In Susan Glaspell's one-act play, Trifles, what attitudes toward women do the men express?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question for a number of reasons! Certainly this is a play when the women win against the men hands down! What is fascinating about this play is the way that the author uses dramatic irony so well to highlight the ignorance and chauvinism of the males in their judgement of the women.

The dramatic irony in this short play lies around the crucial fact that the men are completely unable to find a motive for the killing of John Wright whilst the women are, although they are disparaged by the men for concerning themselves with "trifles", which clearly in their opinion can hold no interest to their "serious" investigations.

You will want to look at how the men mock the women and infer that they know nothing, only concerning themselves with "womanly" activities. A key example of this, and one that is referred to again and again at various points in the play to highlight the irony, concerns the quilt that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale find. Mrs. Hale says of this quilt:

It's log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn't it? I wonder if she was goin' to quilt it or just knot it?

Note then that the men descend the stairs, and the Sherrif repeats her words, drawing a laugh from the men. It is highly crucial then, that straight away after this, whilst Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are taking up their time with "little things" as Mrs. Hale says, that they find the motive in the piece of crooked sewing, that gives evidence of "anger, or - sudden feeling", as Mrs. Peters reports Mr. Henderson saying. Note how Mrs. Hale describes what she sees:

Mrs. Peters, look at this one. Here, this is the one she was working on, and look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It's all over the place! Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!

The women, by engaging in their "trifles", have found the motive that the men have been looking for, whilst they have been stomping ineffectually all around the house. The answer was under their noses all the time, but needed a woman's knowledge to piece it together.

Therefore the men throughout are disparaging and dismissive of the women and what they can offer to the "real" investigation that the men think they are engaged in.

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary attitude of the men in Trifles toward the women is expressed in the play's title. The men obviously believe that roles and interests are divided by gender: the men's concerns are primary and are serious, while the women's interests are mere "trifles."

Glaspell's play portrays the informal investigation of a home in which a murder has taken place by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, whose husbands are formally investigating the literal crime scene. The men are looking for evidence of motive and have trouble finding any, because they only pay attention to the markers most policemen and other male officials would look for as proof. The women inadvertently solve the crime and piece together Mrs. Wright's motive by observing the state of the Wrights' domestic life.

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are tasked with gathering some items to bring to Mrs. Wright in the jail. As they look around the home, they notice that Mrs. Wright's kitchen work (preserves) was interrupted——she hadn't put everything away after all the hard work she did. The women lament the loss of all that work, and they can relate, because they've completed similar tasks in their own homes. The women notice that there is a flawed stitch in Mrs. Wright's knitting, which indicates she was upset or distracted. Finally, when looking for some sewing supplies, they come across a dead bird with a broken neck. This is the primary clue to motive, because of the way Mr. Wright was killed (he was strangled). The women put together these physical clues with Mrs. Peter's past relationship with Mrs. Wright (she knew her as Minnie Foster, who loved to sing, but whose voice had been silenced by her husband). The dead bird symbolizes Mrs. Wright, whose spirit has been killed by her husband, along with the bird, which represents her struggle. The women understand why Mrs. Wright committed the crime, they sympathize, and they cover for her.

The men probably would never have figured this out anyway, though, because things like women's sewing supplies are "trifles" to them. The play emphasizes the idea that men's roles and concerns are more serious and important than those of women. Ironically, it is this exact attitude that leads the women to solve the crime while the men come up empty.