Treacherous Trifles: The Danger of Undervaluing Women in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles

In Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, women are confined to the domestic sphere. Firstly, all of the action occurs in the house, and the scenes with the two women occur in the kitchen. The country attorney is disgusted by the dirty towels and he makes the comment that Minnie is “not much of a housekeeper.” However, Mrs. Hale points out that this it is unfair to judge her for not having the house tidy and clean “when she had to come away in such a hurry.” However, the irony is that a few lines earlier, the sheriff lambasts Minnie for asking and worrying about her preserves because she should be more concerned about being held for murder. Hale responds that they should not be surprised about this because “women are used to worrying about trifles.” This highlights the hypocrisy of men’s views about women. Men clearly determine a woman’s values based on her ability to perform domestic duties such as keeping the house clean, cooking, sewing etc, yet when women fulfil this role men still blame them. Hence, obviously domestic matters are not trifle because this sums up a woman’s worth within the patriarchal system that confines women to the domestic sphere. Also, the men laugh that the women are trying to decipher if Minnie was going to quilt the patches or just knot it. The women have accepted their second-class status because when the men laugh at them for examining the patch work, “the women look abashed”, which indicates their shame. Mrs. Peters then says: “Of course they’ve got awful important things on their minds.” Mrs. Peters juxtaposes the “important things” that the men are worried about with the “little things” the women are worried about as Mrs. Hale mentions. These statements show that women are complicit in the patriarchal system that undervalues women’s lives, work and interest yet prioritizes everything that males do.

At the end of the play, there is a satiric comment being made about the danger of underestimating women’s ability. The county attorney does not bother to check the things that Mrs. Peters is going to take from the home because he says: “they’re not dangerous things the ladies have picked out… No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law.” Thus, the women are able to conceal the dead bird which they have discovered is critical evidence that Minnie may have had a motive to kill her husband. The play ends with Mrs. Hale touching her pocket where she has hidden the bird and she responds to the attorney’s mocking question of what you call the quilting technique: “We call it- knot it, Mr. Henderson.” The play ends with this woman as a treacherous trifle in that she is dangerous, two-faced and hiding evidence which is illegal, yet she plays the role of a doting, clueless woman. Hence, these women are able to subvert the oppressive societal norm that expects women to be weak and innocent and use this stereotype to their advantage to possibly help a woman get away with murder. This is a unique way to criticize society for oppressing women while empowering them at the same time.

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