Clay Chastain 1 Clay Chastain ENGL 2304 Dr. Soto 8 October 2007 Feminism in Trifles In Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, a short play about rural life in the early twentieth century, a strong standpoint on feminism is presented to the audience. Throughout the play, much of the plot revolves around contrasting the men in power’s perception of a crime scene with the more subjective, emotional women’s point of view. In the conclusion of the poem, the women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, decline turning in some potential evidence that they have discovered. Their line of reasoning is that they understand the circumstances of the crime: a cruel, oppressive man was killed by his wife because of his wrongdoings. They understand that most likely the man probably deserved his fate, so they do not submit any evidence for the crime to the country attorney and the sheriff. Ethics aside, this action creates a chasm between the perceived implications of the plot of the play versus the actual effect of the play on the audience. In the first sense of the play, there is the literal conclusion. The women outright refuse to give the evidence to the sheriff and the county attorney; instead, they do not even mention that they have “solved” the crime. They end up dismissing it completely. However, attempting to determine the meaning of these actions can be difficult. Looking at the play strictly in a literal sense, the women have apparently done nothing for the cause of feminism. Yes, it is true that the women have silently resisted the men and have Clay Chastain 2 asserted their own superiority. Further, it seems that the women are so confident with their actions that they do not even need to bother with telling the men. However, what did this accomplish? In the play, it still seems that the men are indeed talking down to the women and the men hardly care at all at whatever retort the women may make. The entire play seems to be characterized by silent aggression. The women talk about preserves, quilting, and other typically women subjects. In fact, their stereotypical women roles are allowing them to be emotional and understand the case. They have experience where the men do not, but most of this seems to support the idea that women are typically in these situations – cooking and sewing. In this sense, it appears that the roles the women are cast in match up to nearly any stereotype about women in American society of that time (and even, to some extent, present day). While it is true that they are portrayed to be smart enough to solve such a crime, it appears to just typecast their emotional side to come to any conclusions. For example, they refuse to submit the evidence not out of a sense of reason but instead out of their emotions they end up siding with the murderer. It is unfortunate to see this because it signals that emotional decisions are stronger than rational decisions. Rational decisions are generally based on a variety of ethical conceptions, such as those by Kant or Mill or even Plato or Aristotle, and in these situations it would be more focused on submitting the evidence rather than making a point about their power in the situation. And, while they passively showed resistance to the men, the men never knew about it, so the end result is the status quo. If for a given force there has to be a reaction, there was no force to cause any reaction in this situation. The men assumed that they Clay Chastain 3 were right and will continue to subvert the women’s rights. Absolutely no change will come from this for the women in the play. Perhaps if they had spoken up about how intelligent and thoughtful they were, they would have shown the superiority of women in some respect. But had this not been a play and instead a real life situation, this entire exchange would have been a nonevent in any circumstances. Of course, this is a play that many, many people have read (or seen) since its creation. It has been taken to be a great work of feminism for the period, and continues to be reprinted in collections for college students around the world. In this regard, the audience gets to experience the feminism in a different way. Instead of the play being taken for a real set of actions and consequences, it is best taken as a play that is making a point. The audience is supposed to be able to share in the secret that the women are having. In this way, the women are allowed to communicate with the audience that they are indeed smarter than the men and for a variety of different reasons. The audience is able to understand the motivations of the women more as well, which serves to make the presence of stereotypes a less dramatic portion of the dialog. In this way, the stereotypes that are used in the play are given depth and explanation that shows how the women are able to think through a problem, build evidence, and solve it better than the sheriff and the attorney can by themselves. In the conclusion of the poem, the act of silent defiance ends up making a profound point – women are capable and should be given more credit. And while the men have absolutely no clue that they are solving the case incorrectly and legal justice has not been applied to the murderer, the women have shown something greater than punishment could have done. As well, the audience is able to understand the Clay Chastain 4 men’s flaws in greater detail when they appear to have no sense of compassion, emotion, or understanding for the women. It should be noted that hiding the evidence allows for the women to show that they are superior. Even though there is no punishment, the point of the play is not to give strict legal justice, but to show that women have deep senses of understanding and that they dislike the treatment that they are given. Because they are not really able to stand up to the men and their omnipresent ability to oppress the women, they have taken the best route that was presented for them. As an audience, the point of the play has been driven home because of the passive aggression – it makes the women appear to be smarter than the men, and it gives them complete control over the situation. So, the women have exploited the men’s fallacies and have empowered themselves in the best way that they have been given. To the audience, it should be clear that women have ended up as the victors in the play, not the docile and submissive housewives that they were stereotyped to be. The play was so effective, it seems, that the play has become a staple of feminism because of how the positioning in the play was described. Overall, there are a variety of ways to read this poem. The two main groups, literally and as an audience, share many similarities, but the perspective in each changes the meaning of the poem in an extreme fashion. On one hand, the act of defiance on the women’s part proved absolutely nothing and no change would come from it. They were endlessly trapped by their silent anger created nothing positive for women in the long run; it almost appeared that they just continued to submit to the men. However, as an informed audience, the point of the play is greater than the literal truths presented in the Clay Chastain 5 plot’s conclusion. The audience is given a chance to see that the women are defiant in clever way that could inspire other feminists of the time to be defiant as well. While at first the conclusion seemed to be direct, the actual message of the play appears spread the word about women who are oppressed and the struggles they go through to fight the oppression, even if the methods are seemingly insignificant to the cause on a small scale. The story of the women, rather than their actions in the plot, is what creates this powerful message of feminism.