Feminist Symbolism in Glaspell's "Trifles"

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Feminist Symbolism in Susan Glaspell's "Trifles"

Have you ever wondered; just how much can one person take from another? What amount of cruelty and abuse persuades the fury in a typically passive person to leap into aggressive action? Susan Glaspell's play Trifles shows us just how far one woman, Mrs. Wright, is pushed before she snaps. This is a classic tale of spousal abuse, based off of a true story, which was not too uncommon and almost expected back in the late nineteenth century. Back then women were controlled by their husbands and were seen as insignificant by all the men around them. In this play the women fight the patronizing and belittling society and join together to support another woman. During this time in history, "marital conflict, frequently including violence, was mostly taken for granted in many working-class communities; in itself, it was rarely sufficient to warrant communal censure." (Hammerton 155)

Since the women of modern day have much more freedom than women did back then, it is hard for many people, men and women to understand exactly what Mrs. Wright was going through. Unlike now where women are allowed to get divorced and not be shunned from society, in this time period husbands were allowed to kidnap their wife, imprison her, beat her, etc. Any police intervention was to discourage or lessen the abuse but not stop it. (Hecker 34)(DeLuzio 96) Women had few resources and even fewer sources of support, no matter what was taking place in their homes. Women could not sit on juries nor give a judgment of their peers (Ruben).

Mrs. Hale remembers Mrs. Wright as a girl; Minnie Foster. Mrs. Hale described the young girls, as "kind of like a bird herself – real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery." (Glaspell) If you notice, even the name Minnie belittles her. There are several indicators that Mr. Wright is abusive to his wife, but the people of their town see John Wright as a "good man." (Glaspell) Mrs. Hale says "he didn't drink, and he kept his word as well as most . . . but he was a hard man . . . like a raw wind that gets to the bone" (Glaspell).

The ladies start to consolidate Mrs. Wright's things, they see her shabby clothes and say, "I think that's why she kept so much to herself . . . you don't enjoy things when you feel shabby". (Glaspell) This is the opposite of the way things were before she was married. Mrs. Hale comments "She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster". (Glaspell) Mr. Wright purposefully didn’t let his wife have nice clothes so that he could keep her bound to the house, so that she wouldn’t go anywhere. Then, when Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find the quilt pieces "all over the place" they start to ponder why she was so nervous. (Glaspell) Eventually, they find the birdcage and the dead bird and it all becomes apparent. Obviously, the birdcage, with its broken hinge, along with the bird with the broken neck shows Mr. Wright’s abuse on Mrs. Wright. While this work has many “trifles” the bird is the most significant. The women assume that Mrs. Wright bought the bird because she was never allowed to have any children, we can sympathize with Mrs. Wright when Mrs. Hale states, "If there had been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful – still, after the bird was still" (Glaspell). She says, "Wright wouldn't like that bird – a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too". (Glaspell) The women again assume that Mr. Wright killed the bird to stop it’s singing on purpose, it is unclear whether he did this with or without any thought about Mrs. Wright's attachment to it. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are very surprised by the things they find that indicates the abuse by Mr. Wright. They feel guilty and see it reflecting in their lives. The women unite together in the very first scene, first they are gossiping and comment that she must’ve done it, but as the...
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