'Well, women are used to worrying over trifles,' (Glaspell 957) remarks crime scene eyewitness Mr. Hale in Susan Glaspell's short play Trifles. As this quotation blatantly demonstrates, literature has had a lengthy history of gender bias, both in terms of adequate representation of women as authors and as formidable, strong characters. In this reference to his and the sheriff's wives, Mr. Hale presents the argumentative conflict that will prove prevalent, if latent, throughout the course of this work. In the play, the male characters are regarded as intellectually superior to their wives, who are patronized as rather childish for their concern in domestic detail. In Trifles, Glaspell makes a feminist leap as she portrays her female characters with ample cunning to secretly and humbly triumph over male condescending.
The action of Glaspell's play is executed by a mere five players, three of whom are men - a fact which in itself demonstrates the establishment of women as a minority, even in such a small sampling. The county attorney, Sheriff Peters, Mrs. Peters, eyewitness Mr. Hale, and Mrs. Hale are drawn together in a dismal and atmospheric farmhouse to investigate the murder of Joe Wright, whose wife is the prime suspect. Even in the play's most rudimentary introduction, we are presented with a marked distinction between the men's and women's perspectives. The men immediately perceive the house as a crime scene and as such feel compelled to interview Mr. Hale about details of his visit and officiously search for smoking-gun evidence as to the killer?s motives. Conversely, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters comprehend the environment as something more inti...
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...e women remain silent, withholding information from their husbands for the sake of an unhappy mistreated woman whose loneliness and isolation are not terribly far-removed from their own.
In her article, Holstein refers to Trifles as a "deceptive play" (Holstein 282), and I believe that to be an excellent choice of description. Trifles only superficially masquerades as a murder mystery; Glaspell has, in actuality, crafted a battle of the sexes - a veritable war between men and women, so imperceptible and silent that not even the characters really know that it exists.
Glaspell, Susan. "Trifles" The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Bedford/St.Martins: Boston 2005.
Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. "Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell's Trifles." Midwest-Quarterly: A Journal of Contemporary Thought (MQ). 44.3 (2003 Spring): 282-90.
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