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Trifles: Men Vs Women Essay

1467 words - 6 pages

One often anthologized work of early 20th century American literature is Susan Glaspell’s one-act play “Trifles.” Some see it as an example of early feminist drama, others the idea of the way small towns deal with issues like murder, still others the gender differences in both the interpretation and analysis of facts surrounding a mysterious crime. In general, the play is based on the murder of a Mr. Wright, and the title of the play comes from the critique from the men of the town, who berate the women for spending time “worrying over trifles” (Glaspell 918) rather than the case. Ironically, the women’s subjective notions about the case lead to a better understanding of the circumstances ...view middle of the document...

The sheriff of the town is Henry Peters, who, with attorney George Henderson and the neighbor Lewis Hale, enter the kitchen of the Wright farmhouse. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale follows and they converse about the nature of a crime committed at the Wrights. Hale tells everyone that he visited the Wright’s the day before, and once he arrived, Mrs. Wright behaved oddly and finally noted, in a monotone, that her husband, Mr. Wright, was upstairs, but dead. The reader only learns of Mr. Wright’s murder through Hale’s retelling. We also learn that Mrs. Wright claimed she was asleep and that someone entered the house, killed her husband, and then left.
The men quickly nod at one another, it is obvious to them that Mrs. Wright killed her husband, and either went into a psychotic daze or simply used the notion of being asleep as an excuse. The men look around, find that Mrs. Wright was a “not much of a housekeeper” (Glaspell 918), and that is further proof to them that she is guilty. Obviously irked by the men’s put downs, “Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be” (Glaspell 918), the women decide to focus on the work Mrs. Wright was doing during the time frame of the murder. Lewis Hale makes one of the seminal comments of the play, noting that, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles,” (Glaspell 918) implying that nothing women have to say has substance and should be taken with less seriousness than anything that men might have to say. The men are arrogantly implying that any woman who does not keep house well must be guilty of something.
From the very opening of the play, the reader notes that the men and women in the story perceive the scene and situation from a divergent viewpoint. “Trifles” was published in 1916. The play shows us how lonely and disempowering a woman’s role was as a farm wife in a bleak Midwestern town. The idea that the reader never meets either of the Wrights, but only hears about them through the notions of others, shows how the struggle between what is apparent yet unsaid was part of the social landscape of the time. In fact, from the very beginning, we see how there were unexplained tensions between the men and women. The men enter the Wright’s home brazenly, almost as if they own it; the women hold back, yet seem knowing in their intent. Mrs. Wright is not only invisible to the audience, but also to the overall male community. She tried to cook and preserve fruits, which may be a symbol of her constant battle to be independent and work with nature, yet she is immediately a suspect when something goes awry. The men further show their disrespect for the women when the sheriff says, “Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves” (Glaspell 918).
Is there any foundation, though, to the idea that men and women see and approach things differently? Certainly, in the early 20th century, particularly in a rural area, a woman’s job was relatively...

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