There has been a significant change regarding the position that women held in the 19th century and the present-day community. This shift is apparent not only in America but also everywhere around the globe. Susan Glaspell’s play, Trifles, which forms the basis of this paper, reveals the extent to which men in the traditional society treated their female counterparts as insignificant beings. Women could not make independent decisions pertaining to national and community developments. As it will be revealed in this study, they were considered inferior individuals whose contribution was almost insignificant and, consequently, meaningless, as suggested in the title of the play, Trifles. However, Glaspell depicts women as fighting against gender roles, which do not allow them to demonstrate their potential that they are capable of handling technical tasks such as forensic data gathering.
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Roles of Men and Women in Trifles
Women as Housekeepers
Glaspell’s masterpiece begins by portraying the pathetic nature of John Wright and his wife’s backyard. Their home appears as if it has been neglected for a while. In particular, the kitchen is poorly arranged to the extent that unclean utensils are scattered everywhere, including uncooked food items and a filthy towel, which are left on the table. It is crucial to point out that either John or his wife, Minnie Wright, has to be held responsible for this messy kitchen. As the scene unfolds, Wright takes the blame for leaving her house unattended to (Levin 29). In fact, when Henry Peters requests John’s neighbor, Lewis Hale, to comment on Wright’s home, Peters interrupts by stating that nobody has bothered to gather, relocate, or attempt to clean all dirty items in this kitchen since he last visited the couple.
Although Peters does not indicate directly that Minnie Wright was not doing her house duties well as expected by the society, George Henderson does not hesitate when referring to Mrs. Wright as an irresponsible house manager. Concerning John Wright’s home, Henderson asserts, “It’s not cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct” (Glaspell 1031). Such comments reveal women’s roles in ancient societies. Men expected their female counterparts to ensure neatness in their houses in addition to cooking for their husbands and children (Levin 29). Glaspell’s strategy of using the kitchen where cooking normally takes place can be used to substantiate this claim.
Men as Key Decision-Makers
Susan Glaspell presents men as decision-makers who are supposed to investigate and make rulings regarding women’s issues or other matters concerning the community (Sutton 173). When the County Attorney and Henry Peters visit this abandoned home escorted by their wives with a view to finding out the root behind John Wright’s death, they command their spouses to go to Minnie Wright’s kitchen instead of involving them fully in the murder investigation process (Black 100). To Henderson and Peters, women can only perform well when doing kitchen work and other insignificant house affairs while men handle sensitive matters related to the community as a whole.
In the current scenario, when collecting evidence regarding the murder of John Wright, the County Attorney and Peters allocate women the task to investigate the kitchen because they see it as a place meant for inferior people who handle less important functions. However, Mrs. Hale is not pleased with men’s idea of leaving them out of important decision-making processes. She insists, “our takin’ up our time with little things while we’re waiting for them to get the evidence. […] I don’t see as it’s anything to laugh about” (Glaspell 75-77). They seem concerned that men have always ignored them when dealing with sensitive family matters, regardless of whether or not they are directly affected such as Mrs. Wright.
However, as it later emerges, women’s concerted efforts to assemble details, including the empty birdcage, the sewing machine, and the dead animal hidden in this stitching box, influence the final decision made by men. Their findings help in identifying the root of John Wright’s murder, which happens to have been caused by his wife (Hilton 147). Glaspell depicts some women as having learned to accept their roles as house managers whose contribution to men’s decision-making affairs never count. For instance, in a dialogue with Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Hale states, “I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing (Glaspell 983), meaning that she is comfortable with being excluded from other matters that have no bearing on housekeeping, cooking, and dishwashing.
Gender Roles Followed or Fought Against
As earlier indicated, the ancient American society gave men the power to control their female colleagues who they regarded as inferior and unable to handle technical functions (Keyes 214). For instance, when collecting information to help in investigating the death of John Wright, they take charge of this situation because they view it as involving search procedures that are beyond women’s scope of duties. They even dictate where the involved female colleagues should go to look for this information (Mulry 293). Glaspell strategically fights against men’s authoritative roles that depict women as incompetent people.
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Despite being authorized to only restrict their search process to the kitchen where meaningless things take place, the author confirms that men may not perform optimally or make well-informed decisions without considering women’s input. Ironically, efforts by Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale end up producing the much-awaited information regarding the cause of John Wright’s death (Mulry 293). Their male colleagues appear astonished by the fact that women have managed to collect helpful forensic evidence, despite being unsupervised or told what to check in the kitchen. In particular, when men are seated waiting for women to present their findings, they do not expect any meaningful data. However, the unanticipated results make them change their perceptions of women in the society.
The idea of letting women do their duties unsupervised should be followed. Specifically, the County Attorney asserts, “No, Mrs. Peters does not need supervising…For that matter a sheriff’s wife is married to the law” (989). This statement reveals men’s awareness that women have always fought against such unfounded roles, which degrade them, despite their capacity to do perfect things independently. However, although females protest men’s belittlement of their capabilities, Glaspell emphasizes the need for them to always view men as heads of families who agree that they may not achieve much without their input. In fact, the County Attorney asks, “what would we do without the ladies?” (Glaspell 982). Women are depicted helping men in case of need as indicated in the murder investigation process whereby they accompany their spouses to gather evidence.
In the ancient American society, women’s duties were restricted to the house. In this setting, they were expected to wash dishes, take care of their spouses and young ones by cooking and doing laundry work, and give birth to as many children as possible. However, in the contemporary society, women have broken this norm by being incorporated into jobs and positions, which were earlier meant for men. Some of them went ahead to publish scholarly works that have attracted the attention of the global audience due to the critical message they convey regarding their capacity to work competently just like their male counterparts. This paper has focused on Susan Glaspell’s play, Trifles, which presents various roles played by men and women, including gender expectations, in the ancient American culture.
Black, Cheryl. “Susan Glaspell: The Complete Plays.” Comparative Drama, vol. 46, no. 1, 2012, pp. 99-102.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. L.A. Theatre Works, 1916.
Hilton, Leon. “Trifles, by Susan Glaspell.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, vol. 21, no. 1, 2011, pp. 147-149.
Keyes, Carl R. “Masculinity, Power, and Political Activity in Early America.” Early American Literature, vol. 48, no. 1, 2013, pp. 213-230.
Levin, Amy. “Speaking of Freedom: U.S. Multicultural Literature and Human Rights Talk in an Emerging Democracy.” Radical Teacher, no. 101, 2015, pp. 25-31.
Mulry, David. ““In the Presence of a Domestic Drama”: Susan Glaspell’s Debt to Joseph Conrad’s the Secret Agent.” The Explicator, vol. 72, no. 4, 2014, pp. 293-296.
Sutton, Brian. “A Different Kind of the Same Thing”: Marie de France’s Laüstic and Glaspell’s Trifles.” The Explicator, vol. 66, no. 3, 2008, pp. 170-174.