discussed in this incomparably ironic play is the issue of hypocrisy.
Two young men, Jack and Algernon, have true feelings for women and sincere intentions to win their hearts, but these benevolent principles compel them to behave not honest enough to even reveal their true names. Jack’s attempt to catch Algernon lying points to his pretentious honesty and morality: “My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist.
It produces a false impression” (Wilde 261). In fact, at the end of the play it occurs that revealing one’s nature and being himself is the only condition needed for reaching the target. As for the character that I found very interesting, it is Gwendolen, Jack’s fiancé. Her elitism, arrogant tone and whims prevented Jack from showing his real face. She always points to the class differences: “I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade.
It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different” (Wilde 295); “Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays” (Wilde 310). Even in the end, when Jack’s true identity is revealed, the only condition of Gwendolen’s love to him is him being named Earnest (another whim). All in all, I think Gwendolen is a special and well-designed character.
A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry, which discusses a number of themes. From my point of view, one of the most important issues covered by the play is the conflict of expectations.
Thus, Walter expects to become a successful businessman and provider of his family: “I want so many things that they are driving me kind of crazy” (Hansberry 479), but his dreams are juxtaposed to Mama’s wish to live a stable and honest life. Beneatha wants to become a doctor, but this expectation is confronted by the racial prejudices and financial hardship, which makes her sarcastic and disappointed: “…forgive me for ever wanting to be anything at all!” (Hansberry 482).
As for the most important character in the play, I believe it is Mama. She is a personification of wisdom, rationality, and care. She tries to find a balance between her obligations in the family, her own dreams, and the dreams of other family members. She also seems to be the only character in the play who realizes that money does not hold the key to all human needs: “Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life – now it’s money” (Hansberry 471).
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. In:The Seagull Reader: Plays. 2nd ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print
Hansberry, Lorraine. Raisin in the Sun. In:The Seagull Reader: Plays. 2nd ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll House. In:The Seagull Reader: Plays. 2nd ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print
Wilde, Oscar. Importance of Being Earnest. In:The Seagull Reader: Plays. 2nd ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print
Feminist Connotations In Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” Essay
Susan Glaspell was an active feminist in her time, so one may read her work through this lens. The play –Trifles – has numerous feminist connotations. It is a call to reexamine the value of women in a patriarchal society; through their central role in the drama, the female characters challenge traditional notions about women’s perspective and value.
The value of women
The men in the play enter the Mr. Wright’s house with a fixed mind. They take pride in their role as professionals, and use this background to analyze the murder scene (Glaspell 1043). Their rigidity explains why they did not identify Mr. Wright’s murderers. Conversely, the women entered the Wrights’ house with an open mind. They had no professional titles or legal obligations. In fact, they had come to the premises in order to collect Mrs. Wright’s personal effects.
However, these women’s way of knowing was not just different from the men’s; they had a practical way of applying it to discover something useful. While the men analyzed most of the conventional areas of crime-scene investigation, the women used their knowledge to consider Mrs. Wright’s entire marriage. They had a holistic view of the crime, yet the men only focused on one point in time.
When they stumbled upon a canary that had been strangled in the same way as Mr. Wright, they connected the dots and realized that Minnie was the murderer. Their lowly status gives them an upper hand in the investigation because they have no expectations to meet. The women’s perspective allows them to redefine themselves in readers’ perspectives. They eventually emerge as winners at the end of the play.
The society in which Trifles is set devalues women’s opinions. It is a patriarchal one that only holds men’s contributions in high regard. Such attitudes demean the way society operates.
Professionals do not function effectively because they push away matters that involve women. In the end, these biased individuals end up hurting themselves. The author wanted to challenge these thoughts by illustrating that the female perspective could solve problems or enrich lives. In essence, Susan Glaspell was using her play to engage in feminist criticism of her society.
One should note that feminist inclinations were not alien to the playwright. She was an active feminist who supported several organizations. Heterodoxy was one such entity; it consisted of 25 women. Their intention was to promote the freedom of women in all spheres of life. The author grew up in a conservative community but her exposure as a journalist awakened her to the plight of women in her society.
Not only were they landless, but they had no right to vote or participate in public discourse. The author was dissatisfied with the unequal power relations between men and women in marriage. Glaspell decided that she would use her writings to advance this cause. In fact, the disempowering relationship between men and women is evident in the deceased marriage. Mr. Wright, like a number of other men in that society, silenced his wife during their marriage.
She was a highly talented individual that could have experienced personal fulfillment if she had exploited this talent (Glaspell 1047). Her husband exerted negative control over her because he devalued her. The power relationship at the time was inclined towards men. Mr. Wright’s patriarchal attitudes could not allow his wife to have a life of her own. The writer wanted to highlight how this attitude could backfire in the form of extreme events like murder.
Perhaps one of the ways in which Susan Glaspell challenged society’s view of women was through her subject matter. ‘Trifles’ is a play about a woman who kills another human being. This subject has always been a source of fascination even for real-life investigators. When the killer is female and she kills a man, then this elicits fear in male audiences. Men react so strongly to such occurrences because they defy society’s expectations of femininity.
Society assumes that women epitomize the values of passivity and moderation. Therefore, when they vent out their frustrations on other people, through murder, then these expectations are crushed. In the play, Glaspell wanted to challenge cultural stereotypes of women. Susan wanted to erase the myth that women would always take the injustices that came their way by illustrating that women could also kill. She focused on a controversial subject so as to elicit strong reactions from her audiences.
The key characters in the play were women. They did not just participate in the play, but they drove the events in the narration. Conversely, the men in the play appear to exist merely for the purpose of proving that patriarchy has its limitations. The male characters are oblivious to women’s ability to commit crimes because they presume that passivity is feminine and action, even in the form of crime, is masculine.
This closed-mindedness impairs their ability to solve the case. The author had feminist intentions because the female characters manage to do what the men could not. Glaspell has taken on a controversial subject and shown that the patriarchal order is not the best solution.
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol D. Ed. Paul Lauter. Houghton: Mifflin, 2006. 1041-1050. Print.