In regards to Trifles, what are roles of women in the 1800s?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question about the roles of women in the 1800s is tagged with Trifles and "Mrs. Mallard," so I'm going to assume that in addition to Susan Glaspell's play you are also thinking of Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," which features Mrs. Mallard.

The women in these works are subordinate to their husbands.  Whether the husband is abusive, as in Trifles, or loving, as in Chopin's work, the women are still subordinate.  More details are revealed by the omniscient reader of Mrs. Mallard's mind than are revealed in Glaspell's play.  In the play the reader knows that Mrs. Wright's husband killed her pet bird, the one bit of joy she had in her life.  In "The Story of an Hour" the reader knows that Mrs. Mallard, thinking that her husband is dead and she is free, looks forward to living many years during which she can live for herself and herself only, not for someone else (her husband). 

The lives of both of these women would have been dominated by domestic duties:  cooking, cleaning, taking care of their husbands.  Perhaps worse, their thoughts and feelings would be secondary to those of their husbands'.  They both live in a patriarchal society dominated by men.  Think of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, and how they are subordinate to the men doing the investigation.  They are definitely "second fiddle," as the cliche goes.

Living in societies that do not even give women the right to vote, and allow women few opportunities for advancement and fulfillment, both women are trapped.  One escapes, but at a heavy price, if you consider a possible prison sentence escape, and the other dies of shock when her sudden freedom is taken away.