The "Trifles" of Feminism
The bone of contention for feminist theory is centered at the treatment of women living in a patriarchal society. Feminists raised questions about why women were being forced into a position of subordination and their affairs looked at with marginal importance. Susan Glaspell’s story “Trifles” depicts the plight of women and their subordination while subversively commenting on the negative effects this had on the female psyche. “Trifles“ begins with an investigation into the murder of John Wright, which takes place at his farm house. His wife, Mrs. Wright, is found at the crime scene and put in jail. She asks three of her friends, who are wives of the detectives investigating, to collect her apron and shawl. While the men scamper about trying to solve the crime of who did it, the women rifle through Mrs. Wrights belonging in search of her request. Noticing simple things out of place in the home or the trifles (as the men call it), they inadvertently find clues that reveal Mrs. Wright to be the murderer. It is said, the devils in the details which proves to be accurate in this situation. Glaspell’s story is a commentary on the societal values of women at the time and their roles in the home. By using theorists such as Gilbert and Gubar, Fetterly, and Irigaray, one can see how Glaspell uses a feminist critique to call to question the inequalities of women and highlighting the detriment this subordination has on females.
“Trifles” embodies the problems of alienation women faced in the hands of a patriarchal society. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan say “the subject of feminism was women‘s experience under patriarchy, the long tradition of male rule in society which silenced women‘s voices, distorted their lives, and treated their concerns as peripheral“ (527). We see this in the beginning of “Trifles”, “Mrs. Peters: Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break. Hale: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell, 1043). The women’s voice is silenced by the man’s failure to recognize her concerns as legitimate. When presented with a concern from a woman, instead of paying attention, the men dismiss the women and their observations and silence them from speaking further. This alienates the women, placing them in a lower status. Of this Luce Irigaray say, “ A direct feminine challenge to this condition means demanding to speak as a (masculine) “subject”, that is, it means to postulate a relation to the intelligible that would maintain sexual difference” (570). By Glaspell participating in the canon of literature and bringing attention to the female issue of subordination, she is challenging and demanding to speak in “masculine” terms, as literature was dominated by males. According to Judith Fetterley “ American Literature is male. Our literature neither leaves women alone nor allows them to participate” (561). Glaspell shatters this. She is participating in a genre of art that was viewed as predominantly male. Also, she not only gave her female characters a participatory role, they had the most important role, while the men were secondary and almost needless.
Speaking to the “silencing of voices” Glaspell writes, “Mrs. Peters: [looking in cupboard] Why, here’s a bird cage. [Holds it up] Did she have a bird, Mrs. Hale? Mrs. Hale: Why I don’t know whether she did or not-I’ve not been here for so long… She used to sing real pretty herself” (1047). It goes on to read about Mr. Wright, “ Mrs. Hale: But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him-[Shivers.] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. [Pauses, her eye falling on the cage.] I should think she would ‘a wanted a bird. But what do you suppose went with it?” (1048). As Rivkin and Ryan state, as mentioned above, the man silences the woman. Mr. Wright silenced Mrs. Wright, not allowing her to sing, “distorting” her life. Judith...
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