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Critical Analysis on Trifles by Susan Glaspell
The play Trifles was written by Susan Glaspell in 1916 a time of changes were taking place in American society at that time. These changes referred to the status of women in society, and it was a time of the Womens Liberation Movement. The events that were taking place at the time influenced the formation of Susan Glaspell as a novelist and a playwright. The changes, which were of great importance at that time, also influenced the topics of her works.
Through her works, Susan Glaspell was one of the women who dared to express her thoughts and feelings considering the place of a woman in the male society of that time. Her literary activity was influenced by several factors. First of all, such feminist writers as Fanny Fern and Kate Chopin made an impact on Susan Glaspells worldview. Living in the times of changes, she could not stay indifferent to the problems which were of great importance. Thus, Chopin and Ferns stories about the relationships between men and women, about gender roles and their meaning in society, and about womens understanding of their self-respect made Susan Glaspell think about these issues.
One more person who influenced Susan Glaspells literary activity was her husband, George Cook. However, his influence was dual. On the one hand, he was the first person who inspired her to write Trifles. It was when they spent one of their summers in Provincetown with their friends. As they performed different plays of writers who were also on holiday there for entertainment, George Cook suggested that Susan Glaspell should write her own play. In general, the loyalty of her husband gave Susan Glaspell a possibility to express radical thoughts and ideas, which could be disapproved by society but not by him. On the other hand, George Cook also had a negative influence on Susan Glaspell, which researchers suppose to be evident in Trifles. As the husband of the writer had a lot of affairs with other women and sometimes drank a lot, it is suggested that Glaspell would use her work as an outlet to vent the anger she felt toward Cooks behavior (Evans).
Certainly, her works were majorly influenced by the atmosphere of that time. As she spent a lot of time among writers and artists who were intellectuals, socialists, feminists and radicals (Evans), she had no other choice but to accept those ideas and be influenced by them.
Thus, being under the influence of a number of factors, living in society of the 20th century with its struggle for changes, Susan Glaspell wrote her play Trifles as a story of women who fight for their freedom. The reason for this fight becomes obvious as soon as one reads the play it lies in the status of women in society and in mens attitude to women. The first lines of the conversation between the characters prove this idea:
COUNTY ATTORNEY [Rubbing his hands.] This feels good. Come up to the fire, ladies.
MRS. PETERS [After taking a step forward.] Im not — cold. (Quoted in Glaspell 3)
It was the first and the last invitation of the men. They did not care whether the women really felt cold or not; they did not seem to worry about the women at all.
However, when the men paid their attention to women, it was accompanied by sarcastic utterances towards them. For instance, the men were sure that women cannot perceive any situation seriously. Their phrases such as They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it! (Glaspell 17) prove this fact. Moreover, the men made the women feel confused [The men laugh, the women look abashed] (Glaspell 17). Nevertheless, one can see the attitude of the men towards women not only with the help of these examples. The mens sarcasm was turned even to Mrs. Wright who was not present during their conversation, Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin about her preserves (Glaspell 9). The only justification the men found for women was Well, women are used to worrying over trifles (Glaspell 9), showing that men estimate women as beings who are not able to do something more than think of unnecessary things.
The only benefit the men saw in womens existence was their duty to manage a household. If a woman failed to do it, the only feeling she could cause in a man was disregard. The county attorney is a bright example:
[He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place.] Dirty towels! [Kicks his foot against the pans under the sink.] Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies? (Quoted in Glaspell 9)
However, the women who had to listen to the mens offensive words accepted them with dignity and, at the same time, accepted the challenge which was posed by society represented by these men. The women were angry with such a behavior, expressing their feelings: Id hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing (Glaspell 12). Moreover, they stood up for Mrs. Wright because they knew that she was treated by her husband badly. They understood why she had killed him there were enough reasons for this. First of all, he was a hard man… Just to pass the time of day with him — [Shivers.] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone (Glaspell 22). Secondly, he did not communicate with his neighbors and, accordingly, did not let his wife do it. Moreover, he was against the things she liked it was he who killed her bird. In the opinion of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, living in such conditions justified what Mrs. Wright had done, and that was the reason why they concealed the evidence of her implication in the crime.
Describing this story in her play, Susan Glaspell raised the problem of womens position in male society of the 20th century. She showed the reasons which made women fight for their freedom. She described women in her play as strong, compassionate, and understanding. She gave her female characters the ability to make their own decisions. Her female characters were courageous enough to protect their freedom, dignity, and self-respect. Inspired by the atmosphere of her time, in Trifles, Susan Glaspell appeals to society of the future so that it would change for the better.