She “came of age” the same time American writing moved to modernism and she helped found the modern movement in American writing (Carter 247). She went through different stages of writing, but eventually returned to fiction and to her earlier ideas. No one knows what caused her to retreat back to her original way of writing. The history behind the writing of this play is interesting.
It was based off of an actual trial in the Midwest. After graduating from college, Glaspell took a position at the Des Moines Daily News when the horrible murder occurred (War terman 54). Glaspell wrote the play after she had moved away from the Midwest, married, and moved to Provincetown. In a sense, the play was written for a midwestern audience to describe the hard life of a farmer’s wife, lonely and solely dependent on her husband for all of her needs. She was able to transform a factual story into a fascinating drama of despair, loneliness and tragedy. She used her experiences as a reporter in Des Moines, Iowa, her own life and her feminist ideals to change her genre from fiction to drama.
She is best known for the play Trifles. Susan Glaspell is a somewhat of a hero in American literature. She challenged and rejected male defined norms such as the male’s right to dominate and control women and such concepts as woman’s honor and abstract justice (Smith 182). Trifles is a feminist drama. Trifles is a murder mystery that delves into the lives of simple, middle-aged, married, rural women that usually would not be main characters in a play.
The play describes the tough life experiences of the farmer’s wife in the rural Midwest in the late nineteenth century. It also explores gender relationships through the event of a murder investigation (Makowsky 17). The opening scene is introduced through the male characters and the opening dialogue takes place without interruption from the women. The women are not introduced until they are specifically addressed.
The plot centers around a murder investigation. The setting of the play is a lonely, bleak, cold landscape on a farm in the Midwest. The play begins with the investigation of a farmer’s death. Almost immediately, the women are against the men-Minnie against her husband, and the other two women against their husbands. The men are portrayed as arrogant, logical, stupid and concerned only with the facts and evidence of the crime. The women on the other hand are portrayed as sympathetic and drawn to empathize with Minnie.
They grow to understand her actions and the result is that a horrible murder is forgiven because of the terrible tragedy that caused it. The play also deciphers between the concerns of men and women. The men interfere with the women’s world, dirtying her towels, laughing at her knitting and preserves, “not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?” (Trifles) The men and women go about understanding the motive and searching for clues in very different ways. The men look for obvious signs of a violent rage or fight, but the women focus on and draw their conclusions from the everyday details of Minnie’s kitchen. While the men are outside looking for evidence and the women are left alone in the kitchen, the story delves into Minnie’s terrible, lonely life. The two women begin to see signs that Minnie’s home was an unhappy one.
They notice the un cheerfulness of the home and the fact that Minnie had no children, family, or friends. They speak of how uncaring Minnie’s husband was and how lonely she must have been. The women begin to notice little, seemingly insignificant things lying around. The women find it odd that Minnie had left unfinished housework. Also, the quilt she had been sewing had been stitched sloppily. They also find a broken birdcage and a strangled bird wrapped in a silk cloth in her sewing box.
These things eventually lead the women to believe that Minnie did indeed murder her husband out of revenge and anger for what he had done to her bird. These seemingly small details lead these women to feel empathetic towards Minnie. Once the details of her life are revealed to Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, we understand and agree with their decision to keep what they know a secret. In “Trifles, the women begin their own rebellion against their husbands and a male dominated society. As the play progresses, Glaspell gives these women power by hiding the clues they had found and destroying some of the evidence the men needed to convict Minnie of murder. For instance, the women hide the birdcage and the strangled bird.
They also tear out the sloppy stitching in the quilt. Through the setting of the play, Glaspell presents a patriarchal society. This is evident from the very beginning of the play (Must azza 493). According to the stereotypes of that time, women were to be domestic and live in the confinements of the house, specifically in the kitchen, which is where the women in this play remain.
Men are supposed to be away from the confines and chores of the home and are expected to be the providers for the family, which is evident by the jobs they hold. Women, especially in that time period, are described as emotional, sensitive, weak, gossipers, passive and polite whereas men are described as rational, strong, decisive, aggressive and dominant. In this play, it is apparent that the men and the women’s behavior reflect the beliefs of that time. The two women know that the society they live in undervalues as well as underestimates them. Even though the two women are aware of their powerless position in society, they manage to use it in a way that gives them another kind of power which enables them to protect Minnie. In this play, Glaspell uses the actions of the characters and the dialogue to communicate her disapproval of these stereotypes.
The plays irony is in that the men are confident that they are the only ones that can distinguish between the important and the unimportant. To the men, the women are just there to collect needed items for Minnie. They feel the women could not possibly give them any insight into the murder. Instead of looking around the kitchen and through Minnie’s things for clues into the murder, they immediately look upstairs in the bedroom, outside and in the barn. They dismiss the kitchen area as unimportant, “nothing here but kitchen things” (Trifles). By overlooking this area, they miss crucial evidence in convicting Minnie of the murder of her husband.
The men need something to prove their case, something showing anger or sudden emotion, but they never notice the uneven stitching on the quilt. They dismiss the bird and the broken bird cage, which are imperative to their case. The men have all of the evidence they need right there in front of them. They make fun of their wives for worrying over “trifles”, but it is the women who put the pieces together and discover the truth. The play Trifles was based on a true story. A story of how a man is strangled in his bed while he and his wife sleep.
It is also a story about men’s prejudice against women and how it became their downfall in proving a crime. The powerful characteristics of the women give the reader an idea of what it was like to be a woman in that time and the hardships and conflicts she faced from day to day. It also shows how these women’s legal and social obligations conflict with their sympathetic feelings for a fellow woman.