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Feminism in ‘Trifles’ by Susan Glaspell Essay

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Updated: Nov 19th, 2021

Before the 1900s, men dominated society not only in the U.S and Europe but also in other parts of the world, while women were considered inferior to them. Women were discriminated against in all walks of life, be it family, religion, government, education or employment (Eisenberg & Ruthsdotter). The Feminism movement that demanded women should be treated equally as men, having the same political, economic and social rights began only in the 1900s, starting with suffrage or the right to vote, before gradually intensifying during the mid-1900s as more and more women began entering the labor force. Among the famous feminist leaders were Elizabeth Stanton, Catherine Beecher, Isabella Beecher Hooker and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Feminist Movement, also called the Women’s Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement, includes a series of efforts by women in the world to fight for the restoration of gender equality. The Movement began mainly in Britain and the United States, and went on to accelerate to a lesser degree in the former and a tremendous degree in the latter. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only that that ever has.” These sage words of famous American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead (Eisenberg et al.) is an appropriate elucidation of the Women’s Movement as it progressed from its humble beginnings to its stunning world-changing achievements that spanned 7 generations, coordinated by a group of simple, ordinary women gifted with single-minded and dedicated zeal and steely determination to make the world a better place for women to live in (Eisenberg et al.).

Susan Keating Glaspell was born on 1 July 1876 in Davenport in the U.S. Like other Feminist writers, she contributed to the Feminist Movement through her powerful writings where she created female characters who wished to be liberated from the typical restrictive roles that society had created for them. Glaspell was also instrumental in the formation of ‘Heterodoxy,’ a feminist organization that actively featured in the Feminist Movement particularly between the years 1910 and 1920 (Itech.fgcu.edu). Glaspell’s play ‘Trifles’ was published in 1916, during the peak of the Feminist Movement.

In ‘Trifles,’ a farmer is murdered in a farmhouse. Three male investigators gather to try and solve the murder. Strong indications of female discrimination are soon apparent. The first indication is in the title of the play. ‘Trifles,’ meaning something trivial and of no importance, is what males thought about females during those days in that patriarchal society. Secondly, the 3 male investigators are convinced that it is Mrs. Wright who killed her husband. They do not bother to consider any other alternative and merely go about trying to prove their conviction correct. Thirdly, as the male investigators feel demeaned to do the lowly task of gathering the few belongings of Mrs. Wright, the sheriff and farmer bring their wives along to do the menial task (McGrath). Fourthly, the condescending male attitude is apparent when Hale, noticing the women’s dismay on seeing Mrs. Wright’s ruined fruit, dismisses the female gender in general by saying: “Well, women are used to worrying about trifles” (Itech.fgcu.edu). Fifthly, the attorney belittles Mrs. Peters , saying “No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law” (Itech.fgcu.edu), meaning that she is just an extension of her husband with no individual identity of her own. Lastly, the tendency of females to meekly acknowledge their suppressed identity is shown in several remarks of Mrs. Peters to Mrs. Hale such as acknowledging male dominance with the words “the law is the law,” and excusing the male investigators for having other “awful important things on their minds” (Itech.fgcu.edu).

Glaspell gets her female characters to resist the male tendency to demean and suppress their gender. It begins in response to Hale’s disparaging remarks about women worrying about trifles. The two women “move a little closer together” not only physically, but also psychologically as they prepare to defend their gender in general while silently showing unity with Mrs. Wright in particular (Itech.fgcu.edu). The two women gradually put forth their views that the male investigators look, interpret and judge things from a broader, unbiased perspective. They succeed in their mission by exposing the killing of Mr. Wright as the act of a person done in desperation born of the need for sheer, basic survival (McGrath).

In conclusion, ever since Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s innocuous tea party launched a revolution called the Feminist Movement on 13 July 1848, the Women’s Movement today has achieved all the targets laid down in the original Declaration of Sentiments. Victory was finally and fully achieved n 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress banning discrimination in employment on grounds of gender. Women have now crossed each and every threshold, be it employment , military, clergy and newsroom. Women have achieved all this because they have contributed wholeheartedly and unselfishly to create the famous ‘completed mosaic’ earlier envisioned by Alice Paul: “I always feel the [Women’s] movement is a sort of mosaic; each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end (Eisenberg et al.). Susan Keating Glaspell was one of those who did her bit by putting in several little stones, most of them through her powerful literary contributions, one of them called ‘Trifles.’


Eisenberg, Bonnie & Ruthsdottter, Mary. “Living the Legacy: The Women’s Rights Movement 1848 – 1998.” Legacy98.org. 2002. Web.

McGrath, Fiona. “Commentary: Feminist (Gender) Criticism is Still Necessary.” Helium, Inc. 2009. Web.

“Susan Glaspell: Trifles.” Florida Gulf Coast University. 1996. Web.




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