In modern society men and women are respected and perceived equally. Woman’s rights are protected by the Law, and social canons are predisposed towards unprejudiced and respectful perception of woman’s role. However, Glaspell’s play demonstrates that several decades ago, the social status of women was totally different. Women were threatened, disrespected and governed by man.
Women in the play “Trifles” are archetypes of women in the end of 19th century
They are intelligent and sensitive, but their potential is disregarded. Their creative thinking, based on personal experience helps Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale to identify the reason of murder correctly. Moreover, they feel sympathy to the murderer as they understand her state and feelings, typical for women, who were systematically suppressed by the man.
Glaspell’s play is one of the first plays concentrated on psychological aspects rather than on typical feelings demonstrated in popular melodramatic genre of playwriting. The play is abundant with various stylistic devices. The author applies different symbolic elements that describe the emotional and mental world of women. Minnie’s social and psychological suppression is represented by the use of different metaphorical devices, such as the bird in the cage and cherries in the jar (Keller 11). The conversation between Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale takes place at the kitchen, which symbolically indicates woman’s place and social role.
The fact that Minnie is sitting in a chair with indifferent glance symbolizes her anti-social behavior. Women being isolated from the society, living far away from neighbors could develop mental disorders resulting in total alienation from the outer world. Alienation between Minnie and her neighbors makes her inner and outer worlds distant, as well.
Sherriff’s and farmer’s wives belong to different social groups; however, they understand each other, and they also understand Minnie, whose indigence and cheep clothes mark her as a social outcast. Since John Wright is well-known for his terrible temper women speak of the hardships of living with tyrant and, what is more, both of them appear merely familiar with it. This fact shows that all women are threatened and tired, no matter which social class they belong. The fact that these women solve the case while collecting Minnie’s clothes shows their immense intellectual potential that is much wider than limited man’s thinking, potential that was suppressed by hard monotonous labor of the housewife.
One of the most powerful symbols in the play is a symbol of Minnie’s imprisonment
The bird in the cage symbolizes Mrs. Wright’s potential and talent – her voice. The marriage between Minnie and John is not an act of love: he does not like her voice nor he loves or respects Minnie as a woman. Her ambitions and a chance for personal realization are limited like the bird’s possibility to fly and sing is limited in the cage. John Wright kills the bird as he kills his wife’s passion to sing. Mentally Minnie is dead; that is why women realize that the motive can be perceived as the act of revenge or a payback, anger, or fight for her life. The desire to get her apron in a jail is a symbol of her spiritual imprisonment. Minnie continues to perceive herself as a housewife with obligations. Her mental prison cannot be ruined even by killing her jailer - her husband (Keller 6). It is a bright demonstration of the fact that real prison for Minnie is deep in her mind.
Another important aspect is shown by guilt that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale feel for this case. This guilt symbolizes the guilt of society, who is responsible for women’s suppression. Society stays indifferent towards people who live far from large cities, considering spiritual misery as a trifle, turning a blind eye to the consequences of domestic violence.
Glaspell emphasizes that Minnie tries to warm canary with pieces of the quilt, which also symbolizes woman’s labor. This unusual action shows how much she needs to take care of somebody. Their family does not have children, and this fact makes Minnie even more miserable and much less accomplished as a woman. This fact and Mr. Wright’s fame of an indifferent man made Minnie’s accomplishment in sexual sphere even more doubtful. As a result, Minnie’s life is ruined by her own husband, and society, who should have helped her, but appeared indifferent, as well (Gainor 54).
Minnie loses her passion for life as much as cherries loose their taste being in a jar for too long. Putting the bird in the cage, John puts her talent in the cage and kills her desire to live. Moreover, the guilt for this murder can be attributed to the whole society that ignores of Minnie’s silent cry for help. Neighbors do not visit Mrs. Wright, and she becomes the social outcast. Hard labor forces her to forget about her desires and dreams. She starts to think like a slave, whose vision is limited. She is forced to forget things that she loved, and it is mentally traumatic for her. The sympathy that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale feel towards the murderer symbolizes the sorrow and problems that are familiar for all women. Strange symbolic actions of Minnie after the murder reflect the psychological and social disorders. What is strange for men and obvious for women who analyze it – Minnie’s desire to wear the apron indicates her mental enslaving. The only thing she thinks about is her obligations: she thinks only about labor staying indifferent to reality; moreover, her desire to warm the dead bird is the act of spiritual reanimation. She tries to enliven her talent and obtain the freedom by killing her “master” and warming the bird. Several decades later, women’s rights were recognized, but by that time millions of women were suppressed by men while society perceives their suffering as a trifle that is not worth mentioning.