Male Elitism and the Opposition of the Natural and Godly
At first glance, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" and Susan Glaspell's "Trifles" hardly seem even remotely similar, and do not relate to each other. "The Birthmark" chronicles Aylmer, a skilled alchemist and new husband, and his fascination with beauty and science as it turns to a morbid obsession which ultimately takes the life of his kind and beautiful wife Georgiana. "Trifles" is a passive mystery that relates the murder of John Wright by his wife Minnie in an almost offhand way, and demonstrates the barriers of understanding which exist between stereotypical gender roles. Both stories approach social injustice and oppression in very different ways, but the end result is the acceptance of futility. The strong gender and class distinctions, coupled with the roles of science, nature and silent domination culminated in this acceptance, which showed the inherent power of giving up.
In both stories, futility is often highlighted by gender relations; in "Trifles", this relationship is overt. Mr. Hale, the sheriff, and the attorney all undermine the ladies' observations at the crime scene of John Wright's murder. Yet Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are able to identify the details of the scene which matter to the female suspect. The men make no attempt to do so, and simply examine the hard, visible, objective science which supports their perspective. The county attorney criticizes Mrs. Wright's housekeeping, despite the fact that the Wrights never had visitors and that the home was the scene of a suspected homicide. Additionally he repeatedly belittles the wives' crucial, but to them, disjointed, discoveries. For Mr. Wright to be considered a good man, Mrs. Hale lays out the bare guidelines, which the deceased met, saying that he "didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts" (Glaspell 7). Quite simply, these were the only things that a wife could realistically expect from her husband during that period of time. As the story progresses, it is clear that there is much more to marriage for both sexes than any of the people had allowed themselves to acknowledge. Although Aylmer almost overtly appears to applaud his wife's virtues, for her it is a symbolic slap on the face that the shallow, unattainable virtue of the appearance of perfection is being placed above all others.
One could argue that the scientific focus of Hawthorne's short story overshadows the chauvinism which is apparent throughout. However, the argument is still very much one of sex and gender. The rejection of science is the nature of the female archetypes, which are associated with the natural order which Aylmer attempts to overcome. Science has always operated in contrast to the natural order, and this has created a domestic and public world, which has been assumed by the female and male sexes respectively. The Mother Nature archetype is ancient and holding, and the primary gods of most religions were male. Although there are exceptions to that generalization, it appears that men have always placed themselves in opposition to the fairer sex. The struggle against nature gradually expanded to an avoidance of romantic, 'soft' feelings typically associated with womankind. The man plants what he will, and the woman sews. This contention was a common theme in this literary era of emergent science. The comparison of "The Birthmark" to other modern science-wary literature rings true, as Hawthorne wrote that "Trifling as it at first appeared, it so connected itself with innumerable trains of thought and modes of feeling that it became the central point of all" (Hawthorne 3). Thus, romantic love is underwritten by a strong sense of gender, sex identity and roles, but also by the battle produced: Father Science versus Mother Nature.
What is said and what is unsaid also speak volumes of the male-female perspectives; inherent...