Trifles Seems Like A Basic Play English Literature Essay

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The opening of Glaspell's play has the men entering being matter-of-factly. They are there to find evidence, specifically, something that would show motive for Mrs. Wright killing her husband. The men don't believe the murder would fail to awaken Mrs. Wright. The women on the other hand are timid, almost scared, of entering the house. Immediately, it is clear that the women themselves are little more than "trifles" just taking up space in the kitchen. The only time the men really acknowledge the women is when they are in some way insulting, if not Mrs. Wright, women in general. Shortly after Hale finishes his narration of events, the County Attorney asks the Sherriff if he's sure about there not being anything important that would point to motive. The Sherriff's reply is, "Nothing here but kitchen things." (p847) Considering that in the early 1900's, taking care of her family by working in the kitchen was a crucial part of a woman's life, to call kitchen tools "nothing," and "things," is reducing their worth and to an extent, the woman who uses them. But it is Hale's comment that "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles," that first draws Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters together. They are further united when the men join in ridiculing Mrs. Wright's housekeeping. When Mrs. Hale defends the state of the towel, even blaming the dirt on men, the attorney doesn't even consider she might be right, just, "loyal to your sex, I see ...I suppose you were friends too." The country attorney also has no interest in hearing about the relationship between the Wrights. When the Hale's both mention it, the attorney cuts them off, "I'd like to talk more of that a little later. I want to get the lay of things upstairs now." By focusing on the crime scene, the men miss clues that would have given them insight to the lives of the Wrights. This dialogue is the first, most obvious difference between the men and the women.

The sparse, unclean kitchen is also a peek into how different men and women view something or someone. Suzy Clarkson Holstein makes this point in Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell's "Trifles." "From the very outset, the men and women of the play perceive the setting, the lonely farmhouse, from diverging perspectives. The men come to the scene of a crime and attempt to look through the eyes of legal investigators." This is very different from how the women enter. "By contrast, the women arrive at a home. Although neither they nor the men realize it, they too are conducting an investigation." Holstein points out that it is only after going through Mrs. Wright's home and possessions, discovering the bird, and imagining themselves in her place, does it become clear that there is a quiet camaraderie taking place not just between Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, but also with Mrs. Wright, or Minnie, as they begin to think of her. However, Holstein makes it clear, "But the women do not simply remember and sympathize with Minnie. They identify with her, quite literally." It is more than just being women; it is a shared experience that because they are men, the Sherriff, Mr. Hale, and the County Attorney will never understand what the women experience.

Dialogue continues to be a large example of the difference. After the women find the bird and realize the significance, Mrs. Peters says, "My it's a good thing the men couldn't hear us. Wouldn't they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little think like a - dead canary." This shows that not only are the women fully aware of the men's opinion of them but that it could be used to an advantage. Up to this time, Mrs. Peters has been indecisive about Mrs. Wright, torn between her duty to her husband and her understanding of Mrs. Wright's situation. Mrs. Hale definitely knows what the bird could mean for Mrs. Wright. Glaspell makes a point of bringing in the County Attorney to once again mention that something is needed to show motive and even suggests that juries are biased one way or another when it comes to women. Perhaps this is what drives the ladies to make their final agreement about keeping the evidence from the men. In the end, it is the blindness of the men about women that enables the wives to keep their secret.

Although the bird that is the strongest, most obvious symbol in Trifles, the empty birdcage is almost as significant. Even before we know the bird is dead, when Mrs. Peters finds the birdcage, there is a sense of foreboding. It has been remarked that the house wasn't very "homey," filled only with the barest of essentials. A birdcage seems like it would be something that is put on display, not hid away in a cupboard. While Mrs. Hale describes the kind of girl Minnie Foster was, it is easy to imagine Minnie as the one shut up in a cage. This demonstrates the women being able to see past the birdcage into what it represents, something the men can't do. While they are looking for motive, it is set right in front of their faces, but because they think women too simple to know anything, they take for granted that a cat did get the bird, instead of investigating further. In fact, they wonder if she even had a bird, not stopping to think that a woman who has little wouldn't have a birdcage for no reason. This way of men only seeing what is on the surface is reinforced by the description of John Wright. Mrs. Hale agrees that he's "good." The qualities that make him good are qualities men would admire though: "he didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. (Mrs. Hale, p 851)" Yet, Mrs. Hale sees beneath the outward appearance and has an almost physical reaction. "Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. (Mrs. Hale)" Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Hale finds the bird with its neck broke.

It is the discovery of the dead bird and the ladies decision to hide it that most clearly shows the difference between the perception of men and women. In "Murder, She Wrote": The Genesis of Susan Glaspell's Trifles, Linda Ben-Zvi discusses the experience of Glaspell's real life experience of covering the murder trial that was the inspiration for the play. She quotes Ann Jones, "…the process by which juridical attitudes toward, and prosecution of, women are shaped by societal concepts of female behavior, the same concepts that may have motivated the act of murder. ('Ann Jones, Women Who Kill (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980). This explains how the men and women are in the Trifles. While the men, given the evidence of the dead bird would see only motive for a wife to kill her husband, the women see motive, but also see what the dead bird represents, Minnie's life shut up in a cage and then the tiny bit of joy she had is killed. Minnie's love of singing is killed first, then the bird. This idea is underscored by Holstein as well. She points out the problem of trying to define, "'feminine' or essentially 'masculine' behavior as distinct from cultural conditioned performance. (Holstein)." She doesn't feel it is as easy as "men" versus "women" but the roles that society gives men and women. Women that could relate to Mrs. Wright would not be on the jury and so according to Ben-Zvi, "Not waiting to be given the vote or the right to serve on juries, Glaspell's women have taken the right for themselves."

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