Exploring Feminist Themes in Susan Glaspell's Trifles
Feminism is one of the hot issues in nowadays’ society. Feminism did not appear abruptly. It had been improving little by little and began to emerge in the literature. The works of literature in the 19th century, women are still weak and dependent and shape of the self. In a male-dominated society, there is no female voice and there is no social system to counter the patriarchal husband's authority. In such a device, there was no other way for a woman to rebel against a man than to hurt herself. That is why most of the struggle ends with a tragic ending that can only lead to madness or death. However, Susan Glaspell’s ending of the stories and the fictional characters were extraordinary. Her writing was strongly feminist, and unlike typical works of the time, her writings contain the movement of women; the female characters in her stories active during the period. This is the reason why Trifles is considered as one of the first feminist drama.
The play Trifles is related to a real case about the murder of Mrs. Hossack happened in December 1900. There are little differences between the case and the play, but basic structures are similar. On the eve of December 1900, John Hossack was murdered in his bedroom. His body found lying in his bed, and blood splashed over the wall from the ax that hit him on the head. Mrs. Hossack was charged with murdering her husband, showed no emotion, arrested calmly, and made no mention of her guilt and innocence. After months of trial in court, the jury concluded that Mrs. Margaret Hawthorne was responsible for the murder of her husband. Susan Glaspell was a young reporter who covered the story. She thought the ruling was unfair to his wife at the time. After the trial, Glaspell gave up newspapering and became a success writing fiction. She reconstructed 15 years later with her perspective. Therefore, the play suggests that men need to rethink their views on women, breaking male-centered social norms.
There are seven characters: Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Wright, Mr. Wright, Lewis Hale, Henry Peter, George Henderson. Except for the two characters who are already murdered and accused due to the murder, female characters represent the feminism and males describe the periodical common sense.
There are several lines point out the women’s role and Mrs. Hale complains about the idea. One of the lines spoken by the mouth of county attorney shows the role considered as a women’s: “Dirty towels! (kicks his foot against the pans under the sink) Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?”. The men criticize Mrs. Wright for not cleaning up the house. In this situation, Mrs. Hale supports Mrs. Wright. “Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be.” Responsibility for dirty towels is passed on to men's dirty hands. The idea that judging women through housework indicated a sexist did not appear at the time.
There is another scene Mrs. Hale and County Attorney conflicting about the women role:
Mrs. Hale: (looking about) It never seemed a very cheerful place.
County Attorney: No — it's not cheerful. I shouldn't say she had the homemaking instinct.
Mrs. Hale: Well, I don't know as Wright had, either.
The county prosecutor complains of depression and leaves the blame on Mrs. Wright. This means Mrs. Wright was a bad housewife, and she failed as a woman. But Mrs. Hale basically said the atmosphere in the house was not just a woman's responsibility, claiming that the depression in the house was due to Mr. Wright. In this way, Mrs. Hale continues to blame men by being a feminine character, which did not appear in the early 20th century.
However, Mrs. Peters own different characteristic. At the beginning of the play, she was an ordinary woman in that society. She excuses for Mrs. Hale’s sexism saying, told her that the law is the law. As the play goes, she had changed.
The county attorney says the murder method was so clever that it was impossible to understand that the motive for the case should be sought. However, these minor clues cannot be seen in the eyes of the sheriff and the county attorney who are preoccupied with important work. They laugh at two women who are arguing over Mrs. Wright's sewing basket and miss the point of the matter.
The title of the play trifles means the things that are usually small or unnecessary. In the play, Mr. Hale said: “women are used to worrying over trifles.” The author used the title to emphasize females. Those trifles are ignored by the men were the motives and the key pieces of evidence of the incident. Because of women’s interest in the trifles, the two women know the sins and motivations of Mrs. Wright, and there is even evidence to prove them, whereas men cannot find a clue to the crime due to their indifference to the small things.
The two women gradually understood how lonely Mrs.Wright was without a child with her cold, heartless husband and her motive for the killing. And this understanding led two women to save Mrs.Wright from murder charges.
When the sheriff and the county attorney left the scene without finding any clues, the two women cooperated to hide the dead canary in Mrs. Hale's coat pocket, which are the clues to the incident. A small conspiracy between the two women to hide the evidence and let sheriffs leave, this must save Mrs. Wright from the harsh punishment of patriarchal courts. The plot indirectly strikes back at men, making fun of men's sarcasm about women.
Therefore, the biggest realization shown in this play is that the indifference of the little things women have been treated unfairly in a male-dominated society and it reminds us of the importance of the little things. One can refute such unfair treatment when women wake up to consciousness and remember that men who consider women to be insignificant came from the body of a woman in the end, and the trivial things women do became the food of men. Therefore, this awakening was the reason why Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters hid Mrs. Wright's sins.
Susan Glaspell is not considered as a feminist, yet her stories are designated strongly feminism. In the early 1900s, women movements did not appear in the literature. Like the periodical background, women characters were obeying to the husband, take care of households. Unlike the typical literatures, the women movement appeared in the Trifle; female characters were actives. In the play, a woman murdered a man. The fact that women murdered male shows a change in women's position and can also be seen as another form of protest against women's position of women. However, it is against the law to hurt others, although there is no legal flaw in hurting itself. Trifles is a work about women's trial in patriarchal sexuality, social order, class society, and law, too, in a male-dominated society, women challenge these rules and limitations.