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“How the little courtesies of life on the surface of society, deemed so important...

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user100400 | Honors

Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:38 AM via web

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“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.” --Elizabeth Cade Stanton.

Please, in paragraph form, discuss how this idea that women of the nineteenth century are forced to live in isolation from relationships, education, intellectual and social stimulation presents itself in Trifles by Susan Glaspell.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 26, 2013 at 5:19 AM (Answer #1)

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In Trifles, the tragedy of Mrs Wright, the former Minnie Foster, unfolds to reveal the effects of social norms and the roles of men and women in the nineteenth century. Mrs Wright is the stereotypical farmer's wife and not having children has rendered her basically useless in the social environment. Her isolation is intensified and her future is dim. 

The men are seemingly in control of the situation at the Wright house where they must investigate the murder of John Wright. Their wives have accompanied them and it is apparent to all that the home is unkempt - not what you would expect from a farmer's wife. The wives are seemingly not involved in the investigation but they uncover truths that lead them to protect Mrs Wright who has apparently been neglected by her husband for many years. It seems the last straw was when he killed her canary.

Mrs Wright has fulfilled her role of dutiful wife for many years and has suffered isolation, living on the farm. The fun-loving Minnie Foster who "used to wear pretty clothes and be lively" has been replaced by a lonely woman with no friends, no children and no meaningful relationship with her husband. This is not an unusual situation and women of the nineteenth century were expected to manage the household and tend to their husbands needs. Their own development consisted of bringing up children, cooking, cleaning and perhaps,sewing. Mrs Wright, it seems, under her husband's control, has no connection to any women's societies and, with such an unfriendly husband, no-one is inclined to befriend her.  

It is apparent therefore that Mrs Wright does fit into this expected norm. As long as men are polite - "ladies"- and provide those "little courtesies," nothing more is expected of them. Just as this kind of neglect (of women, in this case) is subtle, so too are the inferences and indicators in Trifles.

Mrs Wright wants her apron so she can appear "more natural." The men mock the attempts of the wives to understand Mrs Wright's situation, again revealing their lack of understanding of Mrs Wright's existence. The things that are important to her - jams and preserves, freezing temperatures, whether to "knot" - are the only link to the outside world that she has (especially as her canary is dead).

The canary and the fact that it drove Mrs Wright to such extremes proves the point that many women were isolated from relationships and any form of social stimulation. Mrs Wright's most meaningful relationship is with a canary! Self-development eluded Mrs Wright and she is unable to do anything about it to the point that, for her, the only way forward is such an irrational act. The depths to which Mrs Wright has sunk are evident from the fact that she appears unaffected by her husband's death and it is tragically ironic that the fact that "he's dead" will provide some relief from the perpetual,desperate situation she otherwise lives in.  

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