What are the differences among the male characters of Trifles (the sheriff, the county attorney, the neighbor, and John Wright) and those of A Doll House (Helmer, Dr. Rank, and Krogstad)? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While all the male characters of Susan Glaspell's Trifles tend to dismiss the women's interests and feelings as unsubstantial, not all the male characters of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House feel the same way.

  • Patronizing treatment

It is Torvald Helmer, Nora's husband and the main male character, who acts in the patronizing manner that the sheriff and other men in Trifles exhibit. He, like Mr. Wright is the dominant force in his home. In Act I, for instance, he scolds Nora for saying that she wouldn't care if they owed money, and tells her he refuses to live in a household that borrows from others. And, just as Mr. Wright reportedly prevented his wife from socializing and disliked her little songbird, Helmer deprives his wife of simple pleasures as well, such as eating macaroons.

In sharp contrast, Dr. Rank never treats Nora in this manner. Instead, he listens to her, affording her a certain dignity as he takes interest in her doings and, especially, in her feelings. Above all, he truly loves Nora: 

RANK ...I have loved you as much as anybody--....I'm at your service with my life and soul....

  • Selfish concerns override any of the wives' concerns

Like Mr. Hale, who says, "Women are used to worrying about trifles," Helmer is also dismissive of Nora's concerns. He is completely unaware that she has sacrificed to repay the loan on which she has forged her father's name so that she could procure money for her husband to travel abroad in order to recuperate when his health failed.  When he does learn about this loan, he is, however, outraged that she has endangered his own honor,

HELMER You have ruined all my happiness.  My whole future--that's what you have destroyed.

When Nora asks her husband to sit down and talk, Helmer tells her that he does not understand her, and she remarks that this is the first time in their eight-year marriage that they have had a serious talk. Like the men of Trifles, Helmer has never tried to understand his wife.

But, again, Dr. Rank communicates frequently with Nora, sharing his feelings of love, his concerns about his forthcoming death, and asking what he can do for her. When, for example, Nora asks him for "a great proof of your friendship," he replies, 

RANK Would you really for once make me as happy s all that?

Krogstad, too, becomes solicitous of Nora. For, he tries to retrieve the letter he has written Helmer that reveals Nora's forgery.

  • Lack of real communication

Because the women in Glaspell's drama feel that the men have dismissed their abilities to discover any motives as "trifles," when the men return from searching upstairs, Mrs. Hale conceals the dead bird from them by shoving it in her coat pocket. In a similar manner to that of Mr. Wright in Trifles, Niles Krogstad's first threats to Nora to expose her to her husband reflect his anger at not being given a second opportunity in life. Later, however, in contrast to Mr. Wright, he does try to rectify his cruelty to her when he becomes more understanding, and he tells Nora the secret of her forgery will be among her, Mrs. Linde, and himself:

KROGSTAD  The whole thing can be settle quite amiable. Nobody else needs to know anything. It will be among the three of us.

Dr. Rank, too, communicates to Nora his deepest feelings, telling her of his approaching death, as well as of his love for her all the time he has lived with the Helmers.

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