What theme do "Shiloh" by Bobby Ann Mason and Trifles by Susan Glaspell have in common?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are two very interesting texts to compare and contrast. I would want to approach this question by thinking about the representations of gender in these texts and how women are variously presented. In "Shiloh," for example, Norma Jean is shown to be embarking on a discovery of her sense of self and seems to have thrown off traditional roles of women, partly because of actions beyond her control. Thus it is that her dreams of her life when she married at eighteen concerned her role of mother and wife. The death of her child and the accident that leaves Leroy crippled means that she is robbed of these two roles. We are presented with Norma Jean's efforts to discover an identity that is not impacted or shaped by either her mother or her husband. Her act of leaving her husband at the site of an important battle in the Civil War symbolises the death of their marriage as Norma Jean deliberately leaves behind traditional representations of gender and refuses to be trapped again. Note what she says to Leroy at the end of the story:

"She won't leave me alone--you won't leave me alone." Norma Jean seems to be crying, but she is looking away from him. "I feel eighteen again. I can't face that all over again."

Norma Jean deliberately rejects the traditional roles that society forces upon women and tries to discover an alternate identity.

To a lesser extent, Trifles captures similar ideas of how women are presented in a patriarchal society. The play is suffused with the men's arrogance concerning their belief that the women engage in nothing but "trifles," such as sewing, quilting and preserving. It is of course highly ironic that the women are able to find what the men are looking for through focusing on such trifles, that clearly map out the murder. Their act of hiding the dead canary and therefore protecting Minnie Wright can be compared to Norma Jean's act of leaving Leroy. Both are examples of women behaving in ways that contradict the impression of how women should act and think in a patriarchal society.