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.
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