The Play ‘Trifles’: Masculinity Problem

Many men often overlook small but important characteristics of their environment due to the excessive amount of masculinity that they possess. However, women are sometimes cognizant of the things that men overlook. Susan Glaspell, author of the play Trifles, wrote about Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Hale, who find the truth in a murder investigation managed by three men . The themes in this play are established in its opening scenes. The play closely examines the complicated relationships between wives and husbands, particularly a turbulent marriage that ends in murder. This is reflected in the setting of the messy kitchen. Throughout the play, the women stand together, highlighting their loyalty to each other over their husbands, and the way they have been shoved together by their male-dominated society, a topic further explored in the play. The three men, blinded by the masculinity expected of them in the early 1900s, could not find any evidence linking Mrs. Wright to the murder of her husband Mr. John Wright. However, the two women find evidence and store it away to never be seen again. This play shows how too much masculinity can blind someone to what is really important in the moment. In the play, Glaspell portrays men as being undercut by female authority and overlooking the evidence, such as the messed up stitching, and the dead bird that the two women notice with ease .

During the play, the women discover a quilt that Minnie was in the process of making . They noticed that her stitching was very careless towards the end. She began to fix the quilt saying “bad sewing always made me fidgety” . She fixes the quilt’s stiching so that the men would not know Mrs. Wright was in disarray at the time of her husband’s murder . From the women’s point of view, the men drove them into chaos and they deserved whatever they had coming to them. Due to this, the women could see that the careless stitching was a direct effect of her husband’s lack of love towards her. While the stitching was a sign of the neglect that Mr. Wright showed towards his wife, there is other evidence that coincides with the stitching.

Late in the story, the women find a dead bird wrapped in a silk cloth stored neatly in a beautiful box. Mr. Peters states in the story that “Somebody—wrung—its—neck .”  The dead bird is the evidence that would explain Minnie’s motive for killing her husband. All of the evidence leading up to this discovery suggests that Mr. Wright was the one to break the bird’s neck. He does so to antagonize his wife and to show her that he still dominates the house. Wright killed her bird – her only companion in her lonely house – and so in return she killed him. Mrs. Hale sees instantly that the dead bird is more than mere evidence of motive. It also shows the obvious pattern of emotional abuse that Minnie endured at the hands of her husband. The women hide the bird from the men, who are still mocking the women for their interest in the unfinished quilt, so that it can not become evidence implicating Mrs. Wright of her husband’s murder . Mrs. Hale lied to the men, and told them “We think the cat got it.” (Glaspell 1205), when they asked why there was not a bird in the cage. The discovery of the birdcage introduces the concept of isolation and imprisonment into the play. The presence of the cage connects to Minnie’s situation, isolated like she was in her husband’s house . While this is crucial, later in the scene Mrs. Hale expresses her frustration with herself for not visiting Minnie more often. She says “I stayed away because it weren’t cheerful—and that’s why I ought to have come. I—I’ve never liked this place”. Mrs. Hale’s guilt over not visiting Minnie shows that she understands Minnie’s loneliness – even that she knew of Minnie’s loneliness before these events – but that she put her own life and husband before trying to help Minnie. The two women are able to find the crucial evidence easier than any of the three men could during this time but due to society being highly masculine they too were unable to recognize that it truly was evidence. While they do not realize it is evidence, they choose to hide the dead bird from the three men because they are scared of the masculinity that would be expressed unto them if the men were to find out that they had tampered with evidence.

The three men continue to be blinded by their masculinity as the women hide evidence that could easily be recognized. As the women are talking about the messed up stitching the sheriff makes fun of them saying, “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!” followed by all of the men laughing. The blinding masculinity that they possess is being undercut by the intelligence and poise of the two women. They also ignore the jars of preserves that Mrs. Wright had prepared and put in the cabinet. The women know that no women in her right mind would have let those preserves go to waste. The men are again undercut by the women as they know her husband had to have been abusive.

As the play continues, evidence incriminating Minnie is found by the women and quickly covered up, as the men were busy dismissing them. Trifles, is a literary tool used to convey the suppression and hardships that women had to endure because of the “devaluation” in a male dominance oriented society . Men tend to focus on the evidence that is right in front of them instead of looking for things that are hidden from their sight . The three men in the play repeatedly dismiss things that they deem beneath their concern such as the quilting and the missing bird. They deem things such as these as a woman’s concern . The men fail to recognize that they have forced the women’s concern over these things, a direct result of not allowing them to become concerned with anything else . Furthermore, the men’s dismissal reflects a larger mindset of devaluing women and their interests and opinions in general. Ironically, this constant dismissal ultimately causes the foolish men to overlook the very evidence they seek .   

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