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What is the conflict in play Trifles?

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loj91 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 21, 2012 at 3:03 AM via web

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What is the conflict in play Trifles?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 6, 2012 at 10:11 PM (Answer #1)

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The conflict that seems to be most evident in the play Trifles is the abrogation of the basic rights for safety and liberty, that all females deserve, by a male-dominated society.

The tendency to almost nullify the most basic rights of women, namely, the freedom to be safe and the freedom of expression, is not only evident in John Wright's grievous treatment of his wife for so many years, but also in the treatment that the other two female characters receive when they (the women) make conjectures, emit opinions, or try to come up with simple conclusions. 

The fact that the women's observations are rescinded as mere trifles by the "men in charge" illustrates the conflict of the play in terms of gender equality, gender roles, and the societal expectations of the two genders. For example, while the lawyer, sheriff and county attorney are making observations of the home as the crime scene, they do not take into consideration the dire state of the house as a potential clue of the daily struggles in Minnie's life. Instead, they immediately blame Minnie Wright for "not being a good housekeeper". 

COUNTY ATTORNEY [...] He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place.] Dirty towels! [...] Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?

Moreover, the men even laugh at the women's conjectures in a way that, to the modern reader, would see quite rude. This is also because, to the women, this is a customary form of treatment: they are simply to be seen and not heard; they are invisible. 

This is evident when the women see the stitching work that Minnie had been working on prior to the murder. To a knowledgeable woman, the disparate stitching would indicate that the person doing the work was in a dire state of anxiety. The fact that the work is in such a state sends immediate signals to Mrs. Hale who already has the feeling that Minnie had snapped. However, when she tries to find an alternative explanation she merely asked:

 I wonder if she was goin' to quilt it or just knot it?

To which the men, as they come down from the murder scene, laugh saying:

SHERIFF They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it! [The men laugh, the women look abashed.

 Therefore, there is definitely a tendency to scoff at the remarks made by the females of the play precisely because they are "merely" women. This behavior serves as the backdrop of the play: a male-dominated society which does not respect the basic rights of women will never consider their needs as valid. This is what leads John to abuse Minnie, and what leads the men to take value away from the women's thoughts and opinions. Minnie would not stand a chance in a society like her own. 

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