Susan Glaspell’s Trifles reveals the struggles of women in the society of the early twentieth century. The author’s presentation of genders and their expected behaviors sheds light on the oppressive nature of marital relationships. This paper will discuss the gender roles and the oppression of women in Glaspell’s Trifles. Characters’ interactions reveal how society viewed spousal abuse, women’s position, and their struggles during the twentieth century.
In the investigation that is depicted in this one-scene play, the female characters initially appear to play a secondary role. They are terrified by the death of their neighbor and seem to be nervous and fearful, leading to them being left behind (Glaspell). However, the women’s willingness to examine the cooking area reveals that it was incorrect to disregard their presence. Although the investigators do not request their help and ignore “kitchen things”, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover the vital clue about the murder themselves (Glaspell). This scene points out that the behavior expected from women of that time was counterproductive to society. By disregarding their ideas, the sheriff and his partners have shown the potential value of cooperation between genders.
The county attorney’s words indicate Glaspell’s message regarding the role of women. Henderson observes that Mrs. Wright is “not much of a housekeeper” after encountering a dirty towel (Glaspell). This careless note highlights what work is expected from wives. In this play, women are expected to have a “homemaking instinct” (Glaspell). This generalization is a clear sign of oppression of this gender, as men outline their wives’ duties for them. Jawad writes that they are shown to be submissive and restricted in their expressions until asked, as women understand “the pressures of emasculated patriarchal culture” (25). Their opinions seem to be irrelevant to the investigators, who are focused on the search over asking Mrs. Hale about possible motifs that she might know.
It is important to note other characters’ attitudes toward Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters show pity toward her after the incident, while the men do not express their emotions openly (Glaspell). The ladies can guess Mrs. Wright’s motives sincerely, as she is absent in this play. Discussions around her possible act of murder reveal the troubles that women experience in their daily lives. Wright’s husband was “a hard man” with “a quiet house,” which makes Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters sympathize with the potential culprit by acknowledging that she lived in “a lonesome place” (Glaspell). This assessment of Mrs. Wright’s terrible situation ultimately leads to a failed investigation, as the women decide to act with compassion over seeking justice for a murder that is motivated by the perpetrator’s life circumstances.
At the same time, men in this play perform an investigation, highlighting their status as leaders. Once their attention switches to women, Glaspell describes that they act “as one turning from serious things to little pleasantries.” Men’s role is to be decision-makers with a strong focus on work. Moreover, Mr. Wright is depicted as a laborious man who “didn’t drink and kept his word,” although his home was not “a very cheerful place” in his presence (Glaspell). Man’s position in society also indicates an apparent emotional callousness.
In conclusion, this play reveals that the role of women in the society of the twentieth century was to be submissive housekeepers whose opinions were rarely taken into consideration. Susan Glaspell shows how lax attitudes toward such a situation have caused people in society to become distant and less empathetic. In turn, a men’s role is shown to be more action-oriented, which also prevents them from taking women’s concerns seriously.
Glaspell, S. “Plays.” Project Gutenberg, 1916, Web.
Jawad, Enas J. “The Dilemma of Domestic Violence in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” Journal of College of Education for Women, vol. 31, no. 1, 2020, pp. 25-36.