Trifles, a Feminist Drama
Susan Glaspell’s one-act play called Trifles can best be described as a feminist drama. Having first been performed in 1916, and having been written by a woman, the play itself is one of a kind, which is why it is still taught to this day. There are very few characters, which serves to distinguish differences between men and women and allows for the audience to see that women can fight back in a patriarchal society. The plot itself shows how women can come together and do what they believe is right, even if it is considered wrong by men and the rest of society. By using a feminist lens while analyzing the plot and the characters, especially in relation to a woman’s job in a marriage and to the distinction of genders for Mrs. Wright’s judgment, one can see that Glaspell’s work criticizes the overly dominant role of men in society, as the women decide to stand firm in letting a guilty woman go free.
Femininity and fighting the patriarchy is the overarching theme throughout the entirety of the play, as it highlights a society where women are neglected and belittled yet find a way to fight back against an unjust society. The idea that women’s wants and needs were entirely overlooked by men, particularly husbands, is evident as Hale says, “I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John” (Glaspell). This demonstrates that Mr. Wright simply did not care what his wife thought and would not change his ways for her. The belittling of women, especially when it comes to their hard work, is best seen in a line which contains the title of the play, thus drawing the audience’s attention. “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell), said by Mr. Hale when Mrs. Wright worries about her jars of preserves, shows that men think women’s worries and efforts go towards insignificant details, while Mrs. Hale understands how hard putting preserves into jars is. Glaspell could have simply left her commentary regarding the treatment of women there, but instead goes further by showing women standing up to men. As the County Attorney looks around the Wrights’ kitchen, he comments on the dirty towels and says that Mrs. Wright was “not much of a housekeeper” (Glaspell), to which Mrs. Hale responds to defend women and to talk back to the patriarchy. Afterward, the County Attorney says “loyal to your sex, I see” (Glaspell), highlighting the division between the genders.
Such a division between the sexes can best be seen when one looks at the characters and their roles in the judicial system. In the play, a group of farmwives decides to let guilty Mrs. Wright go free after she killed her husband. Such a decision shows women coming together and fighting for one another, and when one sees that those representing the justice system are men, demonstrates the idea of fighting back against men. The characters who represent the law are George Henderson, the County Attorney, and Henry Peters, the Sheriff, so their primary goal is to put away Mrs. Wright if she is guilty of a crime. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hales, on the other hand, are in charge of figuring out if Mrs. Wright is guilty, which she is, but they choose to hide the truth to let Mrs. Wright go free, thus fighting society’s idea of justice, which symbolizes men and the patriarchy. The difference between the sexes can also be seen in the women and men’s notions of justice. In the play, men see justice as punishing someone who is guilty, no matter the reasoning behind the crime, while women do not believe someone should be punished if their offense was due to reasonable reason. Due to the female characters’ ideology regarding justice, Mrs. Wright is said to be innocent and is thus let free.
The reasoning behind their definition of justice and their choice to let Mrs. Wright go free is because of how women are treated in a marriage, as well as in society. Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s marriage represents a typical marriage within a patriarchy, especially when it comes to Mr. Wright’s treatment of his wife and Mrs. Wright’s role within the marriage. Mrs. Hale’s description of Mr. Wright as a “hard man” (Glaspell) who is considered good simply because “he didn’t drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and he paid his debts” (Glaspell) shows that men were considered to do their part by merely paying debts and not drinking, but it is shown throughout the play that he was not an ideal husband, as he treated his wife harshly and did not care what she wanted, as previously mentioned. A woman in a marriage, as shown in the play, must keep the house clean and often cook, as seen by her worries over her jars of preserves and the men’s criticism over the dirty towels, saying she was not doing what she was supposed to do. By looking at what Mr. and Mrs. Wright both did for their marriages, one can see that the man was not expected to do much, while the woman was supposed to do everything around the house. Such ideals, especially when combined with the fact that women were neglected, shows the reasoning behind Mrs. Wright murdering her husband and the women choosing to let her get away with it.
The roles of the characters, especially in relation to justice and marriage, throughout the play serve to justify the events occurring within the plot. Glaspell’s work allows for the true injustice of a patriarchal society to be seen while conveying a profound message that women, when coming together, can fight for their beliefs. Her primary way of expressing the idea that women must fight for feminism is by showing a clear division between the men and women in the play, whether in their beliefs, their commentary, or their role in the plot itself.
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Susan Glaspell’s one-act play called Trifles can best be described as a feminist drama. Having first been performed in 1916, and having been written by a woman, the play itself […]