Femininity vs. Masculinity
Trifles, a one-act play, written by Susan Glaspell, has an interesting plot about an abusive husband’s murder at the hands of his abused wife on a secluded farm in the Midwest (Russell, pg. 1). The opening scene of the play gives us a great deal of information about the people of the play and their opinions. The play portrays the ways in which men treated women during this time period. The men in the reading reflected a male-oriented society, which caused the women feelings of repression and unappreciation. Throughout the play the actions of Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters resemble that of Greek mythology, where three sisters controlled the fate of men (Russell, pg. 1).
The setting in which the majority of the action takes place is the kitchen. The room is described as “ a gloomy kitchen…-unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dish-towel on the table-and other signs of uncompleted works”(Roberts and Jones, pg.1150). This description should alert the reader immediately that something is wrong. In the time when this play was taking place, the woman’s sole responsibility was to keep the house in order. Everything I have read from this time period has portrayed the house as a very clean and organized place for the man to come home to. It was supposed to be a place for rest and relaxation. The fact that Mrs. Wright’s kitchen was in such disarray, symbolizes that something was troubling her. In the paragraph describing the scene it is told that the people entered the kitchen in the order of the sheriff, the county attorney, and Hale. The sheriff’s wife and Mrs. Hale followed behind the men, entering last. The very order in which they enter the room should give the reader a sense of the way in which women are treated. The women stand together away from the men, which immediately secludes the women form the men. In today’s society it would be more appropriate to see the woman enter first with the man holding the door.
We (the reader) come to the conclusion that the weather outside is very cold because of the fact that the men enter the room wearing heavy overcoats and go over to the stove to warm up. I believe that the cold, harsh weather outside the house was symbolic of the climate and atmosphere on the inside of the house over the past few years. The way in which Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s relationship was described gave me an icy, sickening feeling. I could not imagine living my life in the same situation as Mrs. Wright. A lot of important information can be gathered from the very first paragraph of the play. As you read on, you are able to see more pertinent details revealed through the characters actions, without the use of dialogue.
While Mr. Hale describes the events that took place the day prior, he tells about coming into the house and finding Mrs. Wright in her rocking chair and pleating her apron. Even today, the rocking chair gives people a certain sense of comfort. Just the motion of rocking back and forth will calm most people, beginning in infancy. On the other hand, the fact that she was pleating her apron could imply that she was nervous and looking for comfort.
As the play progresses, we see a fancy box; probably the only cheerful thing that can be seen in the setting. The box is obviously very important to Mrs. Wright. We also discover that the box contains a dead bird. The reader can conclude this because of the actions taken by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. When the box was opened one of the ladies “suddenly puts her hand to her nose,”(Roberts and Jacobs, pg. 1157) usually this implies disgust or shock. Usually when something dies it begins to give off a foul odor. The bird was wrapped in silk, showing that Mrs. Wright thought a lot of the bird. Mrs. Wright is compared to a bird during the play as” real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery”(Roberts and Jacobs, pg. 1157), this shows that a bird was a perfect animal for her to relate to. The broken birdcage and the broken neck of the canary, that was seen in the play, leads me to believe that Mrs. Wright not only suffered mental abuse from her husband, but also physical abuse. The broken birdcage shows the violent nature of Mr. Wright. Mrs. Hale shows the connection of Mr. Wright’s involvement in the physical death of the canary and the spiritual death of his wife (Russell, pg.1).
The two ladies seem to cover for Mrs. Wright when Mrs. Hale discovers the inconsistency of her quilting by removing a few stitches and replacing them with some of her own. “Mrs. Hale symbolically claims her position as the person who spins the thread of life,” (Russell, pg. 1) relating back to Greek mythology. When the men continue to joke about Mrs. Wright’s intention “to quilt or just knot” it evokes a defensive response in Mrs. Hale which seems to warn them not to tempt fate.
The play ends with the women leaving the house without conveying what they had learned to the men. They felt justified in making a decision not to tell because of the condescending attitudes of the men. Their choice was to do what was legally right and report their findings, or to conceal the truth and vindicate all women (Kearns, pg. 1). Mrs. Hale snatches the box from Mrs. Peters and puts it in the pocket of her big coat to conceal it. The women have no intentions of revealing their finds, and seem to protect Mrs. Wright to the end.