"Trifles" by Susan Glaspell: Early Feminism at Work

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Let me begin by first stating that I enjoyed this play for what it was. I found it highly entertaining. Having said that, it was quite obvious to me during the initial reading that the author, Susan Glaspell, used some of the characters and their actions in her play to make some points that are in line with the way that many early feminists thought. Let us first discuss the men in the play. The Sheriff and Mr. Hale, throughout the entire play, address the woman in an almost mocking tone. When the women bring up Mrs. Wright's concern for her jarred fruit, the Sherrif spews forth the line, "Well, can you beat that women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves" (394). In response to this, Mr. Hale chimes in, "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles" (394). These lines hint at the notion that anything and everything that women concern themselves with are far less important than matters to which the men attend. The County Attorney, Mr. Henderson, is a bit more interesting than the other two men. Where the author used the OLDER men in the play to represent the way that many men from previous generations in the real world felt about women, she used the YOUNGER man and his kinder, more understanding words and actions toward the women to comment on how the younger generations are warming slightly to the idea that women are equals. I enjoyed the line in which Henderson utters, "And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies" (394) in response to the comment that it is hard work being a farmwife because it was a little odd to hear in a piece set in that period. Now, on to the women: Mrs. Peters, the Sheriff's wife, represents the generations of older women as well as the younger women who are used to the idea of being seen as inferior to men and are generally 'ok' with it. Several times throughout the play, Mrs. Peters drops line like, "Of course they've got awful important things on their minds" (397) and the side note even states that this line, which is in defense of the men's actions, is said in an apologetic manner. Mrs. Peters, up until the end of the play, is also adamant about the letter of the law being followed, despite her deep sympathies with Mrs. Wright. One must stop and consider whether she is just a legal eagle or if she fears what will happen to her if she meddles in one of her husband's investigations. Mrs. Hale, who at the beginning of the work is described as "larger" (392) and "comfortable looking" (392), represents the average, modern-day (at least in the author's lifetime), every-woman. She is still very clearly portrayed as a woman through her slightly hesitant and scared movements about the house, but Mrs. Hale speaks  about the men in such a different manner than Mrs. Peters and also relates so whole-heartedly to Mrs. Wright's plight of being stuck in a happiless marriage that one cannot ignore the feminist undertones in her dialogue. Mrs. Hale's penultimate moment of feministic fervor comes at the top of page 400 when she delivers the line, "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 so close together and we live far apart." I take this line as meaning that there is a problem in the world for women, the fact that they are not being seen as equal to men, and that women all over the country are aware of it, but they do nothing to change it. All the women are living under the same unfair circumstances, but they feel like they are alone and without any allies because they will not unite and stand together for their common good.

4 Comments

Josie Rush said:

I like that you called attention to the female unity, whatever the motive. *That*, more than anything else, is a sign of feminism to me.

Jessica Orlowski said:

Cody! I like how you brought up the "We live so close together and we are far apart." Speaking generally in terms of the play, it could be said that Mrs. Hale was referring to the differences between herself and Mrs. Peters (did you notice how different these two characters were in regards to their viewpoints on.. well.. basically everything?) I like how you put it, though. There is some underlying meaning that suggests a wide chasm between women and men. Also notice that all the clues that proved Mrs. Wright's guilt were in the kitchen, a place to which men would NEVER venture at that time.

Cody Naylor said:

Thanks, Josie. I agree. Jess, I did notice the large difference between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. I think that Mrs. Peters represents the more repressed and almost stereotypically refined women of that time while Mrs. Hale represents the slightly more rebellious (at least against traditional conventions of the time) women. I do like how at the end of the play though the two different women decide to stick together in defense of Mrs. Wright and do not tell the men about the bird. UNITY! lol

Cody, can you blog a reaction to Roberts Ch 3?

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