Feminism in the Works of an American Author: a Short Description the Trifles
Feminist criticism examines whether the political, economic, social and psychological oppression of women have been enhanced or undermined. Based on the play “Trifles” written by Susan Glaspell, she had criticised the treatment of women in the patriarchal society as one of the earliest feminist critics when even the first wave of feminism was not being done. This short play was about a murder case that happened at John Wright’s house where the men were investigating the murder case while the women were only allowed to handle the “Trifles” which men thought it was unimportant so as the role of females. However, the writer showed an ending with irony when the women who were taken lightly by the men were the one with supreme intelligence. They solved out the mystery of John Wright’s death by looking at the most insignificant things which in some ways, also projected their level of intelligence did not aligned with the status that were given by then men. The writer had used few issues that revolves around theme of oppression towards women which the writer had used based on the feminist theory.
The first issue is the stereotyping on the roles on women. ‘Women cannot be simply depicted and classified as either angels or demons brainless housewives or eccentric spinsters. Such characterizations must be continually identified and then challenged’. The stereotype of women’s characters and roles in the society had limited women to take care of their husbands and becoming a good housewives. “Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.” Mr Hale had been trying to say that the roles of women as housewives had led them to only care about “preserves” which was considered as worthless thing if it was compared to what the men were doing, investigating for the case of murder which seemed to be a much more noble and important job. However, the intelligence of women had eventually surpassed men as in the end, the most insignificant things in the house which were trifles to them, were the key to solve the case. “She is asked to identify with a selfhood that defines itself in opposition to her; she is required to identify against herself”. Furthermore, women had also lost their role of identity as themselves when they were married to men. This can be seen when the county attorney said that ‘a sheriff’s wife is married to the law’. It showed that when women’s roles was determined by their husband when Mrs Peterss said to Mr Hale that ‘Mrs. Hale, the law is the law’. When Mrs Peterss was married to a sheriff, she was expected to follow the law which can be seen from what County Attorney said to her “For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law” which had completely denied her identity of herself and can only be known as the sheriff’s wife.
The next issue is superiority of men towards women. “Power that marriage puts in the hands of men”. The status of men and women were not equal as men are often the dominant in the family which led them to feel superior about themselves when they were the one who were earning the income for the family. Men did not showed any sign of respect through their act and speech with all the females in the play. When Sheriff said that “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!” The men laughed, the women looked abashed. Sheriff was being sarcastic towards the women even though Mrs Peterss was his wife. This had showed that the men showed no respect towards the concern of the females through degrading women through their speech and women did not had chances to fight back as stated by Judith, “Ownership of women is invoked as the index of power”. Men at that era of time seemed to see women as object rather than lovers. This can be seen when the play continued, we can see from the conversation between Mrs Hale and Mrs Peterss, “She come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and fluttery. How she did change.”The superiority of Mr Wright had led him to kill the bird of Minnie Wright which showed that he might had also stopped Minnie from going to church from singing which changed his wives from a cheerful person to a killer of her husband.
Trifles by Susan Glaspell: Summary & Analysis
In Susan Glaspell’s short play Trifles, the reader is met with the ongoing case of John Wright’s murder. One moral that the play depicts is that women and men see things differently. According to the male characters, the women only care about issues that have no importance to the crime. On the contrary, anything that is important to the men is automatically deemed more significant. The underlying message Glaspell is describing is the importance of gender in Trifles and how each gender views the information present, or rather not present, in the crime investigation involving Wright’s death.
The setting of the short play is a farmhouse where the investigation took place. The characters include the county attorney, the local sheriff, Mrs. Peters, and the neighbor, Mr. Hale, who discovered John Wright’s dead body. Wright was murdered by being strangled to death with a rope in his own bed. As the investigation continues, the sheriff, attorney, Mr. Hale and Ms. Peters discuss their findings in the kitchen. It is ultimately stated that there was not anything of significance in the kitchen to document, and the sheriff brings up the fact that there are just “kitchen things”. Among the mess, Mrs. Peters comments on the peculiar nature of Mrs. Wright’s fruit, to which the sheriff immediately invalidated her observation by questioning why she worries about the fruit. “I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about,” to which Hale replies, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles”. It is implied through this scene and also throughout the short play that the men and women see information from the investigation differently.
Men and women see the world differently, and this affects how they process information at any given time. As Elkes states, “In Trifles, we are confronted with very clear gender definitions: Men and women have their own spheres, and they each follow their own ethical and moral standards. Men stand for the rational, objective, professional world”. With women being the opposite. The court attorney begins looking for possible suspects, but doesn’t really stop to consider if there was even a motive for John’s strangling. It is implied that John was heavily abusive to wife, often letting his anger get the best of him and gives further reason to believe that men have power over women in this play. Elke further explains, ‘However, nothing gave Wright the right to dominate and terrorize his wife, Minnie. According to Mrs. Hale, the Wrights’ neighbor, Wright was a harsh man, and his moods and possible violence caused Minnie’s spirit to be subdued”.
Grose discusses a major point, even the names of the female characters have something to do with the way women are seen by men”. Glaspell does not give these women first names or maiden names, the lack of which emphasizes their subordinate roles to their husbands; the women seemingly have no identity apart from their spouses”. As it is implied, Grose explains that these women in the short play lack identity except when it comes to being wives of the men. Glaspell only gives females “Mrs” in front of their names to easily match them with their husbands, it can be seen why Grose thinks that this is a sign of gender superiority. “The males’ dominance is immediately apparent from the play’s opening. As the men prepare to leave the kitchen and go upstairs to see where the body was found, the sheriff assures Henderson, ‘’Nothing here but kitchen things” neatly classifying the kitchen as a woman’s place and necessarily of minimal importance”.
The men of this short play seem more interested in looking for clues that would lead them directly to the killer, like a weapon or anything to prove a clear explanation as to Wright’s death. The Sheriff and County Attorney completely bypass the multiple clues that would have led them to the solution earlier. As Holstein explains,”The men operated from an ethos of self-reliance and competition and therefore strove to be first with a quick, firm answer”. Men and women perceive things differently as it has been implied by Glaspel, and the detectives completely dismissed any sort of information that was present in the kitchen during the initial investigation. On the other hand, the women pay attention to the “trifles” the men believed wasn’t worth the second thought. “Women on the other hand valued cooperation and worked to interconnect, taking time to make up their minds. Such behavior was ‘dismissed as indecisive” instead of being understood as a separate model that promoted integrated thinking”. Holstein explains the women’s choice to work together to uncover many other clues the detectives missed.
“The women in this society are seen as the trifles, which has no importance. Only found only in the kitchen. They do not seem to be helpful, but men are seen as crucial according to what they do by stirring up tension and drama, which reveals the differences between the two narratives the woman and the man”. She argues centrally on the roles of a woman in the society, how perspectives and knowledge are valued in some particular means.”The way women and men view the crime is very different. The women know who the killer from the evidence they saw in the kitchen, but due to them going through similar abuse in the society decides to cover up for their friend. Men, on the other hand, does not enter the kitchen where evidence was, due to men’s ignorance”. This quote explains how the men see the kitchen as the place that women would only occupy. It gives a clear explanation as to the knowledge that the women would have, and getting to know about the evidence gave the women proper knowledge to make decisions in response to the This short play does its best to explain an issue that still plagues our society today. The way women are treated in this society, how they may possess truth or great ideals but hide their opinions and views in fear of men looking down upon them. Glaspell clearly cares about the way gender is being conveyed in socety The society ought to view women in a better way because if they had considered them, they could have first information concerning the murder case of one of them.
- Dozier, B. (2015). The Gender Conflicts in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles. Barbra Dozier’s Blog, barbradozier.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/the-gender-conflicts-in-susan-glaspells-trifles/.
- Brown, Elke. (2019). Gender in Trifles. Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature, 3-Volume Set, Facts On File, 2010. Bloom’s Literature,online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=98038&itemid=WE54&articleId=38805.
The Analysis of “Trifles” by Susan Glaspsell
Scholars have argued many things about the different point and approaches on “Trifles” by Susan Glaspsell. Different critics have had personal experiences, expressed the gender roles, and shown different motives Mrs. Wright and the other women had throughout the story.
The play begins with the immediate introduction of the five characters who make up the play: County Attorney George Henderson; Sheriff Henry Peters and his wife Mrs. Wright had cherished, an unfinished quilt, a broken and unhinged door), clues which made Minnie’s motive and the underlying theme of the play: women’s oppression at the hand of patriarchal society and male domination. Wright’s inability to keep house alongside a husband who “was a hard man” who would not make a room any cheerier for being in it (1768), not to mention a sense of guilt both women express at their failure.
Wright’s poor housekeeping in ways that irritate the women present, the county attorney leads the men upstairs so he can search the scene of the crime for a motive. Glaspell wrote several plays for the company, but Trifles is the best known and helped introduce the use of expressionist technique to the American stage. Trifles also introduces a technique that Glaspell reuses in other plays: The pivotal character never appears onstage. Wright killed her husband, but the men assume the women are still discussing housework.
The women discuss the state of the Wright household before Mr. Her deep involvement in the play’s topic led her to play Mrs. Wright feel more at ease in jail, they discuss Minnie Wright, her childhood as Minnie Foster, her life with John Wright, and the quilt that she was making when she was taken to jail. Clearly, this story haunted Glaspell, and understanding this play is central to understanding Glaspell’s career as a dramatist. However, through the process of attempting to help another woman by gathering items from her household that might comfort her in jail, they learn to identify themselves first as women and only secondarily as wives. Wright’s motive for the murder, the two women are condoning the crime, or declaring that it is not a crime, but justice for the suffering that John Wright inflicted on his wife.
Peters gather household goods for Minnie Wright, the two characters begin to reconstruct the accused woman’s life. As many commentators have noted, even today, despite the significant changes in women’s lives and opportunities since mid-century, women’s responsibilities and concerns tend to remain somewhat distinct from men’s. Clearly, as several feminist commentators have noted, the women are able to empathize with Minnie Wright because they share her experience. It is the women’s altemative path, the way they discover the evidence, that leads them to withhold it because they recognize that they are bound up in the texture of events just as Minnie Wright is. From the very outset, the men and women of the play perceive the setting, the lonely farmhouse, from diverging perspectives. Hale defends the accused women’s house- 286 THE MIDWEST QUARTERLY keeping from the county attorney’s attack. The plot of the play is not simply the women reading Minnie’s experience while the men read John’s, not simply a mural version.
Fifty years before the current women’s movement, Susan Glaspell understood how consciousness raising could empower women to take actions together which they could not take as individuals, how as women share their experiences, they could act out of a new respect for the value of their lives as women, different from, but certainly equal to, the world of men. In the novel upon which Legally Blonde is based, Amanda Brown writes a scene in which Brooke’s defense attorney softens toward her when Elle explains that Brooke has had to work for everything she has: her money, after being disowned by her parents; her body, after being called a “dumpy failure” by her own mother (146); and her marriage-as Elle says, “A woman my age who marries a man that old on the hope that he doesn’t write her out of his will and leave it all to his daughter anyway, that’s a woman who’s willing to work for her money” (136. Vivian has two lessons to learn: that her attempt at a unisex style cannot protect her from the sexism of a man like Callahan, who will always send women running for his coffee, and that Elle’s ultra-feminine style is not an invitation to or a guarantee of sexual pleasure for Callahan or any man.
The dichotomy between men and women in rural life,” an important feature of that dichotomy being the men’s “proclivity for the letter of the law” as opposed to the women’s more humane understanding of justice (“Apropos of Women and the Folk Play,” in Women in American Theatre: Careers, Images, Movements, ed. What is more, if we regard the men’s exits from the stage as marking these movements, we will recognize the first principal difference between the play and the story—namely, that the latter contains twice as many movements as the former and is therefore necessarily a more developed and complex work. Karen Alkalay-Gut observes three polarities in “Jury”: the opposition between the large external male world and the women’s more circumscribed place within the home; the attitudes of men and women generally; and the distinction between law, which is identified with “the imposition of abstractions on individual circumstances,” and justice, “the extrapolation of judg489 490 STUDIES IN SHORT FICTION from “Trifles. Uttering a hanality, she plays at being the shallow woman who helieves in superstitions, thus consciously playing one of the roles the men expect her to assume and concealing her keen intellect from them, her ability to extrapolate facts from small details. Hale is rejecting the men’s specious reasoning, complaining about the lawyer’s disdainful treatment of the kitchen things.
In “Laüstic,” after the wife states that she stands at the window to hear the nightingale’s song, the husband, apparently knowing the actual situation, orders his servants to set traps for the nightingale. But for both wives there is no escape, a point the husbands emphatically make through almost identical attacks on the songbirds. The wife in “Laüstic” (who remains nameless throughout, as do all the story’s characters) has fallen in love with a knight who lives next door and who adores her in typical courtly-lover fashion. In “Laüstic,” the wife wraps the nightingale in a piece of ornate fabric embroidered in gold and has a servant deliver the nightingale to her lover, along with a message explaining what has happened. Finally, in both works the grieving wife wraps the murdered songbird in what amounts to a beautiful coffin, an action that becomes associated with repaying the husband. Certainly a number of famous works associate songbirds with human desires to overcome confinement and limitation: Keats’s “Ode To a Nightingale,” Shelley’s “To a Skylark,” and Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium.”
The source depicts how both plays show the examination of the plot with two housewives. They both accompanying their husbands on the murder case. The story stands hard and firm on loyalty and sympathy. The women are going to always stand by the other women side because men put us down in a lot of ways. These two stories are having you questioning and putting piece together trying to figure out everything.
Women’s Right in “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell
Women’s right was not taken seriously in the United State in the nineteenth century. There were not many important roles for females in literature and plays at that time. Until the early twentieth century, several prominent female literary figures appeared. The female characters in “Trifles” are among them. “Trifles” is a play written by Susan Glaspell, who is an interesting female writer in the late nineteenth century. “Trifles” tells a story of a murder that takes place in John Wright’s farmhouse. While the men are trying to find the motive of Mrs. Wright killing her husband John Wright, the two women following the men have already found the evidence. They deliberately hide evidences to protect Mrs. Wright. For example, they do not tell the evidence they found in the sewing box until the end of the play.
Overall, there are several ways to understand the women’s decision to hide the evidence. One important reason that the two women decide to hide the evidence is the feeling of sympathy they have for Mrs. Wright. From the beginning of the play, the women start to pack up Mrs. Wright’s stuff while the men are searching for the evidence. In the middle of the play, Mrs. Hale talks about Mrs. Wright’s past and tries to express that it is not fair to Mrs. Wright; however, Mrs. Peters answers, “The law is the law” (Glaspell 7), which implies that Mrs. Peters is used to the society and obey the law that the men enact. The reason why Mrs. Peters said this is that her husband is the sheriff, who is the representation of the law. As the women find out the evidence is John Wright wrings Mrs. Wright’s bird, it reminds Mrs. Peters of her childhood that she almost hurt the boy that killed her cat.
Suzy Clarkson Holstein, who is an author and former New Zealand television personality, mentions in her article “Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s ‘Trifles’” published in 2003 that “…the details that allow them this insight-details overlooked as unimportant by the men-lead the women to understand the almost tangible oppression of Minnie Wright’s everyday life”. The two women assume what life Mrs. Wright has lived by recalling “memories of her, memories of their own lives”. They realize their experience are “similar to hers in many ways”. Thus, they are able to speculate about “her feelings and responses to the conditions of her life”. In this way, the two women resonate with Mrs. Wright. At this point, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters begins to comprehend Mrs. Wright’s feeling more profoundly: “Instead of following a predetermined schedule of inquiry, they begin, almost instinctively, to put themselves into Minnie Wright’s place”. As the event goes on, the two women get closer and realize that they got the similar experiences as Mrs. Wright, which make the two women sympathize with her. Finally, they choose to be silent. Holstein asserts, “the path these country women follow leads them directly to their choice of silence”. What’s more, Phyllis Mael at Pasadena City College refers Lawrence Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development, which states that “when women are given Kohlberg’s test, they rarely attain the sixth stage where decisions are based upon universal ethical principles but typically are stuck at the third and fourth levels where decisions are based upon contextual concerns (Gilligan, p. 18)”. This test perfectly explains that the two women are influenced by their feeling of sympathy towards Mrs. Wright. Thus, as Mael says, “because they emphasize with the missing woman, having lived similar though different lives, they make a moral decision to hide potentially incriminating evidence”. It is understandable why the women have the motive to hide the evidence, given that they share similar background, experience, and socioeconomic status, which justifies that they stick together in the end of the play.
In spite of the morality, we can also realize that gender difference also plays an important role in decision making throughout the play. Before we go ahead into how the gender differences affect women’s decisions, we need to talk about the gender development. From my personal view, male and female have different ways of thinking. Men will care more about facts and the thinking mode is more logical; however, women will concern more about how others feel and their thinking mode is more emotional. According to Mael, “the process of becoming a male or female someone in the world begins in infancy with a sense of ‘oneness’, a ‘primary identification’……; consequently, boys and girls experience individuation and relationship differently”, we recognize that there are no differences between men and women; however, in the progress of the development, “in order to become male, boys experience more strongly a sense of being ‘not female.’ For girls, because the primary parent (or other) is of the same sex, a basis for ‘empathy’ [is] built into their primary definition of self”. That is how men and women differentiate. Holstein relates “Trifles” to some of Glaspell’s other works and recognizes that because women have different backgrounds, socioeconomic status than men, they have different opinions on justice and care.
Throughout the play, the men are performing the plan that they formulate in advance to search for the evidence all over the house, except the kitchen, whereas the two women are formlessly looking around at the crime scene, mainly in the kitchen, talking about the memories of Mrs. Wright and doing what the men consider to be “trifles”. “The men patronize them and gently ridicule their concerns while the women themselves, at least at the outset, characterize their activity in the house as relatively unimportant”. Moreover, Karen Alkalay-Gut, a professor from Tel Aviv University, separates men and women in different worlds. Man’s world represents significance, “achievement of goals (solving murder, putting in telephone)”, and “knowledge of facts” will “lead to general truths and legal definitions”. In the opposite way, woman’s world stands for kitchen, trifles, caring more about housework, and “knowledge of people which make facts useful for understanding people and situations”. The play reflects that the two women themselves own the feeling of sympathy, which is the decision made by women will influenced by feelings, discussed by Mael. These obvious differences make women remain quiet at the end of the play; however, the reason causing these differences is the social system in the early twentieth century.
At the time Susan Glaspell wrote this play, the social system was men-dominant. The women didn’t have any rights to show up their ideas. As Alkalay-Gut says, one of three basic polarizations is “the opposition between the world outside, where important events occur and murder and truths are revealed, and the kitchen, where menial and mechanical work is accomplished” (2). It reveals that the society in early twentieth century is a world that men only care about important things that they think to be and women can only complete all the housework. Furthermore, according to what Alkalay-Gut writes, man’s world is outside the house, they do everything, such as running the social system and enacting laws; however, woman’s world is only in the kitchen and do all the trivial things. Throughout this play, although the women find the evidence, their status at that time makes the men depreciate their ability to find the answer. Holstein also expresses that “…Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters ultimately find power in being devalued, for their low status allows them to keep quiet at the play’s end. Much like servants and other discounted groups, the women are permitted access to knowledge because it is assumed they will not be able to make intelligent use of it”.
According to what Holstein says, “during the early part of the twentieth century, the duties and structures of women’s lives would have predisposed them to approach a problem from a different angle than that of the men” (288). Thereby, although the two women find that it is not fair for Mrs. Wright since they find she is abused at home, the men will only justify Mrs. Wright kills her husband but not she got abused. According to the play “Trifles”, the audience are notified that women at that time do not have rights to vote or attend jury. Facing male jury members, all processes conducted by men and laws made by male, Mrs. Wright has no chance to assert herself. Therefore, the two women decide to betray the men and take justice into their own hand to protect Mrs. Wright.
Overall, this play becomes very important since there is nobody trying to change the situation of gender inequality at that time, and this social problem are expected to be noticed by the people through “Trifles”. Glaspell applies her thoughts of opposing the current social system to the two women through the play to encourage the women to change their own situations. Later on, more and more women start to defend their own rights. However, nowadays, there are still some gender issues in the society, such as glass ceiling, which prevent women from achieving a higher status in some companies. For example, Hollywood’s sexual misconduct scandals that was published a few months ago. In the scandal, to get better characters in the movie, some actress in Hollywood have to accept the producers’ unreasonable request due to their higher status and power. Therefore, people should still work on the gender equality and try to eliminate the gender differences in society.
A Role of Details in Trifles Novel
How often are the small details overlooked? When will it be realized that these, supposed, insignificant things always build up to a climactic explosion? A weed in the garden, overlooked, grows to choke out the flowers, and a drop of poison kills. Perhaps, Susan Glaspell, could see a repetition of this, “big picture” mentality, and perhaps she recognized that many people only pay attention to the result of situations but fail to see what contributes to the madness. It could have been such a realization as this that drove Glaspell to write her play, “Trifles”. In the play “Trifles”, Glaspell depicts a short segment concerning a quest to find evidence against a woman who has murdered her husband. In this play, members of a small Nebraskan community gather together to examine the crime scene. Immediately, the men within the group are drawn to the place of the murder, the bedroom, but the women look around the dilapidated kitchen and find all the evidence needed to convict the murderous housewife. The twist of the tale, however, is that all the evidence is hidden within the simplistic details that the men over-look and the women decide to conceal. In the play, “Trifles”, readers began to see the importance of the small details and how they relate to the murderer, Mrs. Wright.
The very title of the play encourages the reader to observe small details which would otherwise be overlooked and equally, Glaspell intentionally places lines within the text to grab the reader’s attention and make them as aware of the trifles as the women become. Glaspell begins to do this when speaking through the characters, Mr. Henderson, the county attorney, and the sheriff, Mr. Peters. As the group of witnesses and law enforcers stand around the kitchen, Mr. Henderson says, “…You’re convinced that there was nothing important here—nothing that would point to any motive” (1860). Mr. Peters replies, “Nothing here but kitchen things” (1860). Though their words might appear to be of no consequence, the repetition of the word “nothing” becomes increasingly suspicious to the reader, especially as the tale progresses. The men are solely consumed in the place of the murder and are blinded to the details that would help them to solidify a motive which, in turn, would help them to put Mrs. Wright behind bars for good. Unlike the men, the women notice every detail around them; in fact, Mrs. Peter’s first lines in the play convey her concern for Mrs. Wrights preserves, the response to this is the Sheriff saying, “Well, you can beat the women! Held for murder and worrying about her preserves” (1860). Mr. Henderson chimes in,” I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than her preserves to worry about” (1860). After this, Mr. Hale adds, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (1860). What they all fail to see is that this attention to detail helps the women to solve the case. It almost appears as if the men are too oblivious to their surroundings, and perhaps Glaspell was intentional in this; perhaps their obliviousness is needed so that the reader might begin to take notice of each line and the tone behind it. The way that the men behave and speak about their surrounding versus how the women view the scene and speak of it, forces the reader to, at least, raise an eyebrow in response to the conversation of the characters. The way the men behave so nonchalantly about the kitchen and how attentive the women are to everything around them makes the audience question if there is indeed something important laying there in plain sight. Glaspell intentionally blinds the men so that the readers can see and become attentive to every detail in the script. With the viewpoint of the women, every movement, every word, and every thing becomes potentially important to the reader.
Every “trifle” integrated into the play is important because each trifle is a representation of Mrs. Wright. The songbird is a representation of Mrs. Wright, even Mrs. Hale believed so and said, “She—come to think of it, she was kind of like the bird herself (1865) …” Not only was the bird, itself, a representation of her, but everything else surrounding the bird; the cage, it’s death, all reflected in Mrs. Wright. Just as that bird, Mrs. Wright, was trapped in a cage, yet her prison was formed from despair and abuse (whether physical, emotional or verbal). And just as the lovely little canary, her life’s song had been choked out at the hands of her husband and she ceased to sing it any longer. As Mrs. Hale stated, “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that too” (1867). Perhaps that was why Mrs. Wright connected so much with the bird because it was everything that she was and when the song bird was taken away, that was her breaking point. But it must’ve been a slow fade to insanity, things must have been better at one time for Mrs. Wright, her quilt spoke of this. Mrs. Hale, who often appears to notice each detail in a distinctive manner, even more so than Mrs. Peters, looked at the quilt and said, “…Here this is the one she was working on, and 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! Why, it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!” (1864) The quilt reflects the change in Mrs. Wright in response to her surroundings; as a young woman she was happy, pretty, and full of joyful songs, but over time, she transformed in a dysfunctional wreck just like her quilt. Every small detail, from the bird to its cage, to its death; from the dirty dishes and dreary house to the quilt, every trifle in the story represents Mrs. Wright and helps the reader to understand her past life, her suffering, and the reasoning behind why she murdered her husband.
Each line of the play makes readers more aware of the importance of trifles. Whether the line exposes a detail or jests at it, readers begin to pay attention and in turn, they see how critical each trifle is to understanding Mrs. Wright. Though the play leaves readers to ponder whether Mrs. Wright should be punished or find freedom, every twist and turn helps the audience to, at least, understand the logic behind Mrs. Wrights decision and to connect with this character that is never seen or heard. Perhaps the intent of the play is not to make an argument as to what the outcome should be, but to look at every detail from every angle and simply try to understand. Understand, the “why” behind the action, to understand the process that builds to the result, and to understand that the smallest things, the trifles, often hold the most value.
Alienation and Isolation in Trifles, a Doll’s House and Andre’s Mother
People within society are constantly alienated from not only their own lives, but themselves, and they forget their significance as an individual. There are contradictory moments that come along that allow the person to realize the strength that is lying within them, that allow them to take off the mask they put on due to fear. Trifles by Susan Glaspell, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, and Andre’s Mother by Terrence McNally are three reality reflecting plays that examine conflicts in certain characters’ lives. Through the analyzation of the empowerment Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters experience due to their decision in protecting the imprisoned women in Trifles, the self-realization Nora wakes up to because of her husband’s inconsiderate and vulgar reaction in A Doll’s House, and the closure Cal obtains to not only his lover and Andre’s mother, but also to himself, when he finally opens up to Andre’s mother, this paper will aim to examine the struggles the characters of these plays end up going through to get out of the alienation they’ve been feeling. The important themes explored in these plays, such as sexism, belittling and manipulating others, sexual diseases, homosexuality, and the overall discrimination to people just because of them being who they are, are all themes that make these plays that much more realistic, and thus critical to examine so society can come to a better understanding of these characters’ perspectives, as well as anyone who might have perspectives such as these characters.
Trifles, a play by Susan Glaspell, was a play written in 1916. 1916 was an era within United States when women were seen as second-class citizens; they weren’t allowed to vote, attend as jury within court, were subject to domestic and verbal abuse often without anything being done about it, and were basically far from the social stance women have today (Pankhurst, 2013). Trifles, a play that tells the story of two women feeling empowered through protecting yet another woman who has been imprisoned. Throughout Trifles, the reader can see that the women aren’t comfortable and informal as the men. The women stand by the door, don’t talk much, and refer to men they probably had known all their life (since it’s implied they live in a small town) as Mr. while the men make themselves comfortable as soon as they enter into the house, the Attorney General warming himself up on the fire, the Sheriff sitting down, etc. These things represent the gender differences of that era. “While the standard polarization of human beings in a crime story is normally determined by dividing the law abiding citizens from the criminal, the characters here are soon divided on the basis of sex differences” (Alkalay-Gut, 1984). The women comment on Mrs. Wright’s fruit in a jar, which causes the Sheriff and the County Attorney to make belittling and degrading sexist comments to the woman such as “can you beat the woman”, “women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell, 1916). The mentality of the men within the play show that they care little for women’s opinions and thoughts, and find them foolish for thinking of things such as fruit preserves when Mrs. Wright is on a murder trial.
It’s shocking how no matter how disrespectful the conversation got between the Country Attorney and Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Hale didn’t allow herself to be affected by it, and even rebelled against the men dominance in society by talking back to the County Attorney’s comments. When the County Attorney seemed disgusted with the towels inside the house, commenting on how Mrs. Wright wasn’t much of a homemaker, Mrs. Hale defended Mrs. Wright by stating that there’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm, as if justifying the mess of the place. Furthermore, Mrs. Hale wisely stated that towels get dirty so easily because the men’s hands aren’t as clean as they could be, taking the blame off Mrs. Wright, and turning it towards men instead.
Mrs. Hale, who feels some remorse for Mrs. Wright, can sympathize with her when it comes to Mrs. Wright’s fruits; Mrs. Hale, imagining the daily chores of living on a farm, and the state of unhappiness within the house which she recalled from her last visit, feels bad that Mrs. Wright’s fruits will be a mess after all her demanding work in the summer. However, the men in the play, who represent the men of the society of that era, believe that the women are always concerned with trifles, hence the name of the play. The trifle things that the men are referring to is the worry Mrs. Hale has over her fruits, the singing of the canary and the happiness it provided to Mrs. Wright, the upset one gets over bad stitching, the very things that make everyone human, the feelings that people are entitled to at birth, and they are also the things that men belittle women over in this play. However, it is those very trivial things that ultimately reveal what happened in the crime scene. The trifles the women were concerned with reflects how society viewed women’s opinions and thoughts at the time, nothing but trifles.
When the women come across the wringed neck of the bird do they begin putting all the things they saw together to come up with the conclusion that Mr. Wright put the bird in the state. “It is unlikely that had either woman been alone, she would have had sufficient understanding or courage to make the vital decision, but as the trifles reveal the arduousness of Minnie’s life (and by implication of their own), a web of sisterhood is woven which connects the lives of all three enabling Mrs. Hale and Peters to counter patriarchal law, a decision particularly weighty for Mrs. Peters, who as she is reminded by the district attorney, is married to the law”. (Mael, 1989) Mrs. Peters then recalls the time when a group of boys had killed her kitten with a hatchet, and remembers the feeling of wanting to hurt him, and how she would’ve hurt him if she hadn’t been held back. Not only does this scene show how Mrs. Peters had been treated unfairly by guys before, but it also shows how she can also sympathize with Mrs. Wright. 1916 wasn’t an era such as this one when one could call up or text their friend when they’re feeling down, sad, or upset; Mrs. Wright was unhappy in her marriage, she was all alone in a house that was located far enough that no one wanted to really go out of their way to visit her, and any friends she did have turned away due to the aura of her life and her house. All this stress must’ve built up enormously for Mrs. Wright.
Mrs. Peters herself seems to fit the society of that day very well; although Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are finding important clues about the motive in the crime scene without noticing it, such as a half clean half messy counter, a quilt that had bad stitching, a bird cage with a broken hinge and door, and a bird with a wringed neck, she still believes what they’re doing is merely trifles. Mrs. Peters apologetically states that the men have awfully important things on their mind, feeling bad about the things they’re worrying about, and undermining their role within this house, which is a representative of society. The women also note how Mrs. Wright’s house has an uncheerful aura about it, and how it’s so lonesome; this symbolizes the isolation of Mrs. Wright herself. Mrs. Wright seemed to be leading an unhappy life with a husband who was generally a cold person, and it seemed that her husband got rid of the only type of joy Mrs. Wright had, her canary. The women state that Mrs. Wright used to be a cheerful woman who sang in the choir and laughed about. Comparing how Mrs. Wright used to be, and the state Mrs. Wright is described in right now, the reader can see how a life full of oppression through sexism and inequality can leave a person isolated, and hopeless, as Mrs. Wright had been.
The canary was Mrs. Wright’s source of happiness. Canaries are known to sing, and it was said that Mrs. Wright used to sing in the choir herself, when she was remembered to be happy, thus, the canary here symbolizes the past of Mrs. Wright. She most likely gets a nostalgic joy out of the canary’s songs and singing. Even if the authorities concluded that Mrs. Wright murdered her husband, which is correct, it doesn’t tell the full story of what happened there, it doesn’t tell the background that led up to that point, that allowed for a motive to build. It is only Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and all the women of that era that can understand why Mrs. Wright did what she did. It is because of this that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale decided to lie, such as saying a cat probably killed the canary when they knew the Wrights didn’t have a cat, and protect Mrs. Wright by trying to hide the motive.
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is yet another play that focuses on the gender differences between men and women in the 20th century, however, A Doll’s House brings in a much more distinct perspective than the one introduced in Trifles. A Doll’s House opens with the Nora happy and in high spirits, which quickly changes when her husband, Torvald, enters and begins to treat Nora like a child, rather than a wife, which to seem usual between them. Torvald is introduced as a character who thinks little of his wife and finds her high spirits foolish. His statements and actions reveal that he doesn’t think much of women’s thoughts, and finds them uncapable of thinking ahead, and being wise. This is further shown when Torvald then tries to soothe Nora who had gotten upset by his actions, soothing her as if someone might soothe a child. Him treating her like a child can also be seen with the nickname he gives her, squirrel; he seems to only call her that when he thinks she’s doing something stupid such as eating macaroons or sulking. Also, Tarvold always seems to lecture Nora on not mixing business with pleasure, and not having debts.
Nora herself seems to realize the child role she plays in their marriage, and enjoys doing so, as she likes the attention, being materialistic, and spoiled. “The maturity level Nora exhibits demonstrates that the relationship between Torvald and Nora is more like father and daughter than husband and wife; she whines at Torvald, exhibits poor judgment, does not care about the consequences of her actions, and immaturely shuts her ears to unpleasant thoughts, placing her hand on her mouth and exclaiming, ‘Oh! Don’t say such thing!’ when Torvald presents a hypothetical tragedy” (Wiseman, 2010). Even in the opening of Scene 1, Nora was described to be among a pile of gifts, merry and in high spirits. When her friend Linde comes over, the reader can sense how Nora is trying to prove that she’s independent. It’s the turning point of the play; finding out about Nora’s loan and her dishonesty to her husband, seeing her curiosity for the independence Linde has, her mysterious ways of hiding who the loaner is. Linde, a woman who doesn’t depend on a husband and who works hard to survive, displays many differences from Nora. Nora, trying to prove that she’s independent as Linde, reveals a secret of how she got a loan, and that it wasn’t from her father. She does this because she’s curious about what it’s like to have independence as Nora does. This being a time era when women were oppressed, it’s imaginable that a woman couldn’t take out a loan without the knowledge of her husband or father. Thus, Nora taking out the loan without telling either her husband or her father shocked Mrs. Linde. However, Nora didn’t tell Linde everything; she didn’t reveal who she received the loan from, and Linde was left guessing.
Krogstad, who is the person Nora received a loan from, seems to be some type of villain within A Doll’s House because he threatens Nora that if she doesn’t make sure he gets a promotion, he will reveal the fact she got a loan from him to her husband. Moreover, he lets her know that he’s aware she has forged her father’s signature to get the loan, and he’ll let her husband know of this as well. Krogstad only seems like a villain until he meets Linda again who sparks a redemption within him, a sort of resurrection of feelings. Krogstad seems to be the villain of the play because he seems to get a sick pleasure out of playing with Nora’s emotions. Although Linde met Krogstad to stop him from threatening Nora, and in eventuality, giving Torvald a letter that reveals the truth, Linde decided to allow Torvald to find out the truth, so Nora doesn’t need to be wanting independence anymore, but so she can be independent.
When Torvald sees the letter, he’s angry and disappointed in his wife, degrading her and insulting her, as well as her family. Torvald blames Nora’s father for passing on his horrible DNA onto his daughter (Ibsen, 1879). Although Nora took out the loan for her husband and his health, he has no remorse for her at all. Nora, who can’t emotionally handle the situation states how she’ll be leaving him and the children. Torvald is outraged and reminds Nora of her role as a wife and mother. The vulgar, ruthless, and mean-spirited reaction of Torvald finding out these news broke Nora’s spirits, but it made her stronger as well. Nora came to realize she is a wife and a mother, but before all else a human being. Her idealistic speech at the end of the play was not only a self-realization scene for Nora, but also a yearning for every other woman who is in Nora’s position to stand up for themselves, and not let the inequality go on. Linde, who works hard and seems to be the dominant role in both her friendship with Nora and her romantic relationship with Krogstad, is the initial reason as to even why Nora had a curiosity for independence. There are many shocking reactions of the audience and society of the time this play was released. It couldn’t be believed that Nora left her children, her rich husband, her comfortable home, and her lifestyle just to find herself.
Andre’s Mother is a powerful play that tells the story of a young man having to tell his deceased’s boyfriend’s mother about his death. The play opens with a group of people standing, each with a balloon in their hand, and these people are Andre’s mother, Cal, Andre’s boyfriend, Arthur, Cal’s father, and Penny, Cal’s, sister. One comes to quickly realize through Cal’s revelation that these balloons represent the soul of Andre, and as they let go of the balloons they are saying their final goodbyes to Andre, and allowing his soul to ascend up to the heavens. From Cal’s initial loss of words when he couldn’t find the words to say his goodbye to Andre, to his nostalgic memories of Andre playing Hamlet within the theater, the reader can tell that Andre and Cal had a strong bond.
Although the play’s name is Andre’s Mother, Andre’s mother, who is present in the play, doesn’t have a single line, and stays silent throughout the play; almost as if still disapproving of her son’s sexual preference, and of generally what happened to him. Penny, who let’s go of her balloon and says her goodbyes rather quickly, remembers Andre’s laugh and finds joy in its memory, probably bringing the same effect to Andre’s mother. Arthur, who as a parent understands Andre’s mother, tries to lighten her mood without avail, and let’s go of his balloon as well.
When it’s just Cal and Andre’s mother who are left with their balloons, Cal finally feels obligated to do what he promised his friend. Cal seems dumbfounded as to how Andre’s mother still can stay silent and show her disapproval, even after her son had to fight a battle against death all on his own. Cal revealed to Andre’s mother that Andre died of AIDS, and died bravely (McNallay, 1994). No matter how bravely Andre fought, he was nevertheless frightened of his mother, and her disapproval. Andre’s mother’s disapproval represents the part of society who still can’t cope with people being the way they are. Cal rants on about how it is because of these types of inconsiderate attitudes, such as the one Andre’s mother has, that there is a whole line of people who lead an unhappy life where their loved ones deny them because of how they are.
Cal referring to Andre’s mother as Lulu’s mother is a critical part of the play. It is almost as if when Cal states that Andre’s mother reminds him of Lulu’s mother does he gain the power and strength to tell her how his son died. According to Cal, Lulu’s mother was this background character is a comic strip where her name wasn’t even known. Lulu’s mother was so “anonymous in her remoteness”, and “so formidable to all her children” (McNallay, 1994). Cal referring to Lulu’s mother/Andre’s mother as anonymous is symbolizing she missed out on her son’s life, and that her disapproval of her son wasn’t worth it. Andre’s mother follows the norm of society without even knowing why; it’s because of such aimless and directionless, but extremist and close-minded beliefs and disapprovals that a society of inequality, and discrimination still exists. Instead of being there for her son, Andre’s mother chose to disapprove of his choices, and let his life pass away due to beliefs with no foundation or ground.
As can be seen, people within society are always being affected by everything that takes place around them, and even though it might be unknown to them, society shapes the people of their time. Currently, society has evolved to a point when people are more expressive, open-minded, and aware of other’s perspectives and feelings. However, such plays are still taught, are popular, and exist because so do the problems they present. The themes that were prominent in these plays such as gender discrimination, sexism, lack of feminism, homophobia, isolation, need for independence, and wanting to be a human, are all problems existent in the current society that need to be addressed to. But thanks to the contribution of plays such as Trifles, A Doll’s House, and Andre’s Mother, society was able to gain awareness and even evolve to the point it has today.
There are contradictory moments that come along that allow the person to realize the strength that is lying within them, that allow them to take off the mask they put on due to fear. Trifles by Susan Glaspell, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, and Andre’s Mother by Terrence McNally are three reality reflecting plays that examine conflicts in certain characters’ lives. Within Trifles, the analyzation of the empowerment Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters felt by lying about the evidence, thus the motive, and protecting the imprisoned women, due to knowing that it was only them who can understand why this murder could be justified, is a representation of the oppression women felt prior to the rights they had gained. The self-realization Nora wakes up to because of her husband’s inconsiderate and vulgar reaction in A Doll’s House is her wake up call that she had been living a lie and had merely been the doll of a stranger who she had three kids with; in order to rip this lie and throw the past away, she chooses to leave, and be independent, and ultimately learn and enjoy what being a human truly is. The closure Cal obtains to not only his lover and Andre’s mother, but also to himself, when he finally opens up to Andre’s mother is also the closure Andre’s mother finally gets to Andre by the kissing off that balloon and letting go. Although Andre’s mother can never fix what was broken with Andre again since he’s gone, it’s obvious she won’t be the same disapproving person any longer.
This paper aimed to examine the struggles the characters of these plays end up going through to get out of the alienation, isolation, and oppression they’ve been feeling. The important themes explored in these plays, such as sexism, belittling and manipulating others, sexual diseases, homosexuality, and the overall discrimination to people just because of them being who they are, are all themes that make these plays that much more realistic, and thus critical to examine so society can come to a better understanding of these characters’ perspectives, as well as anyone who might have perspectives such as these characters. In Trifles, the point of the story isn’t justifying Mrs. Wright murdering someone, but instead it is to tell the story of how a woman that was once happy and innocent got to that isolated and desperate point. In A Doll’s House, the point of the story isn’t justifying Nora’s forging her dad’s signature, but instead is raising awareness against the types of unhealthy relationships one can be in, with an implication at the end to stand up for oneself. In Andre’s Mother, the point isn’t making the mother feel guilty, but rather, trying to show others another perspective which they haven’t even thought of before.
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.