The struggle between the male and female gender has long seen its differences throughout our American history. Prior to 1848, women did not have a voice or a valued opinion; they were simply thought of as unseen and unintelligent. It took nearly 72 years before the 19th amendment to our Constitution was signed into law, granting women the right to vote (Infoplease). During the early part of the twentieth century, the duties and structures of women’s lives would have predisposed them to approach a problem from a different angle than that of men and even today, despite the significant changes in women’s lives and opportunities since mid-century, women’s responsibilities and concerns tend to remain somewhat distinct from men’s (Holstein). Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles” is a sensitive psychological portrait of society where women’s struggle to connect with each other impedes their ability to achieve equal social footing with men (Kastleman). The protagonists are bound together through empathy that they have to keep at bay during the investigation but yet also calls attention to the gaps in understanding and equality that persist for women today (Kastleman).
The title of Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles” is used in different concepts and irony throughout by both the men and women characters. On the surface, trifles has a meaning by the men as being “simple” or “unimportant” but later in the play we learn it is the women’s “trifles” that solves the murder of Mr. Wright, something the men were not able to do. The men come to the scene of the crime and attempt to look through the eyes of legal investigators where the county attorney conducts his investigation by the book, interviewing witnesses and asking for only the facts (Holstein). The fact that all three men find “no importance” of the mess in the kitchen left by Mrs. Wright and stating “women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell) when Mrs. Peters finds the hidden jar of fruit, displays the different sensitivity in sexes that the men are unable to look past the actual physical object to understand its meaningful place within Mrs. Wright’s murder motive. Although neither the women nor the men realize it, the women too are conducting an investigation. Their process seems formless as they move throughout the kitchen, talking and reflecting. The men patronize them and gently ridicule their concerns (Holstein). As the three men go from room to room, leaving the two women to converse by themselves we begin to see the women uncover “trifles” and unknowing to them at the time, are the puzzle pieces to the crime. As Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters gather household goods for Mrs. Wright, the two characters begin to reconstruct the accused woman’s life. They do this through several means: memories of her, memories of their own lives (similar to hers in many ways), and speculation about her feelings and responses to the conditions of her life. They begin to instinctively put themselves into Mrs. Wright’s place (Holstein). The discovery of the dead canary by the women is the most important clue the men have been over looking and here the audience sees the true motive revealed but the women choose to hide it from the men.
The strategy of constructing the play around a central character who never appears on stage simultaneously centers attention on women and the ways in which the patriarchy marginalizes her and at the same time resolves the problem of representing women; because she is never seen onstage, the “unseen woman” displaces the male gaze (Noe). Being Glaspell chooses not to physically include Mrs. Wright in the play is ironic. It is paradox because it displays the true discrimination women at that time endured and that the feelings and/or thoughts of women were de-valued by all men. When the two wives converse amongst themselves if Mrs. Wright really did commit the murder, their conversation helps the audience construct a youthful version of Minnie as an attractive young girl...
Bibliography: Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Plays. Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1920.
Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. “Silent justice in a different key: Glaspell’s ‘Trifles’.” The
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Infoplease. “Woman’s Rights movement in the U.S.: Timeline of Events (1848-1920).”
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