- Books, Literature, and Writing
“Trifles”, a story delivered with a very emotional spark of deceptive perception, was prepared by the great Susan Glaspell, a female writer of feminist attributes but with which propelled her play into the spotlight. The play is based on a murder that had taken place in a small town located in America, a murder of suspicious circumstance as the husband, John Wright, who had been strangled to death from a rope that had been noosed around his neck in the middle of the night. The wife, Minnie Wright, had been very deceptive with the police and attorney, and had even resorted to secluding herself within her rocking chair, sewing needle in hand, as she went about her business very seldom saying a word. This story is honestly quite common among the countryside of America in the early 1900’s, a time period in which women were longing for more freedom to do as they pleased, their male counterparts trying to sabotage their attempts in every way by preventing their obtainment of freedom of speech.
Throughout the twentieth century, women had little say or rights to much of day to day life, but did acquire the right to vote, and their educational opportunities increased greatly. Although their job salaries were much lower compared to their male counterparts, they still had currency to do as they wished for the families needs. This however, placed stress on the households as men felt as though they were being undermined financially and stripped of absolute power within their conclave, therefore men resorted to keeping their wives under lock and key when needed and pulled them from outside life if they became rebellious (WIC). This is seen in an example of a couple lines of the text, as it explains the dire situation of the women’s place among a man’s thought process,
“SHERIFF. Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. I guess before we're through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
HALE. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
(The two women move a little closer together .)
COUNTY ATTORNEY (with the gallantry of a young politician ). And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? (The women do not unbend. He goes to the sink, takes dipperful of water form the pail and, pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller towel, turns it for a cleaner place .) Dirty towels! (Kicks his foot against the pans under the sink .) Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?
MRS. HALE (stiffly ). There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm.
This in respect gives rise to how men of the twentieth century thought of the women of the household, mainly because of the county attorney’s portion of the text, in which he explains the situation of the dirty towels amongst the murder that had taken place, feeling as though a well trained wife would had already taken care of the problem, but that she had given pause in her work, showing restraint of some sort and a feeling a neglect towards her husband’s orders to keep the house tidy. In respect to this, and showing how women bond closely with one another, Mrs. Hale stated, “…There’s a great deal of work to be done on the farm…”, this phrase explaining how women were used to being out in the field as well, performing manual labor and possibly being paid by their own husbands for minimal wages, just enough to get by with food and basic necessities, an allowance more so than a paycheck (WIC).
The lives of the women also played a large role from their psychological standpoint, many factors playing a huge role way they thought. One psychologist from the early 1900’s, Dr. G. Staneley Hall, a very gender biased individual that pioneered adolescent psychology, believed that if women were
given power, then proper research would be tainted because of their reproductive capabilities. Now this should show just how unstable most individuals thought processes really were in that time period, mainly because today’s research has found that the use of both male and female intellectual properties help to give a better understanding of world problems, the male’s brain more able to perform fight or flight decisions, better aggressive decision making; the female’s brain more capable of an analytical approach and able to perform more decisive economic and humanitarian ideals, as studied by Helen Thompson Woolley, a renowned psychologist that helped to give women the right to a proper education (The Psychology of Women). There are a few phrases in the play that help to demonstrate how women felt about getting ahead in life rather than living under their husbands feet,
“MRS. PETERS. I know what stillness is. (Pulling herself back). The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale. MRS. HALE (not as if answering that ). I wish you'd seen MInnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. (A look around the room ). Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish that?
MRS. Peters (looking upstairs ). We mustn't--take on.
MRS. HALE. I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be--for women. I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things--it's all just a different kind of the same thing. (Brushes her eyes, noticing the bottle of fruit, reaches out for it .) If I was you, I wouldn't tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain't. Tell her it's all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She--she may never know whether it was broke or not.
These lines give reference to how the average woman was terrorized emotionally through the wearing down of the individual self to sustain a family. Mrs. Peters explained that the law has to punish crime, and gave an example of Minnie in a white dress with blue ribbons and how she sang in the church choir. This is how she was before her encounter and eventually tying of the knot with her husband. Then she gave a glance around the room, the dirty kitchen giving proof of how Minne had fallen from her grace into a black hole of despair and irreversible lack of individualism. Mrs. Hale then proceeded to speak of her wish to just having been there to help her through her struggles and showing how she still cared by hand delivering a bottle of fruit for her to see her inner beauty and how she used to be.
There is a very strong bond between the women of the early 1900’s, their swears to secrecy based in the fact that the authorities thought that if something out of the ordinary or malicious was smelt in the air, the female presence was accused first before their male counterparts. This was mainly due to the heavy burdens placed on males to financially secure their families and keep the stability. A few lines within the play describe in detail just how secretive the women were in support of the murderous Minnie,
“MRS. HALE. Here's some red. I expect this has got sewing things in it (Brings out a fancy box .) What a pretty box. Looks like something somebody would give you. Maybe her scissors are in here. (Opens box. Suddenly puts her hand to her nose .) Why-- (Mrs. Peters bend nearer, then turns her face away. ) There's something wrapped up in this piece of silk.
MRS. PETERS. Why, this isn't her scissors.
MRS. HALE (lifting the silk .) Oh, Mrs. Peters--it's-- (Mrs. Peters bend closer .)
MRS. PETERS. It's the bird.
MRS. HALE (jumping up .) But, Mrs. Peters--look at it. Its neck! Look at its neck! It's all--other side to.
MRS. PETERS. Somebody--wrung--its neck.
(Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension of horror. Steps are heard outside. Mrs. Hale slips box under quilt pieces, and sinks into her chair. Enter Sheriff and County Attorney. Mrs. Peters rises.)
COUNTY ATTORNEY (as one turning from serious thing to little pleasantries ). Well, ladies, have you decided whether she was going to quilt it or knot it?
MRS. PETERS. We think she was going to--knot it.”
In all reality, these lines prove that even after finding a twisted emblem of evil symbolic intentions, these women kept to their secrecy just because of the attorney’s intent to have her found guilty. The women saw how her husband was murdered, by the knot of a rope and strangled to death, much like her little bird was as well, Minnie’s only sanity amongst emotional turmoil. Earlier in the play, the women spoke of Minnie’s singing and how a bird’s tone was much like the sweetness of her voice, and so for its death to be provided in such a way, it proved necessary to let the twisted justice go unknown.
This story, “Trifles”, gives a gruesome image of how the life of a couple in the early 1900’s helped to define the unbalanced acts of justification towards the displacement of women and how they were under the male’s authority. The story, as gruesome and disturbing as it was, showed just how desperate women were towards their obtainment of basic freedoms, and how they would do anything to get it.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles . BackPack Literature . N.p.: n.p., n.d. 667-79. Print
"The Psychology Of Women." Google Books . N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2011.
"Women In History." WIC . N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://www.wic.org/