From the minute we are born we are put into one of two categories, boy or girl. No one asks if a person would like to be considered something else. There is no choosing. There is also no mention of any grey area, just black or white. Society has evolved in a way where attached to each gender, there are extensive stereotypes. This is better known as gender roles, or more specifically; “the role or behavior learned by a person as appropriate to their gender, determined by the prevailing cultural norms.”
This includes all kinds of stereotypes, like, that women should stay home to cook, clean, and tend to taking care of the children and her husband. On the opposite end, men need to be strong-almost heroic, and the provider for the house. This isn’t to say you can’t be those things, but these roles are very unreasonable and difficult to maintain for most of society. In Susan Glaspell’s one act play titled: “Trifles” she defies the clearly cut out definitions each gender is given, as she uses strong women to break free from the role of a “housewife”.
In 1916, when this story occurred, women were nowhere close to being equal to men. This is why gender is defining of one’s role in this play. Their roles, rights, and responsibilities was a huge contrast between their male counterpart. Women could not vote, they had extremely less opportunities for employment, and were treated as inferior. This is frequently seen throughout the play as the men treat the women’s duties as merely nothing. The kitchen in the house is filled with dirty dishes and food that has been left out. The County Attorney is distraught when he sees the kitchen such a mess. The men then go to assume that Mrs. Wright must have not been a very clean person. In this era, men had high expectations for women to be constantly cheerful and maintain a happy, tidy home. As stated by the County Attorney in Trifles, “It’s not cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct” (982).
Men during this time think that the sole purpose of a woman is to keep the home orderly while serving her husband. In the County Attorney’s mind, the house should be organized and clean at all times. This is a perfect example of how difficult a woman’s life is in this era, as they are expected to complete all the most important duties but receive no recognition for it. Hale makes it known that men have more important duties when he tells Mrs. Peters that “women are used to worrying over trifles” (982). Hale casually makes this statement, with no second thought. This is where the play takes its title when Mrs. Peters states that women are as important as the exploded jar of fruit preserves.
In doing so, he not so subtly suggests that women lack the mental capacity to remain orderly and pay attention to detail. He suggests that the men have to forgive women for these simple mistakes because the only thing they deal with everyday is nothing more than a “trifle”. Furthermore, Hale implies that because women work with trifles, women must also be trifles. Him equating women to trifles is not only demeaning, but it is outright untrue. However, his patronizing tone is undermined by the women throughout the play as they outsmart the men while simultaneously proving their knowledge and strength.
The men undermine the women continuously throughout the investigation. The women are told they are not allowed to participate in any part of investing, despite all of them being skilled in finding solutions. In this time, men are looked up to as intellectuals in comparison to females, although during their time in the house they kept curating ideas that lead to nowhere, showing their ineffectiveness and inability to believe others. This proves how women start to break out of these gender norms, due to the men being so incapable of finishing the investigation on their own.
Characters such as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale display strong personalities as they break out of the normal female role in this time era. Mrs. Hales undermines her assertion slyly as she lets Mrs. Peters that “…he didn’t drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him– (Shivers) Like a raw wind that gets to the bone (877)”.
Despite the circumstance, these two women bonded and felt empathy for each other because they grew up and lived in similar situations. Due to the mutual frustration they felt, which stemmed from the patriariarchy system, they made the wise decision to work together in aim of powering against the male-driven judicial system and government. They share so many characteristics and similarities, making it a big reason for them to stick together as a team. Two strong, driven women on a team are more powerful than one- so they did just so.
Towards the end of the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters end up succeeding to stand up for themselves. This moment is one of much rebellion for not just Mrs. Hale, but also Mrs. Peters. Mrs. Hale was hiding the dead canary in her pocket. Even though it may sound dark and a bit disturbing, this was the key to solving the investigation. The canary was all the evidence the County Attorney needs to convict Mr. Wright of murder. Both women unanimously decided that they would not be turning in the final closing piece of evidence.
Not only does this empower women, but is also stands up against the male-dominated society they have been dealing with. When Mrs. Hale says that she was going to “knot it” (880), she compares it to the way she killed her husband as she tied him off with a rope. By saying this, she is unknowingly supporting all the women in this story, as her strong feminist ideals take charge. This final scene is just icing on the cake to show the boldness and bravery of these women. The author allows no cookie cutter housewife in any part of this story. Susan Glaspell succeeded in defying gender norms in “Trifles” as she breaks the regular societal duties women are thought to be responsible for.