In Glaspell's Trifles, which character changes: Mrs. Peters or Mrs. Hale, and how so?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Susan Glaspell's Trifles, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters change, but whereas Mrs. Hale starts off expressing her doubts over the proceedings, Mrs. Peter's change is dramatic because she initially supports what the men are doing.

Mrs. Hale notes how unhappy she would be to have someone rummaging through her house, like the men who are upstairs looking for evidence. However, Mrs. Peters makes the appropriate response—as seen by that male-dominated society.

MRS. HALE. I'd hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing...

MRS. PETERS. Of course it's no more than their duty.

And again, as the women collect some things for Minnie in jail, Mrs. Hale is concerned about the sneakiness of searching her house for evidence. Mrs. Peters reminds her that the men are doing their jobs, but Mrs. Hale's response seems halfhearted—as if she doesn't really believe it.

MRS. HALE. You know, it seems kind of sneaking. Locking her up in town and then coming out here and trying to get her own house to turn against her!

MRS. PETERS. But, Mrs. Hale, the law is the law.

MRS. HALE. I s'pose 'tis. 

Mrs. Hale is keenly observant. She notices how the stitching on the quilt Minnie was working on suddenly changes drastically, as if she were nervous about something.

Mrs. Peters, look at this one...look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even...look at this! It's all over the place!...

Mrs. Hale looks surreptitiously at the door; then she rips out the crooked stitches and fixes them so no sign remains to indicate that Minnie was upset.

MRS. PETERS. Oh, what are you doing, Mrs. Hale?

MRS. HALE (mildly). Just pulling out a stitch or two that's not sewed very good. 

Of the two, Mrs. Hale knew Minnie when she was young and pretty, with a beautiful voice, and she has seen how much Minnie has changed—guilty now that she never visited her. She also knew John Wright: that he was stingy with his money: Minnie's clothes are worn out, and Mrs. Hale is sure she was embarrassed to come to town. Then when one of the men criticizes Minnie for being a poor housekeeper, Mrs. Hale points out to him that John didn't do anything to help make the house more loving or welcoming... something he should have done. She describes Wright to Mrs. Peters:

...he was a hard man...Just to pass the time of day with him. (Shivers.) Like a raw wind that gets to the bone. 

On the other hand, Mrs. Peters is particularly timid at the start. She supports the idea of duty and propriety. When Mrs. Hale starts to rip out the messy stitches from the quilt, Mrs. Peters suggests that they should leave things alone.

MRS. PETERS. (nervously). I don't think we ought to touch things.

However, slowly, through her conversation with Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters recalls her own painful moments of desperation: the boy who killed her kitten with a hatchet—if they had not "held her" back...she pauses...she says she would have "hurt him." However, the pause clearly implies that she wanted to say "killing him." She also understands loneliness like Minnie's—she was living away from her parents and family, on a farm, with no real friends, when her two year old daughter died.

By the end, the women are complicit in their crime of withholding evidence that could convict Minnie: they hide the bird and say nothing. For Mrs. Peters, this is a radical about-face. For Mrs. Hale, we are not as surprised because she has been more vocal from the start.


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