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The differences implied between men and women in Susan Glaspell's play, Trifles, is that the male-dominated society has no concept of the hardships, trials and hard work that surrounds the life of a woman—and wife—at the beginning of the 20th Century. In that men very much still treated their wives as chattel, or a possession, they gave the women little credit for the work they accomplished, for the disappointments they faced, the ability of men to physically, mentally and emotionally abuse their wives, and their lack of concern for, and respect of, women in general.
As the play begins, the men enter the house to find evidence to convict Mrs. Wright of murdering her husband. This woman whose life centers around things the men consider "trifling," has dared to harm (and kill) her social superior. The men intend to prove Mrs. Wright's guilt and punish her.
SHERIFF. Well, can you beat the woman! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.
COUNTY ATTORNEY. I guess before we're through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.
The women enter, influenced at first by the attitudes of the men. They don't know Mrs. Wright very well, but it is a charitable act they are doing to bring things to Mrs. Wright while she is in jail. As the men blatantly show their disregard for this woman and her hard work, they also show their disregard for Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters—in fact, for all women. As the ladies learn more and more about Mrs. Wright's situation, they become sympathetic towards the woman accused of killing her husband. Mrs. Wright's life has changed dramatically since her youth. Mrs. Hale remembers:
She--come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself--real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and--fluttery. How--she--did--change.
Whereas the men could never put themselves in the place of a woman—they discredit most of the efforts put forth by women on a daily basis by insulting Mrs. Wright—Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters can empathize. Mrs. Peters remembers a bully who killed her kitten before her eyes—she admits she could have "hurt" the bully at that moment.
MRS. PETERS. (in a whisper). When I was a girl--my kitten--there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes--and before I could get there--(Covers her face an instant.) If they hadn't held me back, I would have-- (Catches herself, looks upstairs, where steps are heard, falters weakly.)--hurt him.
Mrs. Wright's bird was destroyed at the hands of another bully: her husband.
Mrs. Peters recalls how hard it was for her, to lose her child at a very young age.
MRS. HALE (her own feeling not interrupted.) If there'd been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful--still, after the bird was still.
MRS. PETERS (something within her speaking). I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died--after he was two years old, and me with no other then--
Mrs. Wright has no children, no companionship at all, and this is another kind of pain women face.
The play shows the enormous divide that exists between men and women of the day, especially in the way that the men belittle the daily existence of the wife, and society's acceptance of this inequitable social roles and standings in the early 20th Century.
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