Using the quote below, from Elizabeth Cade Stanton January 1892, please discuss how the idea that women of the nineteenth century are forced to live in isolation from relationships, education and intellectual and social stimulation presents itself in Trifles by Susan Glaspell.
“How the little courtesies of life on the surface of society, deemed so important from man towards woman, fade into utter insignificance in view of the deeper tragedies in which she must play her part alone, where no human aid is possible.”
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Trifles is aptly named for describing seemingly insignificant events or occurrences. It triggers the belief that the expectations of men towards women and women of themselves, in the nineteenth century, placed unattainable goals or unfair expectations on them.
The scene is set as the unkempt home of the Wrights gives the audience a look into the less-than-perfect home. The "little courtesies" are immediately recognized as Henderson, the County Attorney, expects that the women will be cold, calling them to warm themselves by the fire. As the scene unfolds and the men discuss the events of the last evening, the women are insignificant to them and the mention of the jars freezing in the cold is scoffed at: "Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves." Although not intentional, it shows how little regard they have for the hard work that would have gone into the preparation of the preserves but it is true that the women themselves, worrying about irrelevant details, perpetuate their image.
Henderson does show his appreciation for "the ladies" but his tone is unintentionally patronizing " what would we do without the ladies?" His comments about Mrs Wright's poor housekeeping skills continue the tone and his disapproval is evident. Rather than acknowledging the amount of work to be done on a farm and a man's contribution to the dirt, he only sees how defensive Mrs Hale is. The expectation that Mrs Wright is the one responsible for making the home "a cheerful place" brings the issue of playing "her part alone," into focus.
The women's presence at the crime scene is almost dismissed and the requirement by George Henderson "to see what you take" seems to be more due to going through the motions that expecting to discover anything of importance.
The fact that Mrs Wright has no friends and "She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster...singing in the choir" supports the view that women, regardless, must fit into their husband's routine and change their personality if necessary.She does not appear to have any pastimes outside her home - certainly no involvement in the choir! The need for her apron, which Mrs' Hale and Peters believe is to make her "feel more natural" is also a shocking reminder of the roles women expected to fulfil and is further supported when Mrs Peters admits that "they've got awful important things on their minds" after they again make fun of the women.
The definition of Wright as a "good man" also contributes to the social norms as he is not expected to have intellectual conversations or be sociable with his wife It is considered sufficient that " he didn't drink, and kept his word...and paid his debts." The fact that the couple had no children also reveals the "deeper tragedy" as there is apparently nothing else for her. Not having children does not allow her to pursue other opportunities but isolates her even more.
The fact that the two women find the bird but that the men do not see the significance of the bird cage and dismiss the absence of "the cat" confirms the belief in the inability of the women to make any meaningful contribution to the investigation: "a—dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with—with—wouldn't they laugh!" There is even a suggestion that there is no real justice as "you know juries when it comes to women."
The play ends with aninsignificant discussion. "Minnie Foster" is still unimportant, as if she had not even killed her husband. Or did she?
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