In Trifles, how does the first entrance of the characters establish a distinction between the men and women in the play?
In Trifles, there is a clear distinction between the female and male characters. For one thing, the names in the list of characters indicate this difference as the women are listed only as genitives of their husbands. Then, too, as they all enter the Wright house, the demeanor of the men and women is markedly different.
As the outer door opens, the Sheriff, the County Attorney, and Mr. Hale enter and walk directly to the warm stove. They are followed by the sheriff's wife, Mrs. Peters, who is a small woman with "a nervous face"; a larger woman, Mrs. Hale, accompanies her. She looks "fearfully about as she enters" and seems "disturbed." In contrast to the women who are timid and uncomfortable, the sheriff easily dismisses the kitchen as anything of importance: "Nothing here but kitchen things." The County Attorney, too, boldly expresses a negative attitude. "Here's a nice mess," he says as he regards the broken jelly jars. When this brash man encourages the women to warm themselves at the stove, Mrs. Peters timidly takes only one step towards it before saying nervously, "I'm not--cold." This statement does not express her true feelings. For after a short time, the men go upstairs; then, Mrs. Peters gathers the clothes and things that Mrs. Wright has requested be brought to the jail. Returning to the kitchen, Mrs. Peters hurries to the stove and remarks to Mrs. Hale, "My, it's cold in there." Clearly, if she becomes cold in a room of the house, she would have been really chilled coming from outdoors where the air is frigid, and snow is on the ground.
The men walk in first, taking the lead. The women follow the men. When the women walk in, they stay together at the door. Already, there is a separation of the genders. The men "lead" and the women "follow." These words signify the way genders are stereotyped. According to traditional roles of male/female, the men are in positions of authority and the women are subservient.
The men go to the stove at once to get warm. The county attorney tells the ladies to get close to the fire to warm themselves. Mrs. Peters says she is not cold. The county attorney is being polite, but this is a subtle suggestion that if he is cold, the women must be cold as well because they are not as strong or as able to endure the cold as a strong man would be.
The men "go at once to the stove." The women "have come in slowly." Compared to the women, the men mindlessly barge in. The county attorney worries that things have been moved. And yet the men walk right in, straight to the fire. Their attention to avoid disturbing the crime scene is lacking. The women, however, walk in slowly, carefully observing things around them. This shows how stubborn and thoughtless the men carry out the investigation, and it shows how the women are willing to carefully consider things around them.
Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, is a play version of a short story by Glaspell called "A Jury of her Peers." A jury of Minnie Wright's peers is exactly how Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale develop as characters from their first entrance at the beginning of the play. The characters develop from outsiders looking in on the investigation to full fledged investigators and judges who determine the penalty for a woman they realize is one of their own. As they first enter the stage of the first scene, they are timid and unsure, following the men's lead. They do not react to the scene in the same manner as the men, responding slowly and much more methodically. They take in the situation around them and consider the meaning of the objects in the kitchen, the disarray of the house, and the dead bird they discover. They develop their understanding of the crime from what we now consider forensic evidence. It is also evidence that the male characters characterize as unimportant women's "trifles." From the beginning of the play to the end, the women think before they act, consider all evidence around them, and make careful conclusions, all without barging in with assumptions as the male characters do. Their physical behaviors reflect this thoughtfulness and hesitancy to jump to conclusions, which makes them starkly different from their male counterparts.