Which play provides the more realistic portrayal of the male characters: Susan Glaspell's Trifles or Henrik Ibsen's A Doll House?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Based upon the time in which each play was written, both Glaspell's Trifles and Ibsen's A Doll's House accurately depict the male characters.

Trifles is a play based upon an actual case where a woman was tried and found guilty for killing her husband. The play...

...is a murder mystery that explores gender relationships, power between the sexes, and the nature of truth.


Because the men virtually ignore the women’s world, they remain blind to the truth before their eyes.

In Trifles, it is easy to see how the men ignore a woman's hard work. For example, while it takes hours in a hot kitchen to put up fruit preserves, the men care little that all of the work Minnie Wright invested has been lost due to the cold:

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 County Attorney is also critical that the kitchen towel is dirty, but the dirt on the towel (Mrs. Hale reminds) is from Mr. Wright's dirty hands, not Mrs. Wright. And yet the County Attorney is quick to criticize the absent Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters immediately indicate their resentment in the way they physically draw together, and by their defense of Mrs. Wright:

There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

The County Attorney either doesn't work on a farm, does not care, or both. He goes on to criticize Mrs. Wright's inability to make the house a more cheerful place, but does not think to consider that a great deal of what he sees is John Wright's responsibility. The man criticizes only the woman. And while the women try to align themselves with the law of this male-dominated society, they are unable to agree that Minnie is to blame, and they take steps to protect her.

In A Doll's House, there is also the sense of male-dominated society, and a woman's role. Torvald controls the money Nora has, he will not allow her to eat sweets, he decides the dance she will perform at the party upstairs, he calls her by little animal names ("my little singing-bird," as if she were a child), and he even compares her to her deceased father—a man (we later learn) for whom Torvald had absolutely no respect.

While the story (Ibsen insisted) was not about women's rights but about human rights in general, Torvald's behavior speaks to the society in which the story is set. Women could only hold menial jobs; they could not borrow money; they did not have the right to vote—

...women had no power.

What lies beneath the genteel Victorian behavior is a desire to control every aspect of society, including the women. Though Torvald tells Nora he wishes he could protect her from harm...

...I have often wished that you might be threatened by some great danger, so that I might risk my life's blood, and everything, for your sake.

...when the opportunity arrives, he is concerned only about himself, and how society will see him. Although Nora also defies society (as do the women in Trifles), and secretly borrows money to save her husband, he doesn't care. When he finds out his reputation is secure, he tells Nora she lacked intelligence:

You have loved me as a wife ought to love her husband. Only you had not sufficient knowledge to judge of the means you used.

At the turn of the century, in the Victorian era, men dominated society. The male characters are realistically portrayed for that time period.