Literary works have become extremely crucial in the contemporary human

society. They have primarily been used for entertainment purposes, as
well as educating individuals and inspiring social change. In most
cases, authors, poets, artists and playwrights compose their works on
the basis of the societies in which they live. Many are the times when
they aim at exposing the ills of those societies and providing
alternative ideas as to where the society should head or how the society
should be operating. Needless to say, numerous issues have been explored
in literary works, whether fictional or autobiographical, including
discrimination, wars, love, and marriage among others. However, one of
the most explored topics in literary works in both contemporary and
conventional human society remains the place of women in the society. It
goes without saying that women have, since time immemorial, occupied the
secondary position in the human society. Indeed, they have been
considered as inferior in terms of their physical features, intellectual
aptitude, emotional and psychological strengths, as well as
intelligence. The literary works, however, do not only aim at outlining
this notion but also to underline the fact that women have similar
strengths and capacities as those of their male counterparts if not
better. This is the case for Susan Glaspell’s play named
“Trifles”. While there may be differing opinions pertaining to the
story behind the play, it is evident that the playwright aimed at
outlining the downgrading of women in the society, as well as their
intellectual aptitudes and strengths that can rival those of their male
counterparts.
Written in 1916, the play revolves around the murder of John Wright.
Someone had strangled him by stringing a rope around his neck as he
slept in the middle of the night. The first suspect, of course if his
wife, the forlorn and quiet Minnie Wright. In this regard, the county
attorney George Henderson and Sherriff Henry Peters arrive in the farm
house with the witness named Lewis Hale, Mrs. Hale, as well as Mrs.
Peters in an effort to investigate the murder or Mr. Wright. Mr. Hale
recounts how he saw Mrs. Wright acting in an abnormal manner as he
enquired about where Mr. Wright was. Mrs. Wright had indicated that her
husband had been murdered while she slept. While there was a gun in the
farmhouse, Mr. Wright had been strangled gruesomely with a rope (Bryan
and Thomas 45). Of particular note is the fact that the men persistently
disparage the ladies for being worried about trifles while there were
more serious issues to be worried about especially pertaining to the
murder. However, Henderson allows the ladies to take some items to Mrs.
Wright who has been taken to custody, as long as the sheriff has agreed
that the items would be irrelevant in the case. The men move upstairs to
replay the scene that may have led to the death of Mr. Wright while they
leave the women downstairs to worry about the irrelevant trifles. It is
at this point that the audience discovers the life to which Mrs. Wright
may have been subjected and what may have caused her to commit that
heinous crime (Bryan and Thomas 45). It is evident that she had led an
extremely unhappy life, with Mr. Wright having curtailed her freedom and
her happiness. While the women come across vital evidence in the
trifles, which could have helped in resolving the murder, they hide it
thereby resulting in the exoneration of Mrs. Wright (Bryan and Thomas
45). The conversations that the women have downstairs not only give the
audience a peek at the life that Mrs. Wright led under her husband’s
care but also justify her course of action. While the story revolves
around the murder or Mr. Wright, it is essentially about women and the
oppression that they endure every day. It shows that men, contrary to
the commonly held beliefs, are not always smarter and stronger than
their female counterparts, rather it is just the opposite in most cases.
Right from the first scene, it is evident that women are considered
subordinate to their male counterparts. The men are the first to walk
into the farmhouse, followed by the women who do not espouse the freedom
of movement that their male counterparts show. Indeed, the women come in
slowly and stand close to the scene together (Bryan and Thomas 45). This
is testament to the patriarchal society in which the story is set, as
the order of entrance is indicative of subordination of women to their
male counterparts. It is worth noting that, throughout the play, the
women stay huddled close together, which is indicative of the fact that
they are the weaker sex, unlike their domineering male counterparts
(Bryan and Thomas 45).
In addition, Glaspell uses conflict and characterization to underline
gender bias in the marital relationships. The play’s main characters
identify varied combinations of marital relationships. These are seen in
the case of Mr. and Mrs. Hale, as well as the Sherriff and his wife. Mr.
and Mrs. Hale are in middle age and have children already. Glaspell
brings out the intellectual inferiority of Mr. Hale using his
long-winded childlike ramblings that come off as those made by small
kids (Ben-Zvi 153). It comes off as no surprise that his wife is numb to
them, but can only wish he could tell the story as it is. The case of
the sheriff and the wife brings out the misogynistic relationship more
clearly. The sheriff is depicted as a large authoritative figure, unlike
his wife who is shown as small, thin and comes off with a weak voice
(Glaspell 678). Indeed, Mrs. Hale comments that Mrs. Peters’ looks or
appearance do not depict those of a sheriff’s wife. It is evident that
Mrs. Hale would have expected the appearance of a wife to be in line
with or determined by the occupation of her husband. On the same note,
the contrasting physical appearance of the Hales and the Peters’ is a
reflection of the power balance that exists in their relationships
(Belasco and Johnson 782). Peters, the sheriff, has the capacity to
judge criminals on the streets, in which case they are secondary to him.
This is the same position that he imagines his wife should take:
secondary to himself. Glaspell reveals this situation artfully in the
play through the persistent reference that the sheriff makes about his
wife as Mrs. Peters. Indeed, he goes ahead and states that she is
“Married to the law” (Glaspell 1323). This underlines the dependency
that women in this society have on their men, to the extent that they
cannot have autonomous identities.
In addition, the men go to great lengths to dismiss their female
counterparts, a habit that ironically causes the women to solve the
crime. The women are left in the kitchen and the quarters, places that
are associated with domesticity, while the men go to the bedroom and
dismiss the women’s worth in the murder investigation (Belasco and
Johnson 782). This is aimed at underlining the concept pertaining to
women’s inferiority and subordinate nature in the presence of their
male counterparts. Upon looking around, the women come across a quilt
and decide to carry it to Mrs. Wright. Their men tease them for thinking
about trivial issues, before they go on to look for more substantial
evidence at the barn (Ben-Zvi 153). It is at this time that the women
come across an empty cartridge and find a dead bird. Scholars have noted
that the bird may have been strangled by Mr. Wright, with Mrs. Wright
responding by strangling her husband in the same manner (Ben-Zvi 153).
This evidence could have resulted in the incrimination of Mrs. Wright,
but Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters decide to keep this evidence from the men
as it would have prevented the future jury from acquitting Mrs. Wright,
with whom they sympathize (Belasco and Johnson 782). Needless to say,
this turn of events underlines the fact that women may be more cunning
and clever than their male counterparts in spite of their relegation to
the subordinate positions. Indeed, the men were more concerned with
substantial evidence while the women were concerned with the details,
which resulted in their resolving the murder while saving their friend
for the wrong that she justifiably committed.
Of particular note is the fact that the women did not simply sympathize
with and remember Minnie, rather they quite literary identified with
her. At the beginning, Mrs. Hale is quick to defend Mrs. Wright’s
housekeeping skills from the county attorney’s verbal attack. In
addition, she mourns the fact that Mrs. Wright lost her preserved fruit,
while remembering the hard work that she herself put during the canning
season (Clarkson 286). Of particular note is that this empathy seems
harmless and trivial to the men but serves as the emotional entry to the
outcome of the story. Indeed, Mrs. Peters shows her empathy for Mrs.
Wright inns more considerable ways through evoking precise moments or
episodes in her life that are similar to those of Minnie Wright. After
the discovery of the canary that had been murdered, Mrs. Peters
reminisces the instance where her kitten had been murdered by a boy, who
she could have hurt were it not for being held back by other people
(Glaspell 25). In addition, she envisions and how still her old
homestead had become after her baby died and even draws comparison
between it and the solitude that Minnie was undergoing. Scholars have
noted that recalling these episodes compel these women to examine or
view Minnie Wright as a fully developed and complex victim rather than
an abstract being. Her crime was simply a retaliation against her
tormentor or rather the source of her pain (Clarkson 286). It is worth
noting that the discoveries that they make pertaining to the murder is
triggered by this kindness and empathy, as it imaginatively compels them
to relive Mrs. Wright’s entire married life instead of simply
researching a single violent moment.
Works cited
Belasco and Johnson, The Bedford Anthology of American Literature,
Volume II: 1865-Present, Bedford-St.Martin`s Press, Boston, 2008, p.782
Bryan, Patricia L. and Thomas Wolf. Midnight Assassin: A Murder in
America`s Heartland. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill,
2005.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 9th ed.
Booth, Alison et al, eds. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 1314-1323. Print.
Clarkson, Holstein Suzy. “Silent Justice in a Different Key:
Glaspell’s Trifles.” The MidwestQuarterly 44 (2003): 282-290.
(Clarkson 286)
Ben-Zvi, Linda. “`Murder, She Wrote`: The Genesis of Susan Glaspell`s
Trifles.” Theatre Journal 44 (March 1992): 141-62.
Surname PAGE * MERGEFORMAT 6

Close Menu