Explain why the men and women are kept separate—physically, intellectually and emotionally—in Susan Glaspell's play, Trifles.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, is a marvelous, short play which was written early in the 20th Century when women were not often considered partners in a marriage, but a possession of the husband. Glaspell wrote this play after covering an actual court case for a newspaper where a woman was on trial for murdering her husband.

The division between the men and the women in the play—physically, mentally and emotionally—symbolizes in a dramatic fashion the separation between the sexes at this time. The two characters around which the play revolves, but who are never seen in the play, are John Wright (the deceased) and Mrs. Minnie Wright, the "widow," who is in jail. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters arrive to the Wright's cold and gloomy home to collect some clothes and personal items for Mrs. Wright.

However, while the group is there, the intent of the men and women is very different, demonstrating the first "division" of the "visitors." The men are looking for evidence with which to convict Mrs. Wright, who said she was asleep when her husband died. The women, as they sort through Mrs. Wright's things, find evidence that Mr. Wright abused his wife, certainly mentally and emotionally, if not physically. The women discover that John Wright did murder his wife's canary (broke its neck)—her only company in the dark and childless home…home to a woman the female visitors remember as once being attractive and vivacious. The realization that Minnie had motive concerns the women. What should they do?

The second division between the sexes becomes apparent. As the men root through the house looking for evidence, they begin to make fun of the "hard" work women do and things that concern them, such as putting up preserves—which takes time and effort— dismissing the things a woman brings into the home as "trifles."

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.

HALE. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles. 
(The two women move a little closer together.)

The men go on to comment on what they see as poor housekeeping and a home that lacked a woman's touch. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale know what truly hard work is involved in keeping a house, as well as the heartache a woman often must face (e.g., being childless or losing a child), and they are especially put off by the comments of the men. Is it any wonder that when they are asked to keep an eye out for something that might help the men convict Mrs. Wright that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters don't comply?

This demonstrates the perceptions of the men over the "trifling" tasks that fill a woman's day, while the women see clearly that the men have no comprehension or appreciation as to how hard women work for their husbands, or the great emotional hardships they may face.


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