The Battle of the Sexes in Susan Glaspell's Trifles
'Well, women are used to worrying over trifles,' (Glaspell 957) remarks crime scene eyewitness Mr. Hale in Susan Glaspell's short play Trifles. As this quotation blatantly demonstrates, literature has had a lengthy history of gender bias, both in terms of adequate representation of women as authors and as formidable, strong characters. In this reference to his and the sheriff's wives, Mr. Hale presents the argumentative conflict that will prove prevalent, if latent, throughout the course of this work. In the play, the male characters are regarded as intellectually superior to their wives, who are patronized as rather childish for their concern in domestic detail. In Trifles, Glaspell makes a feminist leap as she portrays her female characters with ample cunning to secretly and humbly triumph over male condescending.
The action of Glaspell's play is executed by a mere five players, three of whom are men - a fact which in itself demonstrates the establishment of women as a minority, even in such a small sampling. The county attorney, Sheriff Peters, Mrs. Peters, eyewitness Mr. Hale, and Mrs. Hale are drawn together in a dismal and atmospheric farmhouse to investigate the murder of Joe Wright, whose wife is the prime suspect. Even in the play's most rudimentary introduction, we are presented with a marked distinction between the men's and women's perspectives. The men immediately perceive the house as a crime scene and as such feel compelled to interview Mr. Hale about details of his visit and officiously search for smoking-gun evidence as to the killer?s motives. Conversely, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters comprehend the environment as something more intimate than a crime scene; they see a home (Holstein 282). They construct their own understanding of Mrs. Wright?s lonely life via their observations of the intricate details of her home. Holstein writes, ?Instead of following a predetermined schedule of inquiry, they begin, almost instinctively, to put themselves into Minnie Wright's place? (283). The broken jars of preserved fruit, the mangled birdcage, and the unfinished quilt all provide the two women with a psychological portrait of Mrs. Wright as a victimized woman whose passions had been muted. The attorney and the sheriff nonchalantly criticize Mrs. Wright?s careless housekeeping, but Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come to her defense because they understand in a way that their husbands cannot. They see that Mrs. Wright was certainly unaccustomed to hosting guests and that her isolated existence hardly necessitated a spotless kitchen.
It is ironic that the women in Susan Glaspell's Trifles initially appear to be supporting characters, for the men speak consecutively for many pages with no interruptions by their wives. The opposite is true, however ?the women are the play?s primary focus. The play?s three female characters, Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, and...