What contrast can be perceived between Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters in Trifles?

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Mrs. Peters, the Sheriff's wife, is small, wiry, and timid in contrast to Mrs. Hale's larger physical makeup and outspoken nature. From their first words, the two women reveal the difference in their personalities. Mrs. Peters is the dutiful wife, quick to defend her husband. When Mrs. Hale makes the comment that she would not want someone going through her kitchen and criticizing her skills, Mrs. Peters defends the men by saying that it is their duty. At this point in the play, it seems that women would disagree on almost everything. However, as the women endure the men's sexist comments and attitude and discover more about Minnie Wright's miserable existence on the farm, they begin to ban together, until they silently agree to cover for Minnie at the end of play.

perfectsilence's profile pic

perfectsilence | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Mrs. Hale's larger frame reflects her bolder personality.  She is much more outspoken than the smaller, timid Mrs. Peters.  Mrs. Hale shows that she has little problem standing up against the injustices toward her gender and the institutional sexism that permeates the culture.  For example, as the murder is investigated, the County Attorney comments on the lack of cheer in the house, referring to Mrs. Wright by saying "I shouldn't say she had the homemaking instinct," Mrs. Hale replies with "Well, I don't know as Wright had, either."  Here she makes it clear that she believes it is not up to the woman to create the atmosphere of a home, but rather it was the duty of both Mr. and Mrs. Wright to work to create a place of happiness.

Mrs. Peters, on the other hand, begins the play as a very timid woman.  She is defined by her role as the wife of the sheriff, and she fulfills this role dutifully.  For example: at one point Mrs. Hale notices that pattern of stitching left behind by Mrs. Wright appears to have begun neatly, but becomes messy toward the end.  She immediately begins to pull out the last few stitches to fix it, and Mrs. Peters grows concerned when Mrs. Hale evens out the pattern, saying "I don't think we should touch things." Here Mrs. Hale is consciously trying to make things appear more normal, to not allow any evidence that would suggest that something changed in Mrs. Wright's demeanor.  She is essentially tampering with evidence, and Mrs. Peters doesn't like it.  Yet even here, Mrs. Peters does not act like she will speak up and tell her husband what Mrs. Hale as done.  Further, as the play progresses and the two women happen upon the broken birdcage and dead bird, Mrs. Peters slowly becomes Mrs. Hale's accomplice in concealing the motive.  The two women clearly understand that Mr. Wright's killing of the bird was the final act that caused Mrs. Wright to murder him, but Mrs. Hale's description of life at the Wright house, along with the discovery of the bird, helps Mrs. Peters to better understand the life that Mrs. Wright was subjected to.  Both women begin in somewhat different places, but their shared experiences with sexism unite them.  As the play ends, they use the biases of their society to create a subtle, subversive shift in the power dynamic.

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