You are on page 1of 4

Myranda Larsen

Professor Stephanie Maenhardt

English 2600
20 June 2015
Essay 2: Trifles by Susan Glaspell (Feminist/Biographical Criticism)
Anyone who has ever endeavored to read Susan Glaspells Trifles, or has seen it
performed, must agree that there is more to the story than meets the eye. On the outside it is
merely the tale of a man probably murdered by his wife as told by the silly, gossiping women of
his town. Underneath there is so much more. It takes a quick look into Susan Glaspells own life,
and the history of the United States surrounding the time of this plays first production for us to
really understand the significance of such a trifling play.
Susan Glaspell was born in Iowa in 1876 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015) to a world on
the brink of a change. More than forty years before the constitution was amended and women
were finally afforded the right to vote in this country, people were already talking about womens
rights. Glaspell grew up in an era where great women like Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone
were fighting a war on gender-based inequality. All around her, conversations about the value of
a womans life and her potential role as an equal citizen in this country were being tossed about.
She knew exactly how she felt about womens rights, and she used her talent as a writer to make
that opinion publicly known.
Glaspell wrote Trifles in 1916, just four years before the nineteenth amendment was
passed, for the Provincetown Players it was an immediate success. This should come as no
surprise, considering the heroes (or should I say heroines) of this one-act drama are ladies a
detail which was not overlooked amid an audience of people who, like Glaspell, had been raised

on feminist ideals. Even today, if you were to Google search the words Susan Glaspell
Feminist you would find pages and pages of articles citing Trifles as one of her most glorious
and poignant feminists works.
The women of her play carry dual roles. Not only are they the gossiping ladies who
unwittingly uncover a great secret, but they are also a picture of the everyday, average American
woman in 1916. They wait on their husbands, clean house, take care of children, worry over
neighbors, join and form societies, tend to domestic needs, and gossip with other ladies. Their
lives are busy and important: even if the men dont see it. They are the part of society that makes
sure everything runs smoothly. They go about their daily work quietly in the shadows of their
husbands while said husbands claim the world at their fingertips. Im sure many of the women in
Glaspells audience felt much the same way Ive felt that way at times. But when the dutiful
and unassuming Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Brooks discover the secret truth about their neighbors
demise, we come to understand that these ladies are capable of so much more. I wonder if female
onlookers of this play watched the story unfold and understood that they, too, were capable of
more than traditional female roles had lead them to believe.
Mrs. Wright, though not physically expressed in the play, plays perhaps the biggest role.
She takes in a caged bird, loves it, feeds it, and comes to understand that it represents her own
situation. She, like the bird, was caged. She, like the bird, found her song suppressed. When her
husband lynched the bird, Mrs. Wright understood that if she continued to live in a mans
oppressive shadow her whole life, she too would be suffocated and cease to exist. She did the
only thing she could she took action. Glaspells intention here was very clear: take action. She
did not want herself and her fellow sisters to remain under the thumb of a patriarchal country

More than that, she saw those who opposed the feminist movement as shallow and
outdated. She eloquently expressed this idea when she wrote her male characters as blundering
idiots who took their women for granted. The truth of Mr. Wrights murder was right under their
noses, but they did not find it because they were too busy taking charge of the matter and
belittling Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. Surely, had these two women come clean with the evidence
they had found, they would have either discredited it, claiming the women were reading too
much into a dead bird, or they would have taken the credit themselves for solving the murder.
These men represent the outdated, yet controversial idea at the time that women had no right to
an equal place in this country beside their husbands, brothers, and fathers.
Apparently, her audience, along with a majority of this country agreed with Glaspell. In
coming years, women gained not only the right to vote, but began finding a place for themselves
in society outside of the kitchen. Today, careers which were traditionally only sought out by men
are given to both men and women alike. The battle continues for equal wages, but even that has
seen major improvement in the last several years. I wouldnt go so far as to say that Susan
Glaspells Trifles started it all, but it can definitely be noted among other efforts in the battle for
womens rights. Susan Glaspell was a doer. She understood that her femininity was an asset to
the world, and she used it to make her place in this world.

Works Cited
"Susan Glaspell". Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopdia Britannica Online.
Encyclopdia Britannica
Inc., 2015. Web. 20 Jul. 2015 <>.