The Force of Female Liberation

August 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

The male-dominated society of the early 1900’s was thriving during the time that Susan Glaspell was writing ‘Trifles’, her one-act play. Women did not have the right to vote and had severely limited opportunities in the professional arena. They were expected to remain autonomous, subservient to their husbands, and bear children. In many ways, men viewed women as objects with no personal goals, interests, original thoughts or intellectual freedom. One of the major themes that Susan Glaspell touches on in ‘Trifles’ is the legitimacy of a woman’s fight for her personal freedom. From the murder of John Wright to the decision to withhold information from law enforcement, the actions and dialogue of the play’s female characters embody the theme of effective female empowerment. Minnie Wright’s decision to murder her husband represents the consequential and unyielding nature of a woman’s desire for liberation. We learn that Minnie, whose maiden name is Foster, was a lively and fun choir singer who cherished her singing pet canary before her marriage to John Wright. However, her overprotective husband abruptly put a stop to all the activities that made Minnie happy, making her feel trapped in a loveless, oppressive union. Her extreme actions show her ultimate rejection of the lifestyle her husband imposes upon her. Minnie’s desire to be free of her patriarchal chains override her concern about the consequences of her actions. In Chapter 8 ‘Writing About Literature’, Edgar Roberts asserts that “characters and their actions can often be equated with certain ideas and values” (127). This is true in the case of Minnie Wright’s battle for her independence. Deciding to take fate into her own hands, she kills her husband in the same way he killed her adored bird: strangulation. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, when speaking of Mrs. Wright, ruminate about the conditions that may have influenced her drastic decision to murder her husband. MRS. PETERS. […] I’ve seen [John Wright] in town. They say he was a good man. MRS. HALE. Yes-good; he didn’t drink. And kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him-Like a raw wind that gets to the bone (397-398). It is through this dialogue that the audience gets a true sense of how John Wright’s cold, callous character emboldened Minnie’s desire for liberation, turning it into an impressive force. Although Minnie does not ever appear in the play, the audience gets a sense of how utterly miserable and desperate she was in her marriage after her husband took away her independence and identity. In the character of Mrs. Wright, Glaspell creates a radical and inspired female rebel who best exemplifies the play’s theme. The female desire to gain freedom and independence can manifest into an unstoppable, and in this case, deadly, force, especially if a woman is intensely oppressed. The conversations between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters support ‘Trifles” overriding theme: a woman’s fight for her independence. Throughout the play, these two characters consistently express sympathy towards Minnie Wright. At first, they express this sympathy lazily as they pore over her possessions and even try to help sew her quilt. However, the more the two women continue their conversations, the stronger their loyalties towards Minnie become as they realize the true value of women banding together to achieve independence from men. One conversation comes shortly after Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover Minnie’s birdcage:MRS. HALE. …But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I-I-wish I had.MRS. PETERS. But of course you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale-your house and your children.MRS. HALE. I could’ve come. I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful- and that’s why I ought to have come. […] I wish I had come over to see Minnie Foster sometimes. I can see now-MRS. PETERS. Well, you mustn’t reproach yourself, Mrs. Hale. Somehow we just don’t see how it is with other folks until-something comes up (397).Both women regret that they did not do enough to help their fellow woman, who was struggling to find peace of mind in her marriage before her situation became unfixable. They feel that they have somehow betrayed their own gender by not taking the initiative to break free themselves, and also realize that by doing nothing, they have succumbed to the male-dominated society. Their own marriages are similar Minne’s, which clearly drove her over the edge. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters regret that they could not save Minnie from her life of oppression and isolation, and they resolve to atone for the lapse by helping her now.In compensation for their neglect, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters withhold the evidence of the play’s central murder mystery from the Sheriff and County Attorney. This is the ultimate display of the female empowerment against a patriarchal society. Throughout the play, the Sheriff and County Attorney pride themselves on their powers of detection and logical reasoning to solve the crime that has brought them to the Wright house. However, it is the two women who discover the “smoking gun”: a dead canary in a box that the two men had dismissed as a trifling distraction. From this clue, Mrs. Hale and Mrs Peters deduce that Minnie Wright was likely fully responsible for her husband’s murder, the crime the men are trying to solve. However, because the Sheriff and County Attorney are consistently disrespectful and misogynistic towards them, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters become reluctant to reveal the crucial evidence they find. MRS. PETERS. My, it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us. Wouldn’t they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a – dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with-with-wouldn’t they laugh! MRS. HALE. [Under her breath] Maybe they would-maybe they wouldn’t (399). Mrs. Hale realizes that appropriate justice in this case would entail punishing everyone who had neglected and isolated Minnie Wright, including the men of the law. In a time when law and order were crucial to the functioning of 20th Century society, withholding information from the authorities would have been rather far-fetched, especially in a case where a woman was the culprit. When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters realize that their alliance with Minnie is more important than the concept of patriarchal duty and justice, Mrs. Hale puts the box with the dead canary in her pocket, hiding the indicting evidence from the overbearing men. The Sheriff and County Attorney are searching Minnie’s house to search for clues to solve the murder, and without any evidence, they will fail to serve their precious justice. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters’ decision is the “nail in the coffin” of this case, because Minnie cannot be indicted without the evidence. Their actions prove the power of a woman’s quest for liberation.From the dialogue between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to the implied actions of the play’s female protagonist, Glaspell suggests that when a woman feels the slightest bit of hope for liberation from an oppressive society or individual, she is capable of wielding unstoppable force. Minnie Wright struggled to maintain a sense of peace and happiness in her marriage to John Wright, and was ultimately faced with an extreme decision. She took action despite what society expected of her. Minnie’s quest for liberation bubbles over in the cold-blooded murder of her spouse. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters’ rebellion manifests itself in their methodical and strategic decision to withhold crucial evidence. Glaspell’s play presents the idea that when women discover the possibility of liberation from the institutionalized male superiority, it can turn into a consequential force of nature.

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