Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles” occurs in the downstairs rooms of a farmhouse belonging to a recent murder victim and his wife, who may or may not have killed him. At first glance most of the dialogue and even the stage directions indicate that all of the characters follow quite strictly the expectations set out for their genders, but as the play progresses it becomes clear that even in this traditional setting the female characters are not as simple and meek as the men believe them to be. [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
The way the characters speak to each other indicates that they, in particular the male characters, have a very patriarchal view of gender roles. When Mrs Peters points out that Mrs Wright was worried about the state of her fruit preserves, Hale responds that “women are used to worrying over trifles,” showing his disdain for what he considers inferior work and intellect associated with women. When it becomes evident that the house is in a state of comparative disrepair, the County Attorney jovially asks, “Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” looking for affirmation from the women themselves that Mrs Wright’s primary role in life should have been that of an exemplary homemaker. When the women stand up for her, his response is to make fun of them for being “loyal to your sex.” These interactions between the characters portray a very traditional and oppressive view of women’s roles in the home and in life characteristic of those encouraged by the patriarchy. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
The women themselves willingly play the roles assigned to them by this society. As the play begins the County Attorney tells the women to “Come up to the fire, ladies,” and Mrs. Peters does so without question despite the fact that she actively points out that she is not cold. Even from jail, Mrs Wright’s acquiescence to the men’s assumptions comes through in her request to bring an apron to jail. Mrs Peters points out that it’s a “Funny thing to want, for there isn’t much to get you dirty in jail,” and goes on to assume that she wanted the apron to “make her feel more natural.” That a woman would herself decide that she needed an apron to feel natural is a product of having been born and raised into a society that strictly defines their roles for them uniformly as housekeepers rather than as autonomous individuals.
Despite these portrayals of women as people whose only roles in life are to keep house and provide for men’s comfort, the female characters show a surprising amount of autonomy and personal strength. When they find Mrs Wright’s dead bird with its neck wrung hidden in a box, they point out that her husband “wouldn’t like the bird – a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.” This series of observations indicates that the women understand the level of oppression that Mr Wright exerted over his wife. Mrs Hale points out to her friend, “I know how things can be – for women…We all go through the same things – it’s all just a different kind of the same.” Even if the characters do not have a feminist framework in which to interpret the oppression of women, they understand it on a basic level. This understanding is likely what causes them to band together in hiding the dead bird from the Sheriff and the County Attorney when they come back downstairs. They use the men’s misogyny and assumptions of women’s inferiority against them, knowing that the men assume that they are not capable of interpreting Mrs Wright’s actions by themselves. Mrs Peters nervously tells her friend that the men would just laugh at them for “Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a – dead canary.” They both know full well that the dead canary is entirely relevant to the crime at hand and could be used to indicate Mrs Wright’s motive in committing murder, but choose to keep the information to themselves and use the men’s assumptions about them to their advantage.
In today’s age, in which feminism has brought to the forefront of many people’s thoughts the importance of abolishing unhealthy and oppressive vestiges of the patriarchy and standing up for equality and women’s rights, the gender roles portrayed by the characters appear almost stereotyped. In the time in which the play is set they were more or less normal. The female character’s use of the men’s assumptions about their sex to hide evidence and support Mrs Wright, whom they understand to have been oppressed by her husband much as they are all oppressed by the suffocating gender roles they are forced into, can be interpreted from a feminist perspective as a blow against the then all-powerful patriarchy. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]