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In both A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, and Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, the focus is on women as they exist within the confines of a man-dominated society, and how they respond to extenuating circumstances presented in their marriages.
Both stories have a common theme of women who have been repressed and controlled by husband and societal expectations.
Both women take steps to address the control exerted over them, but the actions they take are very different.
And in both plays, there are women who come to a startling awakening of a woman's true "lot in life," which they had not understood before. In A Doll's House, the awareness comes to Nora, the major character in her story; but in "Trifles," the awareness comes to two women left to bear witness to the abuse of their neighbor.
In A Doll's House, Nora is married to Torvald, a pompous, egotistical is a control-freak who believes he must oversee every aspect of Nora's life.
For example, when they attend the masquerade ball, Torvald helps choose Nora's costume and then "orchestrates" how they will make their dramatic exit, even while living out a sexual fantasy of secretly sneaking off with a wild peasant dancing girl—rather than his wife. Nora is treated like a doll (posed, manipulated), but finally realizes that Torvald has no regard for her as the determined woman who was willing to do anything to save his life when he fell seriously ill.
By the end of the play, in which Nora has lived through hell for the sake of Torvald's well-being, all he cares about is whether his reputation will be damaged by what she has done. Finally, Nora awakens as if from a deep sleep, sees Torvald and herself more clearly, and deals with her captivity in this bizarre marriage by leaving him.
In Trifles, our main character is Mrs. Wright who has been abused mentally and emotionally by a husband who has destroyed the joy, laughter, and even the music that filled her life before they married. He has taken everything that made her unique and crushed it like a bug underfoot. He even goes so far as to break the neck of a canary Mrs. Wright had, which had brought happiness and song back into her life. With the intentional killing of the bird, Mrs. Wright seems to finally break and she murders her husband while he sleeps.
In the final comparison, Nora realizes that she has been poorly treated by her husband and unfair, double-standards that society has placed upon women—be seen and not heard, submit to your husbands, and live socially upright lives.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters who come to Mrs. Wright's house to gather some things for her while in jail, notice how casually the men make fun of the hard work a woman does to keep a household running. They refer to these chores as "trifles," though they reap the rewards of this work. They make fun of the quilt Mrs. Wright has been sewing. They are boorish and insensitive.
When the women find the dead bird waiting to be buried, they realize how terrible Mrs. Wright's existence must have been. After witnessing the "neanderthal-like" behavior of the men gathering evidence against Mrs. Wright, they decide to champion Mrs. Wright in small ways. They hide the dead bird, probably the catalyst that brought about Mrs. Wright's "psychotic break," so there is no new evidence to convict her, and collect things to bring her some little comfort in jail.
However, the women are changed people. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters see the need to stick together, and find themselves alienated from the society of men who can be so uncaring and dismissive of the women who partner them in life.
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