Glaspell’s proper dramatic debut was her second play, Trifles (published in 1916), which genuinely revealed her range as an artist. Written at the request in a short time, in cramped circumstances, it is surprisingly devoid of any traces of its forced birth. The author uses emotion manipulation technique to play on the feelings of both readers and female characters in the work. Glaspell organically shows the solidarity of women in the issue of their oppression by men.
The action of this play, which is relatively small in volume, but extensive in content, begins without preliminary buildup, which helps the public to understand what is happening between whom and with whom. Glaspell consciously turned away from the enticing detective move that seemed to float into her hands. The play is written, one might say, from a female perspective, in other words, from the standpoint of feminism. However, this is not the kind of it that is focused on agitation and the organization of mass actions. The author reveals the intolerance of the existing state of affairs in relations between men and women, and all the more it requires changes.
In Trifles, this is embodied by the contrast between the two groups. The men are painfully, thoughtlessly serious; they arrogantly believe that only they can find the answer, that there is nothing to be expected from women. In their opinion, all women can do is do Trifles, but they wander around the house as if lost, precisely because they do not see the little things around them. Women, starting with nothing promising little things, penetrate the depths of the mystery, inaccessible to their companions (Wright 7). For example, a bird cage with a broken door, a beautiful box, as if especially littered with threads and patches, in which they find a bird with a folded neck, apparently prepared for burial (Abcarian et al. 972). Each of these little things pushes women to understand what happened and causes dissatisfaction with their situation, which is not much different from the one who murdered out of desperation.
In Trifles, the kitchen is the most feminine place in the house, so the perception of this place in the house is different for the characters. On the one hand, it is much easier for women constantly in this space to feel and understand the motives for the murder (Holstein 283). At first, the closed, detached life of a woman in the kitchen causes sympathy and even understanding to some extent from Mrs. Hale. On the other hand, women are reluctant to tolerate the imposition of the male gender on female space.
Thus, the scenes in the kitchen demonstrate a clear difference in points of view and modes of understanding between male and female characters, which reaches its crisis in the conflicting male and female conceptions of justice (Wright 3). At the same time, hints and omissions dominate the dialogue itself. Understatement enhances the drama of the action, constantly reminding of the initial circumstances and the particular situation in which the characters found themselves and gives even more significant relief to the images of the latter (Wright 3). Subtext comes to the fore in its meaning in the play.
All the details that are not considered worthy of the attention of men cause women to be wary. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters notice essential details that men do not pay attention to: canned spoiled fruits, bread left out of the box, unfinished blanket, empty bird cage (Abcarian et al. 972). It encourages them to experience Minnie’s entire married life creatively and not just explore one cruel moment (Bendel-Simso 295). Unlike the men looking for clues to solve a crime, the women in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles find evidence that reveals the joylessness and emotional life of Mrs. Wright. The author of the article says that “the appeal to both our emotional and symbolic feelings allows us to ‘become’ Minnie’s peers” (Holstein 286). Sympathy for Minnie, which the author evokes by his appeal to readers’ empathy, allows you to understand the heroine’s motives and treat this with understanding.
The writer uses average diction throughout the story while using some slang and designations, especially from men. The author uses emotional tone and attitude through communication between characters. That is so that the reader can connect with the oppression of women (Bendel-Simso 295). The use of satire by men in the story furthers the theme by emphasizing how women were viewed and what was expected of them at the time. Throughout the story, Glaspell uses a variety of language expressions. For example, the author uses the comparison: “Mr. Hale rubbed his face after the fashion of a showman getting ready for a pleasantry” to convey Mr. Hale’s satisfaction with what is happening (Abcarian et al. 970). The men criticize Mrs. Wright’s housekeeping skills, irritating Mrs. Hale and the sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters.
Using the emotional support of the oppressed, Glaspell develops the relationship between the two main female characters. She uses this technique, thanks to which the heroines are completely imbued with a situation their husbands could not and cannot understand. That caused displeasure and irritation among Martha Hale and Mrs. Peters, who can easily imagine themselves in the place of Minnie, who killed because of the oppression of the female world by the male. Throughout the play, the female characters are aware of their position in this world, and the author, through their relationships and empathy, reflects the important theme of supporting feminism.
Abcarian, Richard, et al. “Trifles.” Literature: The Human Experience, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 963–975.
Bendel-Simso, Mary M. “Twelve good men or two good women: concepts of law and justice in Susan Glaspell’s ‘A Jury of Her Peers.’.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 36, no. 3, 1999, pp. 291-297.
Holstein, Suzy C. “Silent justice in a different key: Glaspell’s “Trifles”” The Midwest Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 3, 2003, pp. 282–290.
Wright, Janet S. “Law, justice, and female revenge in “Kerfol”, by Edith Wharton, and Trifles and “A Jury of Her Peers”, by Susan Glaspell.” Spanish Association for Anglo-American Studies (AEDEAN), vol. 24, Issue 1, 2002, pp. 1-10.