Gender Stereotypes In ‘Trifles’

The Nineteenth century was built around a society that contradict a strong point in the United States Constitution, that all men are created equal. Even though segregation was one of the main problems that got acknowledge, gender stereotype was often the case in most home throughout society. In the plays A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, and Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, the characters show stereotype through gender. This includes the belief that women are lesser people, child like in their action, and in need of being controlled.

Nora was the main female character in the play A Doll’s House; she lived in a lavish home eating macaroons, drinking champagne and hosting banquets. Nora lived her life, in one sense, as a complete lie. She never thought for herself or had her own opinions. Nora’s father would tell her what he thought about everything, leaving her no opinion but his. If she did have an opinion of her own she kept quiet knowing he would not have agreed. She played his little doll until she moved in with Torvald, her husband. She felt as though she was passed from her father hands into Torvald’s hands. Now she played the role of Torvald’s little doll, pretending to take on his views of everything. This evidence of gender stereotype is shown in the way Torvald treats his wife Nora, and in the way Nora acts to please her husband’s.

In the first act of the play we come across the first instance of Torvald name calling his wife in a child like manner “is that my little lark twittering out there?”(Ibsen 796) This is the first of many names Torvald use to give his wife child like tendencies. Torvald also refer to Nora as a squirrel, a spendthrift, a songbird, and a goose. Torvald shows ownership of Nora by calling her “my richest treasure”, denoting his attitude toward Nora as his possession. This stereotypical oppression by Torvald serves a purpose of keeping women in their place, and keeping men on the top of the social structures.

One can easily determine Nora as immature and childlike in her action, this stereotype is not only presented by Torvald, but by Nora as well. When Torvald ask Nora what did she want for Christmas she replies in a very child like manner. Nora speaking quickly “you might give me money”(Isben 798) when Torvald said yes Nora said “Oh do Dear Torvald, please, please do! Then I’ll wrap it up in beautiful gold paper and hang it on the Christmas tree. Wouldn’t that be fun?” (Isben 798) As one reads on Nora come home in say ” Oh yes, Torvald, we can squander a little now. Can’t we ? Just a tiny, wee bit. Now that you’ve got a big salary and are going to make piles and piles of money.” With this excerpt, we see a child-like attitude, not only in Nora’s manner of speaking with the statement “Just a tiny, wee bit,” but also in her attitude toward money and the unrealistic expectations of making “piles and piles of money.” The following example also shows Nora’s childish manner in her personal interactions with her husband. Her manner seems more like that of a favorite daughter, accustomed to getting her way, than that of a wife, also keeping with the stereotype concerning control by keeping oppression high.

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Through-out A Doll’s House, men are seemingly in the dominant position, and they manipulate their power to control women in ideological sphere so that their own identity and social status may be retained and be acknowledged by the society. As exposed in A Doll’s House, men are in a financially and ideologically superior position over women while women are kept in a subordinate position and are confined to their homes as they are not economically independent and have to rely on their husbands for support. What causes this situation to exist in the 19th-century Europe is the social context in which people held the notion that men were supposed to be responsible to their families and provide all the necessities that a family needed, while women were supposed to maintain their sacred duty of a good wife and mother. In the case of the male protagonist Helmer Torvald, his ideology is conditioned by social standards and his conception of manliness is based on man’s social values.

Gender stereotype was not only shown by the male writers, but also by the female writers as well. In the play Trifle by Susan Glaspell’s the stereotypes made are those of the women being concerned only with trifling things, that are loyal to the female gender, and that women must live under their spouses. Trifles is based on an actual event that took place in Iowa at the turn of the Nineteenth century. The play Trifles involves a murder case that explores gender relationships, power between the sexes, and the nature of truth. In the play Trifles, the victim in the suspect is not the main focus of gender stereotype: instead the gender stereotype is presented by the investigator in his associates, follow by their wives.

In the opening act of the play the men enter the house, follow by their wives. This stereotypical action was to show the dominate status of men. In Trifles, the male characters make several assumptions concerning the female characters. These assumptions show the way in which the men view the women, and are purely gender stereotypical. The first assumption that of women being only concerned with trifling things, is seen beginning with line 120 when the sheriff say “Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves. I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than her preserves to worry about. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles. These lines show the attitude toward women prevalent throughout the play. It is the men’s nonchalance toward the small details that ultimately undermines the murder case.

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The second stereotype presented by the men concerning the women is that of being loyal to their own gender. In line 140, the County Attorney states, “Ah, loyal to your sex, I see. But you and Mrs. Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.” This statement also makes an assumption concerning country women being neighborly. The County Attorney assumes that because the two women were neighbors, they were naturally friends, and spoke regularly. Because of the way the men treated the women they expresses discomfort at the men’s violation of Mrs. Wright house. They didn’t think about the law, instead they care more about the relationships than the rules. The action by the women shows a very stereotypical asset between the bonds they have for each other, instead of doing what’s right by the law.

The men try to diminish the female identity or role in the societal context by setting up in unfavorable image of female as ideologically submissive and dependent, that men are the subject or the absolute, and that women objects is existence and defined by males. The consequence of this stereotypical thinking causes the women to hide the truth from the men in Trifles. The women knew that Mr. Wright kept Mrs. Wright isolated from the world: Therefore the men remain oblivious to the action of the women hiding the truth. Their men vision and, their way of knowing narrows their focus in this play. In this case gender stereotype leads to a type of blindness on what happen in the farmhouse. If the men had discovered the evidence they would have had no doubt about on how to use it. The women discovered the evidence, but since gender stereotype was a factor it lead them to hold the truth from the men. As the women read Mrs. Wright story the understood it as if it was their story. I think their decision are based on gender, it springs from their maps of the territory, one fundamentally.

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The third stereotype the men make concerning the women can be found in line 159, when the Sheriff says “I suppose anything Mrs. Peters does’ be all right, Do you want to see what Mrs. Peters is going to take in? Oh, I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law”. It is here assumed that, because Mrs. Peters is the sheriff’s wife, she will do only what she should. Mrs. Peters has been asked to bring a couple of things to Mrs. Wright in jail, and if she finds anything that may be of use to the case, she is asked to let them know. After Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale find the very evidence that could incarcerate Mrs. Wright, they proceed to hide it from the men, providing the greatest evidence for the loyalty among women issue, and departing from the assumptions of women being trifling and subservient.

In Trifles, the women both conform to and depart from the assumptions made by the men. Mrs. Hale has found an important piece of evidence, a dead bird. The ladies decide not to allow the men to know of the true reason for the bird’s death. This departs from the stereotype depicting women as only being concerned with trifling things. As concerns the loyalty of one woman to another, evidence is found in line 366 that seems to allude to such a bond. Line 366 begins when the County Attorney say “Is there a cat?” Mrs. Hale glances in a quick covert way at Mrs. Peters.

Mrs. Peters say “Well, not now. They’re superstitious, you know. They leave”. These lines also show a departure from the assumption that women are subservient to their men in that they lie to the men. In line 411 one can see more evidence of the almost sisterly bond between women.

Mrs. Hale says “I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be–for women. I tell you, it’s queer” Mrs. Peters reply with “We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things–it’s all just a different kind of the same thing” Here one gets the idea of women depart from the stereotypical roles assigned to them by men.

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