What are the gender roles on display in the play Trifles?

The men tend to act and speak as authoritative figures, while the women are more inclined to listen and bond with each other. The men think of the women as subordinate, not to be heard or heeded. The men merely assume that their wives will take care of Minnie Wright at the jailhouse until they get home from work to take over from them. They do not realize that their wives will actually find out what happened and solve the crime for them (until after it is solved). The women also have a different approach than the men because of their assumed inferior status in society. While the men are making fun of how dirty Minnie's house is, Mrs. Peters comments on it by saying "

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Each character in the play is archetypal of the role and social standing in the society in which they exist. Their society is a patriarchal one. Patriarchy is defined as

a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

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Each character in the play is archetypal of the role and social standing in the society in which they exist. Their society is a patriarchal one. Patriarchy is defined as

a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

As such, the play portrays the men under this very light: they are the rulers, protectors, caregivers, and problem solvers of society. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be the supportive, nurturing, and caring characters who remain in the background without making too much noise.

If we analyze them in depth, we could conclude the following:

The sheriff lives up to his role. He is the ultimate "patriarch." He leads, commands, secures, and, as such, he aims to solve the the Wright murder. This, he does with other men who are taken to the scene to help clarify what took place; he's there with George Henderson, who is the county attorney, and a nearby farmer named Lewis Hale, who is there as a witness.

George Henderson, the county attorney, also adheres to the mentality of the time, seeing women merely as housekeepers and caretakers:

COUNTY ATTORNEY: [...] He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place) Dirty towels! (Kicks his foot against the pans under the sink.) Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?(32–33)

His sarcasm and lack of knowledge of the female gender are the mental filters that forbid him from making key connections in the scene of the crime that could aide him in knowing what really went on in the household.

Similarly, Lewis Hale chimes in with the comment that titles this play:

HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.

All men assume a patriarchal role, which is a paradigm that dominates the world in which they live. Ironically, it is the women who make all the connections to understand what happened to Minnie Wright in spite of the men's comments.

The women's roles are those of supporters of the men. Their job on the scene is to collect Minnie's things to take them back to the jail where she is being held. The men, unable to connect with Minnie even as an inmate (because she is a female), bring their wives basically so they can deal with Minnie and be intermediaries while the men take care of more "serious matters," so to speak.

Because of that mentality, and the limitations imposed upon the female gender, the women could do nothing else but bond together, analyze the clues, and make personal connections to the evidence. This is how they end up understanding everything that took place the night of the murder, exactly as it happened.

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In Susan Glaspell's one-act play Trifles, gender plays a significant role, as the men fail in their investigation because of their narrow understanding of women. They hold positions of authority and head the investigation, searching places of male dominance, such as the barn and the bedroom. This approach ignores the room with vital clues because they see “Nothing here but kitchen things.”

Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Hale were able to sympathize with Mrs. Wright in a variety of ways. They understand what it takes to sew a quilt and, upon examination, discover that Mrs. Minnie’s recent stitches are messy, denoting her nervousness, exactly the type of “sudden feeling” that the men are looking for.

Examining the sewing kit leads to discovering a dead canary. The wives have compassion for Mrs. Wright, understanding that it is not simply a dead animal, but a beloved pet silenced out of cruelty. The wives discover a warning sign, a motive for the murder, and even succeed in hiding the evidence because they can put themselves in Mrs. Wright’s shoes. The gender roles on display segment the world between the masculine authority and the realm of domestic “trifles.” The men care little for household duties, mocking the dirty towels and kicking the cooking pans. They fail as detectives because of rigid gender roles and their inability to see past them.

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In this play, we have traditional and out-dated gender roles in which the men are in charge of public and important affairs. Meanwhile, the men assume that the women are more interested and better suited to private matters which consequently have nothing to do with the murder. The men are, of course, wrong. 

The play illustrates these traditional notions of how men and women have been taught to act. The men are direct, logical, and they take charge of a situation which requires an authoritative role. The women are intuitive, compassionate, and meek relative to the men. Despite these rigid expectations of how men and women are supposed to act (and do in this play), it is the women who discover Mrs. Wright's plight and thereby her motive for killing her husband. The men, overly concerned with the physical evidence, are not concerned with Mr. and Mrs. Wright's relationship; the women do consider this which is how they show themselves to more perceptive, and simply put: better detectives than the Sheriff and the County Attorney. The men think that the women are merely concerned with meaningless things ("trifles") when in fact, these seemingly meaningless details provide the only meaningful evidence in the investigation. Mrs. Peters mockingly acknowledges how the men would laugh at what they (women) considered as evidence. 

My, it’s a good thing the men couldn’t hear us. Wouldn’t they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a—dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with—with—wouldn’t they laugh! 

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