Gender possition and the society (Susan Glaspell)
The nineteenth century saw the emergence of several prominent female literary figures. Like many other women writers, Glaspell struggled with themes like sexes and differences and other concerns, inherited a rich legacy from the women of nineteen century. Indeed, in Greenwich Village in the middle of an artistic revival and renaissance, Glaspell along with her husband began to write openly about these issues. In 1915 Glaspell started the Provincetown Players. Female writers such as Chopin and Fern, and Glaspell’s involvement in the Provincetown Players, strongly influenced the creation of Glaspell’s play Trifles (Gionia & Kennedy, 69).
Susan Glaspell is an interesting example of the late nineteenth-century woman writer, raised in the local color tradition, which radically altered her life and art after her marriage and moved east. She “came of age” about the same time American writing moved from regionalism to modernism and she helped found the modern movement in American drama. Once her experimental period was over, she returned to fiction and to her earlier themes–much more maturely presented. Whether her retreat back to regionalism was because her husband died or because she felt more secure in the older tradition, no one can say.
The play was based on an actual trial Glaspell covered as a reporter in Des Moines. In this sense, the play was written for a Midwestern audience to dramatize the terrible life of a farm wife, isolated and dependent on her husband for her physical and emotional needs, with the occasional tragic consequences the play depicts. But the play was written after Susan Glaspell had left the Midwest, after she had lived abroad, married, and moved to Provincetown. She had time to ponder the implications of the event and see the tragedy in larger terms, so she was able to transform a journalistic story into a universal drama.
American theatre owes a great debt to Susan Glaspell—for she dared envision and bring to life onstage her own New Women. These women experience their own anagnorsis, challenging and rejecting male-defined norms, including such concepts as woman’s honor, abstract justice, and the male’s right to dominate and control, while they move toward the formation of female community. (Gardner ET el, 948-949)
‘Trifles’ is a murder mystery which explores sympathetically the lives of middle-aged, married, rural women characters that would usually be minor figures in a play. In this way Trifles (published in 1920) is a uniquely female and, indeed, feminist document. (Gioia & Kennedy, 69).
Glaspell turned to her experiences as a reporter in Iowa, combined with her feminist philosophy and her life. She credits this influence for challenging her to change her genre from fiction to drama, and to “overthrow convention” in her form and content. She is best known for, Trifles.
The play conveys the brutal experience of being a farm wife in Iowa during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the play women are pitted against men–Minnie against her husband, the two women against their husbands and the other men. The men are logical and arrogant, the women are sympathetic and drawn to empathize with Minnie and forgive her crime.
The setting–a lonely, bleak, cold landscape; the main characters are never seen on stage and assume a shadowy, almost archetypal presence; the struggle between them is echoed by the antagonisms between the two women and three men on stage; the result is that a brutal murder is forgiven because of the more terrible tragedy beneath it. The play carefully distinguishes between the affairs of men and the concerns of women. The men intrude on the woman’s world, dirtying her towels, scoffing at her knitting and preserves, “not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” (Gardner ET el, 947)
In the kitchen, the men are left out and the awful details of Minnie’s life are revealed to Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, so that when the men return, we see how blind they are and we, the audience, accept their decision not to reveal Minnie’s motive. However, women are caring and they understand men’s work, because the women have a long way to go in understanding men’s actions (Holstein, p.282 (11)
Are we living in a Chauvinist Male Society? Gender roles are attitudes that a society links to each sex. They are basically prejudicial descriptions of who men and women are. In today’s society, men and women are divided into two stereotypical gender-roles; the feminine code and the masculine code. (Glaspell, p.52)
Men have been described as being insensitive, dominant, strong, rational, aggressive and rude, whereas women have been described as sensitive, weak, emotional, talkative, passive and more polite. In “Trifles,” women begin a rebellion against a male-dominated society. As the play progresses, the author tries to show that the omission of the clues found in the kitchen and the complete disregard for women serve as a consequence to solving the case. In the one-act play by Susan Glaspell, the plot, the actions of various characters and the dialogue communicate the author’s disapproval of gender-role stereotypes. In the play, the author uses dialogue to convey gender-role stereotypes.
From the very beginning of the play, the author presents a patriarchal society through the setting. According to gender-role stereotypes, women are thought to be domestic and live in their “private sphere,” in the confinements of the house, specifically the kitchen, the place where the women in the play remain. Men are presumed to live in the “public sphere,” away from the chores of the house and provide for the family as indicated by the jobs the male characters hold.
Trifles was a play based on a real life tragedy. A tragedy in which a man was found strangled in his bed while the wife unknowingly sleeps. The author, Susan Glaspell, was on staff at the Des Moines Daily News when the murdered occurred. The play is said to draw upon a detective story. However, the drama was not only written for mystery but was also written to show how women were treated around her time.
In the play, Trifles, author Susan Glaspell uses foreshadowing, irony, and symbolism to convey the theme that women face a power struggle when their legal obligations conflict with their protectionist and empathetic feelings for a fellow woman. (Meyer, p.29)
This drama, however, shows that the power of women is different, it is subtle and indirect, but can be strong enough to influence the outside world. Perhaps Glaspell wished to show the women of her time that they had more power than they, or anyone else, realized.
Meyer, Micheal.The Bedford Introduction to Literature: reading, thinking, writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 5th ed.1999, p.29
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles”. Plays. Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, (1920), p.52
Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. “Silent justice in a different key: Glaspell’s ‘Trifles’.”The Midwest Quarterly44.3 (Spring 2003): 282(11).Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. City College of San Francisco. 22 Sept. 2007 .<http://find.galegroup.com
Gioia, Dana and Kennedy, X.J. Literature: A Jury of Her Peers and Trifles. New York: Longman 8th ed. 1999, p.69
Gardner Janet E, Lawn Beverly, Ridl Jack and Schakel Peter.Literature: A Portable Anthology. Glaspell Susan:”Trifles”. Bedford/St.Martin’s.Boston 2004, p.947-949.