Good Example Of Essay On Glaspell’s Trifles And The Invisibility Of Women
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Trifles, Crime, Women, Literature, Justice, Supreme Court, Murder, Law
Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles is a play that is based on her short story entitled A Jury of Her Peers (Ben-Zvi 141). In Trifles, written and first performed in the early 1900s, Glaspell explores a number of important features of femininity and life as a woman. She also explores a number of thematic ideas surrounding a woman’s place and her propensity for violence. Finally, she explores a thematic idea that centers on the proper dispensation of justice: Glaspell critically investigates the question of whether an individual can truly receive justice from a group that does not consider her their equal. In the case of Trifles, Glaspell uses the invisibility of femininity to the male world to explore questions of femininity, prejudice and justice in American society.
Dymkowski suggests that one of the defining features of many of the female characters in Glaspell’s work is that they are characters on the edge of a knife: the slightest change in their environment sends them toppling over into unthinkable behavior, like violence and even murder (Dymkowski 92). In Trifles, the murder has already occurred, and Mrs. Wright has already been arrested for the murder of her husband. The police believe that she is guilty of the crime, and have come to the house—along with two women—to investigate the crime scene and look for clues regarding the murder. It is during this first introduction into the crime scene when the audience is treated to the first dismissive comments by the male characters about women. The county attorney and the sheriff have an important exchange:
COUNTY ATTORNEY:  I guess we'll go upstairs first—and then out to the barn and around there,  You're convinced that there was nothing important here—nothing that would point to any motive.
SHERIFF: Nothing here but kitchen things. (Glaspell et al.).
The woman—who is suspected of murdering her husband—lives almost exclusively in the kitchen. The men of the story are so unwilling to see her as both feminine and violent that they have tried to expand her influence into the male realms of the farm (Holstein). Essentially, the male characters are removing her femininity and making it invisible, because they cannot reconcile the idea of a violent woman; femininity and violence were mutually exclusive in the public eye at the time.
Despite their preconceived notions about femininity and a woman’s place in the world, however, the police and individuals who found Mrs. Wright with the body are not stupid, and they are not written to be unintelligent characters. They know that she is probably the murderer, and they are looking for evidence to support this; however, they express prejudice against her as a woman by making her suffering something that is over “trifles.” The women of the play note that Mrs. Wright changed after her marriage; they note that she used to sing, and that she was a lively individual at one point, but that her marriage changed her fundamental character (Holstein). The men of the story seem unconcerned with the pain that Mrs. Wright was clearly feeling before the incident, and thus manage to overlook the main cause of the incident due to their prejudice. The problem with this prejudice is that it also makes it impossible for the male characters in the story to find the evidence that they need and to mete out justice (Mael 111).
Justice is the final thematic idea in Trifles. The male characters of the story, too concerned with blundering around blindly looking for evidence to truly find any, are incapable of dispensing justice to Mrs. Wright. It is her peers—the women of the story—who find the evidence that Mrs. Wright has indeed committed murder. In a demonstration of justice and judgment, it is implied that the women decide that Mrs. Wright committed the crime, but was not guilty of murder (Holstein). The women discuss an empty birdcage for a significant amount of time, talking about where the bird could have gone; eventually, it is decided that a cat has eaten the bird. This is symbolic of Mrs. Wright’s happiness and freedom before her marriage, and how it was first caged and then destroyed by her husband. When he killed the canary—Mrs. Wright’s only source of joy—he sealed his own fate, and only the women of the story can see his cruelty and her eventual reaction to it.
There are many important thematic ideas to unpack in Trifles. It is such a short play that every line has meaning, and every stage direction is designed to drive the plot and the message forward. However, one of the underlying, fundamental messages of the play questions the idea of a “man’s world,” and looks at the invisibility of women in this world. The viewers of Trifles will never know if Mrs. Wright is convicted of her husband’s murder, but the implication is that she will not be convicted: the reason that she will not be convicted is because the male characters of the story are incapable of seeing the women that they made invisible.
Ben-Zvi, Linda. '"Murder, She Wrote": The Genesis Of Susan Glaspell's "Trifles"'. Theatre Journal44.2 (1992): 141. Web.
Dymkowski, Christine. 'On The Edge: The Plays Of Susan Glaspell'. Modern Drama 31.1 (1988): 91-105. Web.
Glaspell, Susan, Donna Haisty Winchell, and Susan Glaspell. Trifles. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2004. Web.
Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. 'Silent Justice In A Different Key: Glaspell's" Trifles"'. The Midwest Quarterly 44.3 (2003): n. pag. Web.
Mael, Phyllis. 'Susan Glaspell's Trifles - The Way To Sisterhood'. Literature/Film Quarterly 17.4 (1989): 107-129. Web.