, Research Paper
The Treatment of Women in Trifles
“Trifles,” a one-act play written by Susan Glaspell, is a cleverly written story about a murder and more importantly, it effectively describes the treatment of women during the early 1900s. In the opening scene, we learn a great deal of information about the people of the play and of their opinions. We know that there are five main characters, three men and two women. The weather outside is frighteningly cold, and yet the men enter the warm farmhouse first. The women stand together away from the men, which immediately puts the men against the women. Mrs. Hale s and Mrs. Peters s treatment from the men in the play is reflective of the beliefs of that time. These women, aware of the powerless slot that has been made for them, manage to use their power in a way that gives them an edge. This power enables them to succeed in protecting Minnie, the accused. “Trifles” not only tells a story, it shows the demeaning view the men have for the women, the women s reaction to man s prejudice, and the women s defiance of their powerless position.
Throughout the play, Glaspell uses dialogue which allows us to see the demeaning view the men have for the women. Mr. Hale declares that “women are used to worrying about trifles” (958) trivializing the many tasks and details that women are responsible for. In his ignorance of how crucial their duties are in allowing a household to function smoothly, he implies their unimportance. The remark from the County Attorney about Minnie, “Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” (958) was insensitive and unjustified. All because his hand found the sticky residue of her exploded preserves, a soiled spot on her roll towel, and some dirty pans in the kitchen. Due to the circumstances, Minnie s mess is entirely due to her dire emotional state. These statements and others made by the men as the play progresses show the men s shallow view of women s intelligence and value.
The men s prejudice is blatant and although it was easy for Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to pick up on it, they react to it in a variety of ways. Defensively, Mrs. Hale, replies rigidly to the County Attorney s remark by stating that “there s a great deal of work to be done on a farm,” (958) offering an excuse for Minnie s lapse in cleaning. Later, he brushes her off when she explains that John Wright was a grim man. To the County Attorney, the women are just there to collect personal items for Minnie, they are not going to give him any valuable insight into the murder. To their credit, the women do not force their thoughts or feelings on the men when biased statements are made in their direction. They hold back and discuss the remarks later after the men go upstairs. Mrs. Peters observes that “Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech and he ll make fun of her sayin she didn t wake up” (960). The fact that she believes the men would laugh if they heard the two women discussing the dead canary reveals how sure she is that the men think of them as concerned with the inessential. Even with this knowledge, the women choose not to limit themselves to the roles that men have placed them. Instead they choose to observe, examine, and evaluate what actually happened in the house. They understand that their discovery is best kept hidden because they knew that the men would not be able to comprehend the women s perceptions of the clues, the logic of motive, and the conclusion of justification.
The women have claimed a powerful stance from their powerless position They know that the men of their time were not prepared to relinquish or share the dominant role in society. So the women, in recognizing the value of their perceptions and decisions, step beyond the box society has put them in. They do not defy the boundaries in a personal effort to advance women; they comprehend the importance of what they have learned and put that foremost in their strategy. The protection of Minnie is imperative, and they know how they must act. They know that the environment is unfriendly to women and that just as it undervalues them, it also underestimates them. So the women decide to play their hand carefully using men s narrow view of women to the advantage of their cause.
The ladies make an unspoken decision that Mrs. Wright did not deserve to be punished for killing her husband. In their minds, evidence of his extreme cruelty to his wife negated her guilt. Even though it is clear to the men that the women could never provide help in such a major case, they are ironically the ones missing the only piece of evidence. Despite the demeaning view of the women by the men, the women s indifference to their prejudice, and their defiance of their position in society, “Trifles” shows how women can make a difference during any era.