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Early Feminism and Plays

Updated on April 12, 2019
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Alex has taught at four public schools, been accepted into three honorary societies, and traveled the Americas and Europe. He has his BS.


Early Feminism and Plays

Susan Glaspell’s Trifles as well as Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House stand as major pillars of some of the works of the early feminist movement. Both of these plays display great strengths in their female characters and each play has at least one female protagonist. Even with the rapid decline of the traditionally unjust treatment of women, feminism is still a relevant topic to audiences today. Such plays can contribute to a better understanding of historical feminism, increase empathy towards women, and convey an understanding not easily comprehended in a few mere sentences alone.

The reader should note that neither Trifles nor A Doll’s House were written as non-fictitious literature. However, both works were written between the 19th and 20th centuries. The clearly feministic tones of these aforementioned plays gives heavy implication that their authors were feminists themselves. That said authors were feminists is frequently manifest through their works through the plays’ male characters who possess condescending attitudes toward the females in these works. One example may be found in Trifles where Hale states his opinion that “women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell 636). And, in A Doll’s House (within only three lines of text) Helmer refers to his wife as “my little lark” and as “my little squirrel” (Ibsen 860). Helmer is a character portrayed as a man who objectifies his wife. Moreover, both of these plays were even given titles by the overwhelming themes of early feminist philosophy therein. Therefore, such literature is capable of giving modern audiences a better understanding of how some early feminists thought. Modern students of psychological theories are still capable of analyzing the minds of such playwrights. Historians and philosophers can study these plays, review the their various contexts, and find a deeper understanding of what feminism meant to people of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Additionally, one should note that plays have a unique way of aiding in the manifesto of empathy in the viewer. Even though a play is generally a piece of literary fiction played by actors on a stage, there exists little question that the brain's capabilities of empathy respond well to those enacted fictions. Both plays display some level of realism, and therefore nuance is manifest. In Trifles Mrs. Hale covers up evidence to defend an accused murderer (Glaspell 642) that she and the audience have learned to feel sorry for, despite the very concerning crime. Thus, the criminal Mrs. Wright develops through the play a character of great depth. Her life and actions cannot be easily accepted in metaphorical blacks and whites. The audience learns to feel for a woman that could have otherwise been easily written off. The reminder to all people not to judge women in the simple, blocky terms is presented to more recent audiences. The goals of early feminism can help assist the modern humanist through a mind’s reaction to such plays.

Finally, anyone is capable of merely stating that equality is good and dividing the genders is probably not a good idea. However, far fewer people are able to enforce such a message meaningfully in those minds that deny this kind of notion. Many people who want women’s rights and liberties to be fractured have heard that their perspective regarding such matters is wrong. This becomes a sheer difference of opinion. However, Glaspell and Ibsen did something much more than make a claim. They developed a way to express their opinions in a way that could convince some people to re-evaluate their world views. Early feminism can still claim victory when a mind is changed by Glaspell’s or Ibsen’s works to this latter day. When the door closes harshly at the ending of A Doll’s House the scene can build up a very different reaction in a person than words ever could (Glaspell 917). Three acts of suspense, excitement, and character building in this play lead up to this dramatic moment. Moreover, feminists continue something of great value.

Glaspell’s and Ibsen’s plays still help modern people understand feminist histories, improve the world through female inclined empathy, and persuade people with more complex methods of communication. Western culture has improved in its treatment of women. Regardless, early feminism is still relevant.

Works Cited

Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kennedy, and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson, 2016. 633-645. Print.

Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kennedy, and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson, 2016. 858-917. Print.

© 2019 Alexander James Guckenberger


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