Trifles is a one-act play inspired by a murder which the author Susan Glaspell followed as a reporter from 1899-1901, yet did not publish until 1916. The difference in time is significant, as the fight to gain the right to vote was advanced during this period. For years the feminist movement had experienced many failures. The play and its themes display the changing attitude towards female injustices. Trifles exposes how American Women in the early 20th century, especially the “invisible” woman Mrs. Wright, were oppressed politically, socially, and psychologically by men, despite several political advances.
The political atmosphere for women in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was fierce and in a constant state of battle. Groups and events such as the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National Women’s Rights Convention were created. Feminist ideals began to gather momentum and support. Married women gained many rights during the 19th century as evidenced by the passing of several laws in their favor. Unfortunately, the social norms remained somewhat the same. 18th century jurist William Blackstone explained the early thinking of a woman’s status: "By marriage, the very being or legal existence of a woman is suspended, or at least incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, or cover she performs everything” (Offen 1). Women during these early years of the United States lost their identity and became a part of their husband. This school of thought slowly changed over the next two centuries. By the time Minnie Wright finds herself married, she is still under the full control of her husband socially but not necessarily legally. In this way, the patriarchal ideology continues to oppress her through fear rather than legal terms.
Even beyond Minnie’s time, well into the 30’s and throughout the 20th century, there remained a large amount of opposition to the feminist movement. Philosophers such as Freud and Horkheimer in Europe kept the belief that women belonged in the home subject to their husbands: “Like Freud, Horkheimer did not envision a role for women outside the home and, to the contrary, linked the perpetuation of civilization to their subordination within the family” (Buhle 291). Well known and powerful men continued to believe in the dominion of women, especially over their wives.
Trifles gives the reader a close look at John and Minnie’s marriage through the lens of outsiders, as neither of these characters get to speak during the play. One author, Marsha Noe, argues that the Wright’s marriage is characterized by a power struggle (4). As Mr. Hale explains, “I didn’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John” (Glaspell 142). The Wright’s neighbor reveals how John did not respect his wife’s opinions. These words expose John as a patriarchal man in the way he treats his wife. Noe goes on to claim that this, “as well as the discovery of the strangled canary...