What technique of expression did the author use to describe the difference between the male characters and female characters in Trifles by Susan Glaspell?

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

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The author's examination of the men and the women recognizes the distinction between how the two genders perceive a single situation—and each other—in Susan Glaspell's Trifles.

The premise of the story is essential to consider. A woman has been accused of murdering her husband. The attorney and others have come to the Wrights' home to look for incriminating evidence to convict Minnie Wright. The women (Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters) have initially arrive at the house to gather personal items that Mrs. Wright might need in jail.

The play's title reflects the way the men look at what women do all day—things of little importance ("trifles")—having no concept of what it takes to make a household run. In essence, they dismiss the value of women in society. When Mr. Hale jokes about this, stage direction indicates that the women (defensively) move closer together. We can infer that their feelings have been hurt.

COUNTY ATTORNEY. I guess before we're through [Mrs. Wright] may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.

HALE. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles. 
(The two women move a little closer together.)

Mrs. Hale has just heard her husband say she (i.e., women) worries over things of little significance—this is the first indication of a rift between the characters: this will have a great deal of impact when the women decide on whose behalf they will act as the story moves forward.

We see the separation again when Mr. Hale reports that Wright seemed not to care what his wife thought:

I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about [the party telephone] before his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John--

COUNTY ATTORNEY. Let's talk about that later, Mr. Hale. I do want to talk about that, but tell now just what happened when you got to the house.

The attorney has no desire to examine the relationship between the couple: he wants evidence that will quickly clear this situation up and has no time for anything but "unemotional statements of fact." The men are looking for imperical evidence: seeing the world in terms of blacks and whites.

The attorney askes for Mrs. Peters to:

...keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us.

She agrees, but Mrs. Hale starts to defend Minnie. With the "trifles" comment, it's almost as if a line has been drawn in the sand—the men are unaware of it, but to the women it is as obvious as a gaping wound. We note their concern that the preserves have been lost; that the house is a lonely place...

MRS. HALE. ...I stayed away because it weren't cheerful--and that's why I ought to have come. I--I've never liked this place...I dunno what it is, but it's a lonesome place and always was.

They worry, too, that the door to the bird cage has been ripped off, and someone has wrung the dead bird's neck.

MRS. PETERS. Somebody--wrung--[the bird's] neck.
(Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension of horror.

The women express themselves with sympathetic understanding, and they are inferential with regard to knowing what really took place in that house; the men have no interest in the "extenuating circumstances" present. They have no concern (or the ability) to look for or interpret the clues present to comprehend what really happened. The men express themselves in terms of solving a problem. The women try to understand the reason for the problem, and protect Minnie's fate from the men.


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