Gender Gaps in Trifles
The nineteenth century experienced the comeback of a strong female writer Susan Glaspell. Like other female writers of her time, Glaspell struggled and was reluctant about writing on gender inequality, which was a problem especially for women of the nineteenth century (Crocker). Glaspell and her husband moved to Greenwich Village, where she was free to write about these unspoken issues. Female writers such as Kate Chopin and Fenny Fern were also interested in writing about the same issues Glaspell struggled with, thus influencing the creation of her play Trifles (Crocker). The play was based on an actual trial Glaspell covered as a reporter in Des Moines. It was based on a real life tragedy, a tragedy in which a man named John Wright has been strangled in his bed while his wife unknowingly sleeps. The play depicts the life of a helpless farm wife who is totally isolated from the world around her by depending on her husband for virtually everything. Although Trifles was based on an actual murder case, however, Glaspell emphasizes the gender difference that existed during the nineteenth century.
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In Trifles, Women experience their own anagnorsis (moment of discovery) by challenging and rejecting male-defined norms, including such concepts as woman's honor, abstract justice, and the male's right to dominate and control, while they move toward the establishment of female dominant community . The play was set in a lonely, bleak farm house where the main characters are ironically present. Although, the conversation between the characters still lingers backstage; however, the result is the forgiveness of a brutal murder committed by Mrs. Minnie Foster Wright (waterman). American theatre owes a great debt to Glaspell - for she dared envision and bring to life onstage her own New Women.
“Trifles” is the mysterious murder of Mr. Wright that also investigates the power of truth; on the other hand, it explores the poor treatments and sexual inequality women faced during the nineteenth century. Glaspell was very brave to write and expose the lonely life of women at that time, thus she is best known for, Trifles. In this way, one critic, Maryanne Ferguson argues that Trifles is a uniquely female and, indeed, feminist document (Ferguson, 400).
The sympathetic life of a farm wife is the theme of Trifles. According to Arthur Waterman, the characters are against the opposite gender, the men against the women and the women against the men and the sympathetical nature of the women hence set the suspect (Mrs. Wright) free. In the story “Jury of her Peers” by Glaspell, the men question the women's wisdom and intelligence by telling them to keep their eyes out for clues while they search the clueless part of the house, thus omitting useful clues. “Yes, but I would like to see what you take… and keep an eye out for any anything that might be of us to use” (286-7).
Gender responsibilities are assigned, associating each gender role with the appropriate sex. The men interfere in the woman's territory, questioning the importance of women's work, dirtying her towels, and ridiculing her knitting. They also question the difficulty of women's work by pointing out the dirty towel on the wrack as evidence that Mrs. Wright wasn't much of a house keeper. “Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” (Glaspell “Trifles”, 947). Later in the kitchen, the lonely life of Mrs. Wright unravels before the women's (Mrs. Hale and Peters) eyes where they found the clue to the murder. Although, Mrs. Write killed her husband and was seen as a very bad person, on the other hand, she did what she did because she was not able to keep up with the frustration of being abused by Mr. Write. Suzy Clarkson Holstein admit that women are caring and they understand men's work, by admitting how patient they have to be to make men happy, however, human beings are difficult to please at times.
During the 19th century, the society was basically a male dominated society so women have no say to virtually anything. Gender roles are mere attributes the society link to each sex describing the role of men and women in the society and/or home. In the present society and in Glaspell's time, men and women are divided into two stereotypical gender groups; the feminine and masculine group as seen in Glaspell's “Plays” (52). Men are known as the head of the house as well as the “Fire”( firm and aggressive) in the house whereas women are the follower and the “water”(soft and emotional) to quench the fire when it burns, however, these attributes are the opposite at times. In Trifles, women rebel the male-dominated society trying to move beyond their comfort zone.
Judith L. Stephens explains that Trifles ironically defeat the purpose of liberating women from oppressive male society because it demonstrate some of the very stereotypes of women that are not acknowledged by a male dominated society. “Trifles addresses the consequences of assigning separate spheres to men and women,..[But] still served to reinforce dominant gender ideology” (283-6). This shows that women are not morally superior to men even in today's society.
Trifles is said to draw upon a detective story, However, Glaspell did not only write for a murder mystery but also wrote to show how women were treated around her time (nineteenth century). She uses foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism to convey that women face a power struggle when their legal obligations conflict with their protectionist and empathetic feelings for a fellow woman.
Trifles, however, shows that the power of women is different, it is subtle and indirect, but can be strong enough to influence the outside world. Perhaps Glaspell wished to show the women of her time that they had more power than they, or anyone else, realized.
Crocker, Lisa. Susan Glaspell: Trifles. http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/glaspell.htm
Ferguson, Maryanne. Susan Glaspell: Images of Women in Literature. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.P, 400.
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles”. Literature: A Portable Anthology. Eds. Gardner, Janet E. , et al. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's. 2004. P, 947-949.
Glaspell, Susan. “Plays”. Boston: Small Maynard and Company, 1920. P, 52.
Glaspell, Susan. “A Jury of Her Peers”. Literature and Its Writers: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Ann Charters and Samuel Charters. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford, 2001. P, 286-287.
Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. “Silent Justice in a Different Key”. The Midwest Quarterly44.3 (Spring 2003): 282(11).Expanded Academic ASAP. Infotrac. CCSF Lib, San Francisco. 22 Sept. 2007 . Waterman, Arthur E. Susan Glaspell (1876-1974). New York: Twayne, 1966. http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/glaspell.html
Waterman, Arthur E. Susan Glaspell (1876-1974). New York: Twayne, 1966. http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/glaspell.html
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