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“Trifles”

Angel Parrett Professor Muller English 106/ Drama Essay 15 May 2006 Drama Essay Trifles Trifles, Susan Glaspell’s play written in 1916, reveal concerns of women living in a male dominated society. Glaspell communicates the role that women were expected to play in late 19th century society and the harm that can come of it to women, as well as men. The feminist agenda of Trifles was made obvious, in order to portray the lives of all women who live oppressed under male domination.

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John and Minnie Wright are two main characters who are never seen; however provide the incident for the play.

In this play women are against men, Minnie against her husband, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters against their husband’s, as well as men in general. The men are arrogant and insensitive, while the women are sympathetic, as well as understanding and forgive Minnie for the murder of her husband. Trifles clearly addresses gender issues, emphasizing the oppression of women who lose their identity after marriage. This is depicted in the interactions between Mrs. Hale, the male characters, and Mrs. Peters. The play takes place in Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s abandon farm house, which is located down a hollow out of view from the road (1006).

The setting is lonely and cold, which signifies Minnie Wright’s feelings (lonely) and describes John Wright’s character (cold). Mrs. Hale, the Wright’s neighbor states, “I’ve never liked this place. Maybe because it’s down in a hollow and you don’t see the road” (1006). This leads the reader to believe that Minnie was lonely and isolated. Mrs. Hale also states, “…. he was a hard man, just to pass the time of day with him (shivers). Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. ” This statement was describing a character trait of Mr. Wright; he was thought of as cold.

Again Mrs. Hale makes another statement in regards to Mrs. Wright’s surroundings saying, “It never seemed a very cheerful place” (1003). All of these statements speak of how unpleasant Minnie’s surroundings were and signify oppression. Mrs. Hale goes on throughout the play remembering Mrs. Wright as Minnie Foster, who she was before her marriage to John Wright. For example she states “I heard she used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. ” (1004). Glaspell uses past tense when describing Minnie’s character prior to marriage. Glaspell also compares Minnie to a bird, something that is carefree.

This is stated by Mrs. Hale, “…. she was kind of like a bird herself – real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and –fluttery. How she did change. ” (1006). This statement signifies Minnie’s character prior to her marriage and states that she did change after marriage. The description of Minnie’s character prior to her marriage is positive; the change after marriage has a negative connotation. Again Glaspell uses past tense when describing Minnie in a positive light.

Toward the end of the play Mrs. Hale is still remembering how happy Mrs. Wright was as Minnie Foster, prior to marriage. She states to Mrs. Peters, “I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. ” (1008). Glaspell uses vivid description such as the white dress and blue ribbons to paint a picture of how happy Mrs. Wright was before marriage. The color white signifies purity and brightness, it is a happy color. Both colors white and blue are used in our countries flag, which symbolizes freedom. The change in Minnie did not occur until she was married. She was no longer seen as bright and happy. Her happiness changed to loneliness. She lived in isolation on a farm down in a hollow out of site.

It is obvious that Mrs. Hale was sensitive to Mrs. Wright’s character. Mrs. Hale knew Mrs. Wright as Minnie Foster. Knowing Minnie before marriage made her transformation from Minnie Foster to Mrs. Wright very noticeable to Mrs. Hale. However the male characters in the play had no recognition of any change in Mrs. Wright’s character. The male’s arrogance and insensitive attitudes toward women hinder their ability to gather evidence that ties Mrs. Wright to the murder of her husband. At the beginning of the play Mr. Hale acknowledges the males attitudes toward women without knowing. For example he states, “….

I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John. ” (1001). This clearly signifies the male’s insensitivity to women. This statement that Mr. Hale made referring to John and how he does not care what his wife wanted or did not want does not even trigger the question, how was Mrs. Wright treated by her husband? Women were clearly not has important as the men. The men disregard women’s opinions and don’t give a thought to women’s needs or wants. Mr. Hale was speaking of John, Mrs. Wright’s dead husband in the above example; however Mr. Hale also expresses his insensitivity and arrogant attitude toward women.

Mr. Hale states, “Well women are used to worrying over trifles. ” (1003). Trifles something that is small, of no consequence, this is how Mr. Hale thinks of women. The things women are concerned with are of no importance, they are petty. This is an obvious illustration of the men’s arrogant and insensitive attitudes toward women. Mr. Hale was not the only male character who demonstrated arrogance and insensitivity toward women. The Sheriff who was investigating Mr. Wright’s murder also demonstrated arrogance and insensitivity, hindering his ability to tie Mrs. Wright to the murder.

The sheriff states, “Held for murder and worrying about preserves. ” (1003). This signifies how he feels that women worry over trifles, as stated by Mr. Hale. He insinuates that even when a woman is put in a very hard situation, she only worries over little insignificant things that are of no importance. It does not occur to the sheriff that Mrs. Wright would be worrying about the outcome of her future. This demonstrates his arrogance as well as his insensitivity. The county attorney who is also investigating the murder of Mrs. Wright’s husband adds to the male’s arrogant and insensitive attitudes.

Toward the end of the play the county attorney states, “For that matter a sheriff’s wife is married to the law. ”(1008). This statement contributes to the arrogant, insensitive male attitudes toward women. Again the men feel that they are the only ones of importance. This demonstrates male domination in the relation between husband and wife. Women no longer have their own identity after marriage; they are identified by their husband’s. Glaspell also uses the titles of the characters to portray this. All of the male characters in the play are identified by first and last name or career itle, (John Wright or Sheriff etc. ) which stresses importance. The women are identified by their husband’s last name only, except for Minnie (Minnie Foster) when Mrs. Hale is remembering her before marriage.

Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife has accepted her identity loss and taken on her husband’s as her own. Throughout the play she only identifies with her husband, which demonstrates that she no longer has her own identity. During the scene when the men are going through Mrs. Wright’s kitchen cabinets and criticizing her domestic skills, Mrs. Hale defends Mrs. Wright. However Mrs. Peters agrees with the men. Mrs. Peters states, “Of course it’s no more than their duty. ” This is one of the first scenes in which Mrs. Peters demonstrates that she has given up her own identity and taken on her husband’s, the sheriff. The men including, the sheriff, Mrs. Peters husband, are suppose to be investigating Mr. Wright’s murder, instead they are concerned with domestics. It is wrong for the men to be criticizing Mrs. Wright over things that don’t pertain to the investigation. The men are not doing their duty, which is to be investigating the murder; they are more concerned with the facts pertaining to Mrs. Wright being a good homemaker.

Because of their insensitivity toward women, they do not even give a thought as to why the house was in disarray, which would have given them the evidence they needed to prove Mrs. Wright did murder her husband, because she was oppressed. Mrs. Hale acknowledges that the men are not doing their duty, however Mrs. Peters fails to see this. During the investigation Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find a half finished quilt that Mrs. Wright was making. This was a key piece of evidence due to the way she was piecing it together; she was knotting it, just like the knot in the rope that was used to choke the life out of Mr. Wright.

However the sheriff just made a sarcastic comment toward the quilt, which all the men laughed at. Mrs. Hale was upset at the criticism, however Mrs. Peters stated, “Of course they’ve got awful important things on their minds. ” (1005). Again Mrs. Peters defends her husband, the sheriff, not realizing if he were doing his job he would take everything in the home seriously. Due to his arrogant and insensitive attitude he passes up a crucial part of evidence. His doe s not even question that the quilt would link Mrs. Wright to the murder.

His mentality when he sees Mrs. Hale and Peters looking at the quilt to see how Mrs. Wright was going to piece it together is that they are women worrying over trifles. Mrs. Peters has become so accepting of being less important than her husband, that she does not take any offense to how he views women. It is as if she views men thinking less of women, their duty. Toward the end of the play Mrs. Peters is brought to the realization that she has accepted her husband’s identity and no longer has her own. She describes Mrs. Wright’s life as stillness, subdued with no future advancement.

In conversation with Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters states, “I know what stillness is. ” (1008). Here she is recognizing that Mrs. Wright was oppressed, living dominated by Mr. Wright. However she goes on to say “I know what stillness is. The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale. ” (1008). This demonstrates that she does acknowledge the life Mrs. Wright was living, however she still defends her husbands identity, rather than her own as an oppressed women living under male domination. Despite her feelings she still tries to reinforce the identity of her husband the sheriff, which society has cast on women. It does not occur to Mrs. Peters until the end of the play the she is only thought of as the sheriff’s wife, not a person with her own identity.

The county attorney states “for that matter a sheriff’s wife is married to the law. Ever think of it that way, Mrs. Peters? ” Mrs. Peters replies “Not – just that way. ” (1008). She did not have much of a reply regarding the county attorney’s question. This signifies that the realization was just brought to her attention, she was so accepting of males arrogant and insensitive attitudes toward women, that she did not realize that her own identity had been lost. The title, Trifles reflects how men viewed women in the late 19th century. Women were viewed as something small, unimportant, and of no consequence.

This arrogant and insensitive attitude caused the men of the play to be clueless in their investigation of Mr. Wright’s murder. The women discovered the clues of the murder among what the men looked at as insignificant, women’s work. The feminist strategy was not only used to portray women who live under male domination and oppression, but also as a message from women to men. It is a call for women to use their perceived powerlessness as a tool to manipulate the system, and a warning to men that a system where one segment of the population dominates and oppresses another cannot and will not be tolerated forever (hongik).

Glaspell successfully portrayed the message. We have come a long way since the late 19th century in regards to the way men view women. Gender roles have definitely under gone major transformations. Unlike Mrs. Wright women no longer have to lose their own identity after marriage. Women are accepted for their own identity and are expected to have their own identity even after marriage. These gender roles are becoming more and more encouraged with every generation. We are all now free like the bird Glaspell compares Minnie Foster to before her marriage; we can have opportunities that are adventurous and the boundaries are wide.