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Susan Glaspell's play, Trifles, and William Faulkner's short story, "A Rose for Emily" are both about women and murder. In Trifles, Minnie Wright has been arrested for allegedly killing her husband while he slept. Miss Emily Grierson, in Faulkner's tale, kills the man she was dating.
Minnie Wright is a woman who was once young and seemingly happy. She sang in the church choir and was well thought of. When she married her husband John, the reader discovers that Minnie's life was a misery: they never had children, her husband was especially stingy with their money, and the house was lonely and dark. Though he was a responsible man, he was not caring:
MRS. HALE. Yes...he didn't drink, and kept his word as well as most, I guess, and paid his debts. But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him. (Shivers.) Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.
The reader discovers he was also violent. When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters look for things they can take to the jail for Minnie (and the men search the house for incriminating evidence), the women discover a birdcage that is not just broken, but looks as if its door has been ripped off.
MRS. PETERS. (examining the cage) Why, look at this door. It's broke. One hinge is pulled apart.
MRS. HALE. (looking, too) Looks as if someone must have been rough with it.
Soon they find a dead canary wrapped in Minnie's sewing box—as if for burial. We can assume John killed it, and also that he was violent with Minnie. And when he kills the only joy in her life—the bird—it seems Minnie snapped and killed her husband.
MRS. HALE. (jumping up) But, Mrs. Peters--look at it. Its neck! Look at its neck! It's all--other side to.
MRS. PETERS. Somebody--wrung--its neck.
(Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension of horror...)
It is a very different story with Miss Emily who comes from an old and wealthy line of Griersons in the Deep South. Through the artful manipulation of time—using flashbacks—the author spins his tale.
When we first meet Emily, she is described as...
...bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.
It is hard to imagine she was ever young, for now her hair has turned "iron-grey" and she is a recluse. When she was young, Emily's father refused to let her date because he believed no one was good enough for his daughter. It seems likely that she was very lonely, but that she was also slightly insane—for when her father dies, she refuses for days to let anyone take the body. When they finally manage, the funeral is held very quickly.
Through flashback, we find that after her father's death, Emily scandalously begins dating Homer Baron, a "Yankee construction foreman"—from the North and a common worker. Eventually she orders a monogrammed "toilet set" and clothes (ostensibly wedding gifts for Homer), and all believe they will marry. He is seen entering her house, but then is never seen again. It is believed he left Emily, and the townspeople pity her. The reader is unaware that Emily actually poisoned Homer to keep him from leaving her.
Upon Emily's death, Barron's body is found in the house. But murder is not the worst of it—and Emily's descent into madness is now obvious:
Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.
...we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
These lines from Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" describe the inner reality of both Miss Emily Grierson and Mrs. Minnie Wright, two repressed and alienated women. When all the suitors of Miss Emily have been dismissed and her way of life as an aristocrat of the South has ended, Emily clings to the old house and the old Negro in the pretense of the old life. With only shadows of the past, the isolated Emily is abandoned by Homer Barron, who brings her the only hope of a future. When he does return to town, she refuses to allow him to leave her in the only way that she can--she murders him.
Likewise, Mrs. Wright, once one of the town girls who joyously sang in the choir in town as a youth, loses her old life to that of being a lonely woman married to a cruel, taciturn, and spiritless man, locked away on a lonesome farm that is miles from others. In desperation, she acquires a canary that sings and brings some little joy to her. But, her husband kills it; and, without this small consolation for her repressed life, the desperate Mrs. Wright wrings her husband's neck in the same way that the little bird is killed as her refusal for him to subjugate her.
Repressed and alienated, Miss Emily Grierson and Mrs. Minnie Wright retaliate against the men in their lives who have deceived them. Bereft, Miss Emily and Mrs. Wright exist only in a living death. Miss Emily does die while Mrs. Wright may be acquitted without any proof of motive available to the County Attorney. Nevertheless, hers will be a lifeless existence alone in that melancholy house.
from Trifles COUNTY ATTORNEY:
"Oh, I guess they're not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out."
from "A Rose for Emily":
One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.
Nothing dangerous, but nothing to live for, either, for two very lonely women.
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