Does the author portray the characters of the sheriff, the county attorney, the neighbor and John Wright fairly?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is important to consider three things when assessing Glaspell's portrayal of the male characters of the play:

  1. The setting of the drama is the early 1900s, a time in which women were not given equal status with men.
  2. It is a one-act play which does not permit extensive development of character.
  3. The purpose of the play is to depict the gender differences. For, it is the lack of male compassion and understanding which drives Mrs. Wright to commit the reactionary act that she does, and it is the same male lack of understanding which prevents the men from discovering the motive of the crime.

The last two considerations certainly include a certain stereotypical portrayal of the male characters in Trifles, albeit one that was often true in the early twentieth century, and for which there is evidence. For, as the women talk in the kitchen of the Wright home, the life of "quiet desperation" led by Mrs. Wright is revealed. For instance, Mrs. Hale tells the others that she stayed away

MRS. HALE. "...because it weren't cheerful..I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road...but it's a lonesome place and always was.

....Not having children makes less work--but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day, and no company when he did come in."

She goes on to say that Mr. Wright was "a hard man," and she can understand why Mrs. Wright would want a bird. Mrs. Hale also recalls how much Minnie Foster changed after becoming Mrs. Wright. Like a bird herself, timid, sweet, and "fluttery," Mrs. Wright, who once sang in the church choir, became quietly withdrawn.

Another male character, the County Attorney, makes patronizing comments which portray him in a stereotypical manner, as well. Acting "with the gallantry of a young politician," as he condescends to the women after Mr. Hale remarks, "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles," 

COUNTY ATTORNEY And, yet for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?

The sheriff, too, makes remarks which are somewhat insensitive, but certainly typical of men of that time. When Mrs. Peters tells the other women that Mrs. Wright is worried about her fruit that she has preserved freezing, Mr. Peters remarks,

SHERIFF. Well can you beat the woman! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.

Certainly, it is not untypical of him to say this since he would not understand how much work Mrs. Wright has put into her canning, as well as the fact that she focuses on minute details to prevent herself from being as aware of the other terrible facts.

Is the author Susan Glaspell unfair in her treatment of the male characters of her play? Perhaps, so; however, with her theme of gender differences and the limited frame of a one-act play, it is their tendency to overlook what many men of their region and time period would consider insignificant female trivialities. This, indeed, is part of the "local color" that provides the drama its interesting twist.


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