Paper on Irony and the place of women in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles

Irony and the place of women in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles

Susan Glaspell’s Trifles focuses on communicating the structure of a society defined by patriarchal dominance the effects of that dominance on the well-being of the society. Through the incorporation of the element of irony in the story, Glaspell succeeds in communicating the evident idiocy that overshadows men in their attempt to assume dominance in every aspect of the society that entails power relations. For Glaspell, women, despite their inferior position have the capacity of embracing intellect and wisdom in their deliberations as it is considered effective in developing solutions to problems that may be affecting the well-being of the society and its members.

The title of the play Trifles, connotes the meaning of something that is small and less important. The play is about the murder of Mr. Wright and the desire to conduct investigations to find the murders. This is not a trifle but the men use the term in many parts of the film when they refer to the ideas and thoughts that engulf the activities of women. The irony that emerges from this title is that throughout the film the men are involved in the search for some type of evidence that could be used in supporting their theory and to convict Mrs. Wright for killing her husband (Whalan 134). The women who were engaged in their trifles had uncovered evidence that could result in the conviction of Mrs. Wright.

From their investigations in Mrs. Wrights Kitchen, the women find a quilt that the accused had been working on and upon further analysis, they discover that at the in the final edges of the quilt Mrs. Wright developed it as if she was nervous about something. For the women this could be used as an essential clue that she was guilty of killing her husband. However, when the men notice the women talking about the quilt, they assume that it is part of their trifles without acknowledging that it could be part of the evidence. The women are focused on the simple thing that normally would not be considered meaningful but they perceive them as essential in trailing the events that might have led to the murder of Mr. Wright. These two women, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters notice the bird’s cage and the bird’s body and this become essential evidence (Ben-Zvi 264). It is these less intelligent trifles that help the women to uncover the person responsible for killing Mr. Wright.

The play, Trifles, is defined by an element of dramatic irony considering that the audience already knows something that the characters do not know and this leads them into acting under false assumptions. Through this irony, Glaspell reveals the inadequacies of a highly patriarchal society. These include Mr. George Henderson (the County Attorney), Henry Peters (Sherriff), and Lewis Hale a local farmer. These individuals act on the assumption that they possess all the knowledge and intelligence that is sufficient in solving the mystery behind the murder. Their assumption that women often concern themselves with less important issues makes them miss the point that the women could help in uncovering the mystery (Whalan 134-135). The women upon discovering the person responsible for the murder decide to conceal the information from the ignorant men.

The playwright uses this ability of women in communicating issues about the rights of women, the social expectations about their responsibilities and the underlying assumption about the position of women in the society. For Glaspell the women were justified to conceal this information as part of demonstrating that they were to be considered as individual equal to men (Ben-Zvi 264). This is because despite their perceived inferiority they were able to uncover essential details about the murder that the men had spent much time trying to uncover not knowing that they were focusing on irrelevant aspects of investigation.

According to Whalan (134-135), from the play it is possible to assert that Glaspell does not only seek to assert the need to provide women with more roles in the society but it also addresses the approaches through which knowledge and perspectives are valued or devalued in different contexts. The play is characterized by two parallel narratives, which are bases on the underlying differences in the perceptions of men and women within the society. From the play, the men responsible for the investigation perceive the house as a crime scene, while Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters who are in the company of investigators approach the house as a home. Both men and women are in this house for different reasons considering that the former has the responsibility of fulfilling their professional and legal obligations while the latter have come to prepare some personal effects that are to be taken to Mrs. Wright in her prison cell. Yet from the play it is evident that the alterability of the motives of the men are rigid while the women are flexible are determinant of the approaches used by both parties in viewing the case.

For Glaspell, flexibility is an essential attribute that women must always embrace in all their deliberations considering that it was through this approach that women were capable of positing themselves to generate relevant discovering for the case. The women’s way of knowing directs them not only to the knowledge but also to on making decisions about the best way of acting on the knowledge that they acquire. Through this play, Glaspell appreciates women on their ability to effectively apply knowledge considering that unlike the men who focus only on one violent moment, the women solve the case by reliving Mrs. Wright’s marriage life. It is by adopting this approach to knowledge that women gain power. Power is gained by recognizing that they are devalued they choose to use their low status to deny men the opportunity of knowing person responsible for the murder of Mr. Wright. For Glaspell, women in the city can use their low position to their advantage as witnessed in the story where the men did not expect women to make any meaningful contribution to investigation.

From the play, it is evident that small things can be responsible for distress and anger. The men perceive women as individuals who are worried about inconsequential things. They assume that these trifles cannot be used in explaining major events. While investigating Mr. Wright’s murder, the men focus on the violent instances while ignoring simple family misunderstandings that could have resulted in conflict and the murder of Mr. Wight. Women are able to uncover this mystery because they are concerned with these small issues.

Mr. Wright died because his wife (Minnie) strangled him. From the evidence recovered by the women, Minnie was unhappy in her marriage and she wanted to escape. The women were able to understand the possible case of death because they could identify the signs of unhappiness that might have led her into committing the crime.






Works Cited

Ben-Zvi, Linda. Susan Glaspell: Essays on Her Theater and Fiction. Ann Arbor (Mich.:

University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. New York: Frank Shay, 1916.

Whalan, Mark. American Culture in the 1910s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010