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Theme Analysis of Trifles
Even though Susan Glaspell's Trifles tells a story of a criminal investigation, the play is definitely not about the mystery of the murder. Written at the beginning of the twentieth century? a period when women were actively fighting for their rights the play examines the view prevailing in the society of that time about male and female roles in it.
The title of the play Trifles might refer to several subjects. First of all, this is how men saw women's work and interests; throughout the play, the county attorney and sheriff refer to the things discussed by ladies as trifles (Glaspell). Secondly, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters's observations of the household objects were also considered to be unimportant; however, the reader learns about what really happened to Mr. Wright only due to their intuition, curiosity, and power of observation. Finally, the bird itself was obviously seen as useless by Mrs. Whites' husband; therefore, he killed it. However, it was probably the only thing that made Mrs. White happy and helped her tolerate her spouse.
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The primary theme of Trifles is male oppression. At the time when the play was written, gender roles were strictly divided. While men were involved in politics, business, and civil affairs, women spent most of their time taking care of children and their houses. The only sphere of life which they could control was kitchen. Among their chores, were cooking for their husbands and children, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, etc. In their free time, women knitted, sewed, and quilted. If women did go to work, they typically were secretaries, nannies, or waitresses. However, at some point, women decided to rebel against oppression and fight for equal rights. Mrs. Wright represents such a brave woman. She was living her life quietly although Mrs. Hale describes John Wright as a hard man; even the idea of spending a day with him makes Mrs. Wright shiver, for he was like a raw wind that gets to the bone (Glaspell). Nevertheless, Mrs. Wright was spending her days like most of the women taking care of the house and quilting in her free time. She also owned a bird which seemed to be her only delight, and Mr. Wrights's killing it was the last straw.
Still, Mrs. Wright was not the only woman rebelling against men; Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters conceal the truth from the attorney and sheriff. They follow their intuition and manage to solve the crime, but the men are indifferent to their actions. The women seem to have their own understanding of what justice is, and it is different from that of the men. They realize what Mrs. Wright experienced and what the bird meant to her, but men call their business trifles, so they keep the secret to themselves. The men appear as proud and self-sufficient; they think that they can deal with the case without anyone's help. Meanwhile, the ladies cooperate and demonstrate outstanding loyalty to their own gender. The biggest problem of the case was to understand the motives for the murder. Unlike men, the two women were careful to such trifles as empty birdcage and quilt. They also examine Mrs. Wrights's emotional state and create her psychological portrait. Here, Glaspell demonstrates how female intuition and way of thinking are underestimated in society. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale take a careful look at Mrs. Wrights's kitchen, thus finding the real motives for the crime. Therefore, if men took women's thoughts seriously, they would have solved the crime. It means that by seeing women's interests as trifles, society actually harms itself.
The set of the play is very symbolic and helps represent its main themes. The events unfold in the kitchen the territory in a house which fully belongs to women. Sheriffs and attorneys' behavior demonstrate how stereotyped the society is they ignore significant evidence because it all is nothing more than kitchen things (Glaspell). Such behavior of the sheriff is a clear indication of disrespect towards women; if what they are occupied with is trifles, so they are women. Moreover, the attorney and sheriff keep criticizing Mrs. Wright for the way she manages her house and her kitchen in particular. Nevertheless, neither the attorney nor sheriff has ever cleaned their own houses; still, they think they know how it should be done. Pointing out Mrs. Wrights's mistakes, they also irk Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale for the women know for sure how hard it is to manage everything simultaneously, and they draw a comparison between Mrs. Wrightand themselves saying that they would not like strange men in their kitchens.
Another important detail in the play is Minnie herself. The case is all about this woman, but she never appears on the stage. Everyone knows she is there; they discuss her, criticize her housekeeping skills, feel sorry for her, but she remains elusive. This means that, first of all, despite being a part of society, women were often invisible to men. Men were responsible for all significant social and political events, while women were limited in their choices. Secondly, this also clearly symbolizes an unfair judicial system that appears to be rather androcentric. Really, these are men who officially investigate the crime, and they fail to discuss it with women. Therefore, another theme of the play is subversion. Without her husband, Minnie is powerless. However, she did not have any authority while she was married, so the protagonist was invisible long before her husband's death.
To sum up, in her Trifles, Susan Glaspell focuses primarily on the status of women in patriarchic society; they were dependent on men, they could only occupy themselves with housekeeping, and their concerns were seen as trifles. However, women's patience had its limits, and they bonded to eventually fight back. The case of Mr. Wright shows that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hales's opinions were far from being trifles. Therefore, oppressing women, the society was losing its valuable members.