The play ” Trifles,” by Susan Glaspel, tells the story of two investigations into the murder of a man named John Wright. The official investigation is done by the men, while the women in the play do their own investigation. Women’s worries are often considered to be simple trifles, unimportant things that bear little or no importance to the true work of society. Society believes important work is carried out by men not women. Women are more compassionate than men, which shows that gender roles influence people around them.
After everyone enters the house, the attorney looks around and starts making comments about Mrs. Wrights housekeeping. He starts out by saying “Here’s a nice mess.” and “Dirty towels! Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” (Glaspell 1386) He also says sarcastically “I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct.” (Glaspell 1386). This shows, that in a time of despair for a woman in need, the men still are not compassionate towards the woman. The woman are irritated by his comments and stick up for Mrs. Wright even though they are afraid and nervous talking to the men. Mrs. Hale says “There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.” (Glaspell 1386) and “those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.” (Glaspell 1386) This proves that the other woman show compassion for Mrs. Wright’s situation.
The men and women are there for different reasons. The woman believe that Mrs. Wright’s house is a home, and the men consider it is a crime scene. The men believe the kitchen is a not place where anything of importance could be discovered. The sheriff says ‘Nothing here but kitchen things,’ (Glaspell 1386), just before he makes fun of Mrs. Wright for worrying about her fruit, instead of the fact that she is being held for murder. This shows how the men feel about the kitchen, which is deemed a woman’s territory. What goes on in the kitchen and everything in it is unimportant and minor, therefore the men want nothing to do with it. The men then head upstairs to search for a motive. The women do not follow them. They want to ease Mrs. Wright by collecting and bringing her some comforts from home. The women are left alone because the men do not expect the women to make a contribution to the investigation. They are not interested in anything the women have to say.
The women talk about Mrs. Wright. They chat about her childhood, her life with John, and the quilt that she was making before she was put in prison. They recognize how much Mrs. Wright had changed over the years and how miserable her life with John Wright has been. The women convey sympathy, unlike the male characters, over what the kitchen disorder would mean emotionally to Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale says “I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing.” (Glaspell 1387) They talk about the murder, asking each other if they believe Mrs. Wright did it. The women can’t picture why, if she did it, she put a rope around his neck to kill him , because “there was a gun in the house”, (Glaspell 1388) and that would have been easier. They discuss the quilt she was making. The men come in and laugh as the women look at the unfinished quilt. The sheriff says ” They wonder if she was going to quilt it or knot it!’ (Glaspell 1388) poking fun of the women. The men go outside and the women notice the sewing is perfect until they find a patch that is messy. Mrs. Hale suddenly takes it and fixes it. She says “what do you suppose she was so nervous about? ” (Glaspell 1389) They find an empty bird cage and wonder where the bird is. The women then find Mrs. Wright’s pet bird. It has been killed, and she has hidden it in her sewing box. When Mrs. Hale hears the men returning, she hides the dead bird under some quilt pieces. They decide, quickly that they must conceal her crime because they can empathize with Mrs. Wright’s pain. The women believe her actions were justified. The men would see these things differently. All these little details the women are discovering turn out to be major clues and they are able to piece together what has happened. Unlike the women, the men overlook clues such as the “unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dish towel on the table and other signs of incomplete work” (Glaspell 1383)
The Sheriff and the County Attorney seem to have an uninterested view of women and their importance to society. This shows the typical stereotype where the women are destined to stay in the kitchen and listen to what the men tell them to do. All the male characters are blind to what is going on and are even condescending to the women. They do not let the women finish speaking and cannot see the truth that is literally right in front of them.
Through the process of trying to help another woman by gathering items from her household that might comfort her in jail, the women learn to identify themselves first as women and then as wives. Each woman recognizes her own life in Mrs. Wright’s pain, and each one realizes that given the wrong circumstances, she, too, would have killed the man that hurt her so. These women symbolize all women. When they decide to hide the evidence of Mrs. Wright’s purpose for the murder, the two women are allowing the crime, or acknowledging that it is not a crime, but justice for the agony that John Wright caused his wife.
Today, the view of women and their roles in society has made advances in the United Sates. Only recently have women taken a stand in demanding equal pay and a lead role in the companies they work for. Other parts of the world still have not caught up. It is very clear that the subject of male dominance is strongly portrayed throughout this play. Hopefully one day, women will break away from the imprisoning ideals of society and break out of the canary’s cage to be equivalent to men.
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