Close Reading: the Language used in Trifles

MRS HALE: 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, (brushes her eyes, noticing the bottle of fruit, reaches out for it) If I was you, I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She—she may never know whether it was broke or not.

MRS PETERS: (takes the bottle, looks about for something to wrap it in; takes petticoat from the clothes brought from the other room, very nervously begins winding this around the bottle. In a false voice) 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!

In the beginning of this piece of dialogue, Mrs. Hale discusses her individual emotions and experience. She uses phrases such as “I might have known” and “I know how things can be.” However, this dialogue changes when Mrs. Hale distinguishes that she knows how things are specifically for women. At this moment, the play’s dialogue begins to use more communal language rather than how the women feel as unique individual people. Mrs. Hale discusses how “we live close together and we live far apart” and how “we all go through the same things, it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.” The play highlights that all women go through similar experiences. Furthermore, the play not only focuses on a “we,” which represents the female community, but also a “them.” Mrs. Peters talks about how “the men can’t hear us.” While she is talking about the county attorney and the sheriff, she does not refer to them by their names but rather their gender. In addition, Mrs. Peters repeats twice how “wouldn’t they just laugh.” In this line, the word “they” is repeated similarly to how “we” was used earlier by Mrs. Hale. Since “we” was used to refer to women in general and not just Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, the word “they” represents men in general and not just the county attorney and the sheriff. Through the transition of characters using “I” to “we” and “them,” Susan Glaspell is able to show a gender-based distinction of the experiences of Minnie Foster in the play Trifles.

Source: Literary Close Reading

A God and their creations.

Throughout this play, there is a common theme of humanity’s relationship with God. In the beginning of the play, the Domin explains why robots were created. While there were financial incentives later, the first robots were created to replace God. As Domin states:

He wanted to become a sort of scientific substitute for God. He was a fearful materialist, and that’s why he did it all. His sole purpose was nothing more nor less than to prove that God was no longer necessary.

Ultimately, if humans are able to create new life in their own image, then they become the new God. In the beginning, the robots appear and talk like humans, but they lack the ability to understand death and empathy. However, the robots begin attacking in Act II, causing the scientist to call upon their own creator again. One scientist prayed:

Oh, Lord, I thank thee for having given me toil. Enlighten Domin and all those who are astray; destroy their work, and aid mankind to return to their labors; let them not suffer harm in soul or body; deliver us from the Robots and protect Helena, Amen.

It is at this moment that the humans finally understand what it is like to be God because their creation is now fully humanized and a reflection of themselves. Similarly, the robots go back to the humans and ask them to help them because they are unable to create new robots. As we examine the relationship between humans and robots, we are able to see the relationship between God and humans. While the humans are scared of their creation and aren’t pleased with them, the scientists still admire their creation. Likewise, this play is a testament showing that perhaps God is afraid of our destruction as well despite being still proud of our abilities.

Source: RUR (Čapek)

Humanizing Robots

As someone who had never heard of RUR, I was fascinated by the fact that the first story about a robot revolution does not simply show robots going from kind helpers to evil monsters. In fact, it’s the story how robots become more human-like and sentient, as they want to overtake their creators and form their own rules. It’s interesting how a humanized robot does not at all mean a good robot. While the audience of the play may not enjoy the idea of the end of the human race, I wonder if they empathize with the desire to overthrow a society that does not respect them. However, I am curious, if the robots develop their own thoughts and opinions and there are even robots made out of human flesh, what makes them truly any different than humans?

Source: Context for RUR

Foster and The Proposal

In the Intro and Chapter 1 of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster shares the thought process of an educated reader and the types of questions all readers should ask themselves, such as:

Everything is a symbol of something, it seems, until proven otherwise. We ask, Is this a metaphor? Is that an analogy? What does the thing over there signify?

In Chekhov’s The Proposal, a lengthy conversation occurs about who owns the property of the Oxen Meadows. Lomov, a man who came to ask Natalya to marry him, believes his family owns the meadows. Natalya, on the other hand, adamantly believes that her family owns the meadows and the two begin to intensely fight. However, the conversation changes once Natalya learns that Lomov wanted to marry her and she immediately gives up her argument. As a advanced reader, it is vital to focus on the changes of a story, and see what they signify. In this situation, the meadows represent Natalya’s vehement beliefs and ultimately, her individualism. She is willing to fight and insult Lomov based on principle and because she knows she is right. However, when she learns that she is wanted for marriage, she is willing to give up her argument and say that he is right even though she does not believe it. In that moment, her change of attitude shows that she values a hand in marriage more than she values her individual ideas. However, the story ends with Natayla still arguing with Lomov over a new issue, whose dog is better. This shows that despite Natayla’s desire to become submissive and married, her individualistic ideas will still come out and she still has a need to win a fight based on principle. While the arguments about land and dogs may seem silly, they both represent the clash of personalities within the engaged couple. Perhaps Chekhov is trying to show that even marriage cannot fix a relationship if the two people are not willing to submit their individual ideas for the sake of the relationship. Through applying Foster’s search for the significance of each action in a story, the reader is able to discover and focus on the symbols and significance of the overarching story.

Source: Foster (Intro

Love Hurts

In the Proposal by Chekhov, an older man, Lomov, visits a woman, Natalya, and her father in order to ask for her hand in marriage. In the beginning of the play, Lomov tells Natalya’s father:

The great thing is, I must have my mind made up. If I give myself time to think, to hesitate, to talk a lot, to look for an ideal, or for real love, then I’ll never get married. … Brr! … It’s cold! Natalya Stepanovna is an excellent housekeeper, not bad-looking, well-educated. … What more do I want? But I’m getting a noise in my ears from excitement. [Drinks] And it’s impossible for me not to marry. … In the first place, I’m already 35–a critical age, so to speak. In the second place, I ought to lead a quiet and regular life.

In this dialogue, it is obvious that Lomov does not love Natalya. However, if he waits for “real love,” he may never become married and live the quiet life that he wants.

However, as he talks more with Natalya, they immediately begin to bicker. The story ends with Lomov, after suffering many heart palpitations and fights with Natalya, saying:

Oh, now I understand … my heart … stars … I’m happy. Natalya Stepanovna. … [Kisses her hand] My foot’s gone to sleep…

This quote represents the transition of how Lomov feels about Natalya. While he did not receive the serenity he wanted, the important part of this line is the fact that he states that “now [he] understands.” This line shows that Lomov now knows what love is, as he finally feels its fighting and exciting nature. These two passages of the play are important because they teach the audience how love changes people. Chekhov shows the audience that while love may not create peace and tranquility, it does create happiness.

Source: The Proposal (Chekhov)

The Trifles of Birds and Happiness

In Trifles by Susan Glaspell, two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peterson, contemplate whether or not to surrender evidence supports the idea that their neighbor, Minnie Foster, had killed her husband. In this one act play, there is some controversy whether or not it is right or wrong that Minnie kills her husband due to the fact that her husband killed her bird. However, the interesting aspect to this play is how the women do not focus on the justification of murder itself, but rather how much pain was Minnie in when she decided to kill her husband and whether or not her actions are understandable.

After learning that the bird was dead, Mrs. Peterson discusses her own pain when she learned that her kitten was killed as a child. She states:

If they hadn’t held me back I would have—(catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly)—hurt him.

When discussing her own emotional response to her deceased pet, Mrs. Peterson empathizes with the pain of Minnie. She understands how a person could hurt someone after learning that something they loved and deeply valued is dead.

Mrs. Hale, on the other hand, believes that Minnie was in pain because she had no children. She imagines what life would have been to suddenly have life and excitement around, only for it to be taken away.

MRS HALE: (her own feeling not interrupted) If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful—still, after the bird was still.

What is morally right and wrong isn’t important to the women; what matters is if Minnie’s actions were understandable and relatable. After being able to imagine Minnie’s deep suffering after losing something she cherished, both of these women decide to protect Minnie. In fact, they do not even want to tell her that her fruit is gone. This is not a story about whether or not a man should be killed for killing a bird. This is a story that asks how much happiness was taken away from Minnie after her bird died.

Source: Trifles (Susan Glaspell)