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Trifles by Susan Glaspell – Alternate Analysis Essay for English 101

2012 December 17
by recessionjuice
Susan Glaspell Essay English 101 - Picture credit: Wikipedia Contributors

Tony Washington
Hayden Bixby
English 101
26 November 2012

Essay Requirements:

  • Write a 4-5 page essay in which you will consider the notion that “a play is a representation of the society in miniature”.
  • For Your Reference:

  • My first version essay on Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, contains alternate viewpoints on this play.
  • Works Cited (Citations)

“Trifles” by Susan Glaspell, is based in 1916 and is a one act play, set near the peak of the women’s suffrage movement. Glaspell was born in 1876 and lived an eventful life through 1948. Glaspell, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was very active in her community, founding the Provincetown Players in Provincetown during the summer of 1916. Trifles takes place in an empty farmhouse and tells the story of a murder mystery involving the married couple of Mrs. Wright and John Wright, the murder victim. Additionally, County Attorney – George Henderson, Henry Peters the sheriff, neighboring farmer and witness Lewis Hale. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are the two main protagonists and most importantly the main women who shape the story. Although, this play sounds pretty simple to start, being a murder mystery, it reveals some hidden truths not mentioned specifically in the title. Glaspell shows the significant and varying forms of oppression faced by women during the decades of the 1900s, predominately by their male counterparts.

The symbols presented in the play show both the oppressive power the men hold and the contempt many women of the day held for their own husbands, accredited to the tough lifestyle they had to endure. A dead canary, which had been apparently killed with a rope around its neck, is the symbol of the oppression that many women faced from the opposite sex. Mrs. Wright is described by Mrs. Hale as “. . . kind of like a bird herself, real sweet and pretty”, “How – she – did change.” (Glaspell 8). In the story it is suspected that Mrs. Wright killed her husband and “Choked the life out of him” (Glaspell 10), similar to the dead canary. After long term oppression of anything, including women, the expression that life is being “choked” out would be an accurate term. Mrs. Wright herself goes from a sweet and pretty woman to being suspected of murder, those are two extreme opposites. The symbols of oppression including the dead canary and rope help to reveal the oppression in this story. For many people, oppression can only mean a resistance to growth and progress, something unnatural to human nature and character. In order to get a ‘leg-up’ on oppression, numbers play a notable role for women in the story. Women must rely on each other show cohesiveness together in order to influence events around them, which were often reserved for men in this era.

Throughout the history of mankind, people have been brought together due to oppression, in the case of women living during the time of Mrs. Hales and Mrs. Peters, there were no exceptions. Through the oppression of women, the theme of comradery is brought to the forefront in the story. During this time, women had to be careful not overstep their boundaries set by men, as they were not seen as equivalent intellectually. Naturally, facing oppression with more than just oneself to carry the burden empower these women to directly affect outcomes and their own situations. The women display for the reader the unity, which is revealed in the story when the women stumble upon a quilting by Mrs. Wright, which is well put together except for one portion, described by Mrs. Hale as “. . . it looks as if she didn’t know what she was about!” (Glaspell 7). Since Mrs. Wright was under investigation for murder, the sporadic quilting would be seen as a red flag, as a mistake of this degree would be more than rare; married women of this day knew how to quilt well as they were homemakers and keepers. Mrs. Hale pulls out the odd stitch and additionally, the women take a dead canary with them before leaving the cabin, protecting and providing a sort of shield around Mrs. Wright, ‘one of their own’ so to speak. By masking and remaining quiet on some details to their male counterparts, the women outsmart the men and also show the unique ways women of this day helped themselves and others succeed through oppression. Comradery is an important character trait of women during this period of time and definitely in modern times today. Some could say this is how the women ‘leveled out the playing field’ for themselves. It must have been tough for women of this day to keep a determined outlook and attitude on their situation. Certainly, some women were satisfied and secure with their position and there were quite many others who weren’t, but the attitudes of the men kept consistent.

In order to better understand the oppression women like Mrs. Wright endured, one must examine a common male attitude at the time, that being complacency with power. Unfortunately, these men seemed either unaware or unwilling to treat these women with much respect at all. Glaspell details an incident where the Count Attorney, “Kicks his foot against the pan under the sink” (Glaspell 4). In today’s modern world, most would find this offensive and rude, one could say, ‘try that at Grandma’s house’. The men of this day and age were both complacent and satisfied with their own oppressive nature and attitudes over women. Complacency can be both positive and negative, largely depending upon the situation and circumstance. Once an individual(s) get comfortable in a position that suits them, they are susceptible to the non-assuming factor of complacency. This complacency was shown not only through attitudes, but also through their language and dialogue to women.

According to the dialogue of the play, the men show they do not deem what the women say important or relevant. Mrs. Peters says one comment on how Mrs. Wright worried about her fruit freezing, which it indeed had due to being left out. With haste, the Sheriff fires back, speaking to his male partners, “Well, can you beat women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves” (Glaspell 3). The men agree in general about the Sheriffs comment, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell 3) , says Mr. Hale. The dialogue of the play shows the ignorance and general lack of respect given to women’s comments. Even the Sheriff speaks to his wife openly as if a women’s role in the home was meaningless. The prejudice from the men is obvious and brings questions about these men’s characters to the audience. Women had to push a little harder to get fair shots for multiple reasons. Looking at the plot of the play and politics near the time allows one to see this relation.

The plot of the play tells of a woman, who seemingly, was up to her ends wit with her husband so much that she was now accused of murder, in essence cementing the unflattering reality of women during this era that faced a near lifetime of suppression and oppression by men. The oppressive power of men over women led to the US Government passing a bill called the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which finally outlawed wage discrimination on the basis of sex; specifically this bill would “. . . prohibit discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Power can corrupt and blind individuals, groups, businesses and yes, even governments. The addictive nature of power often provides the avenue for unintended, long-term consequences. Women’s suffrage (right to vote) was passed 3 years after the Glaspell released “Trifles” and it took decades of tireless women pushing the cause in order for them to even be paid an equal wage. Power rarely is relinquished without a struggle or fight, showing that the men of this era were no better equipped to handle this type of power than the women themselves.

Americans will agree that we all want basic rights and “. . . among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” (United States Congress). The women in the one act play put on display for the audience and/or reader the struggle involved with oppression faced by men during this era. Oppression and suppression is something that will not go away or disappear and people must remain vigilant to help prevent harm done to others. Everyone deserves a voice and the basic right to live their life to the fullest. As a society, the people have not won the battle for equality, but will win the war.

Works Cited – Susan Glaspell – Trifles – Tony Washington

  1. Glaspell, Susan. Tifles. 1916. MyLiteratureLab. Web. 22 February 2012.
  2. United States Congress. “The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription.” 4 July 1776. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 25 February 2012.
  3. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Equal Pay Act of 1963. 1963 May 14. Web. 18 November 2012.