Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Glaspell uses rich verbal and dramatic irony to show that women’s intuitive powers can be superior to men’s analytical skills. Aware of the details of daily household chores, the two women grasp the overall scenario: an enraged husband killed by an even more enraged wife. Besides showing how women know that trifles are not insignificant, Glaspell dramatizes gender differences to foreshadow the women’s rebellion. The women, for example, respond sympathetically on seeing the mess from broken jars of fruit, upset at the futility of a woman’s hard work in the intense summer heat. On the other hand, the men berate Mrs. Wright for sloppy housekeeping, as if she could have prevented the cold weather from bursting the jars while jailed overnight.
The descriptive narration, interwoven with insightful dialogue, skillfully reveals a sense of place, characterization, and plot events. For example, Glaspell sets the Wrights’ farmhouse in a hollow, suggesting the emotional emptiness of their lives. She compares John Wright’s hardness to “a raw wind that gets to the bone,” and Minnie is like a bird herself—“sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and—fluttery.” Although caged up, small, and defenseless like the canary, Minnie becomes enraged enough to murder John.
As the pieces of a patchwork quilt are sewn together, Glaspell slowly stitches together details that reveal the pattern clearly. She makes clever use of the quilting term of “knotting” to suggest that the women have joined to block the prosecution’s case against Minnie. Quilting points to another key metaphor in defining the importance of women’s work as sisterhood. Whereas women in a community have traditionally gathered for quilting bees to finish the tedious work of stitching the patchwork top layer to the stuffing and backing, the solitary Mrs. Wright, having to rely on herself, would have chosen the faster method of knotting (pulling yarn through the material at perhaps twelve-inch intervals and tying it off in a knot). Although Minnie Wright’s community of sisters neglected her in the past, they now rally together to save her life. A jury of her peers has reached its verdict: not guilty.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ben-Zvi, Linda. “Susan Glaspell’s Contributions to Contemporary Women Playwrights.” In Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, edited by Enoch Brater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Bigsby, C. W. E. Introduction to Plays by Susan Glaspell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Dymkowski, Christine. “On the Edge: The Plays of Susan Glaspell.” Modern Drama 1 (March, 1988): 91-105.
Goldberg, Isaac. The Drama of Transition: Native and Exotic Playcraft. Cincinnati: Stewart Kidd, 1922.
Makowsky, Veronica A. Susan...
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