Problems of gender roles in any society are very topical issues. It is, so to speak, a gap which can be hardly bridged. It is conditioned by the historic development of mankind that men were always “ahead” of women, because initially men were hunters and main suppliers of food to maintain their families, while women played not so prominent roles in the “men world”. So, it is not a big surprise that a great number of female-writers wrote their literary works where they stated problems in relationship between men and women. These writers show different attitudes of men and women towards same things, reveal prejudices against women, and try to aspire in women feeling of self-respect.
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Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles” and “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen reflects authors’ stances on gender roles in the back then modern society.
Glaspell’s play contains her personal observations and experiences. In this literary work she tells about a story of a woman who killed her husband and depicts behavior of men, who were investigating this case, and their wives.
From the very start the author shows us how men inattentive can be; when they enter the Wrights’ house they do not see such details as ruined fruit preserves, bread that has been left out of its box, an unfinished quilt, an empty bird cage. They only state that the room was shabby and that Mrs. Wright was not very good at housekeeping. On the contrary, the women noticed these minutiae which were a result of Mrs. Wright’s emotional breakdown. Hardly had they entered the room they saw miserable life of a desperate housewife. The men, showing off their importance, come to a conclusion that there is nothing important in the room, only “kitchen things” with which they have nothing to do. This proves that each observant sees a different shape in the shadows (Glaspell).
It seems that only Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters can give a clear answer why did Mrs. Wright commit a crime, because they know pretty well women’s psyche. When these women find the body of a dead canary that was murdered the same way as Mr. Wright, the reader can understand that this bird symbolized unhappy marriage of Minnie Foster with John Wright. Before this marriage Minnie was a cheerful person, who loved to sing and to wear colorful cloths, but after the marriage these traces of a happy person disappeared. Mrs. Hale describes Mrs. Wright’s personality: “She was kind of like a bird herself – real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery. How – she – did – change.” (Glaspell 14)
The men in the play are constantly showing their self-importance, they are trying to act like real detectives, and they do not even realize that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are more observant and know reasons why did Mrs. Wright made the terrible deed.
Henrik Ibsen in her play “A Doll’s House” shows readers mainly the same problems of gender roles, however, the main protagonist of this story Nora Helmer does not go so far, when she realizes that all she needs is independence, as the main character Mrs. Wright from the Glaspell’s play “Trifles”.
In the beginning of the play Ibsen depicts us happy life of Nora and Torvald Helmers. This man treats his wife like a beautiful and priceless doll. He lives his life according to society’s norms, both professional and personal. He created such living conditions under which all the family members did not have any possibility to make even the smallest mistakes in their lives because this could ruin reputation, which meant for him even more than his whole family.
Nora did not have many options but to borrow a large sum of money from a creditor, Nils Krogstad when they lived in Italy. But, all of a sudden, the moment of repaying has come and Nora did not know what to do. On the one side, telling the truth about the money to her husband would cause the divorce and would ruin family reputation, on the other hand Nils Krogstad threatened Nora by telling her secret to Torvald, in case if she failed to persuade her husband, who had been recently promoted to the higher position in the bank, to leave his job position after him. However, Nora with the help of her friend Kristina persuaded Krogstad no to reveal the truth and to forgive Mrs. Helmer her debt, Torvald read Nils’s letter and came to know about the money. He exploded at Nora, calling her a liar, hypocrite, and hereditary disaster (Ibsen 48). He blamed her for destroying their life, his reputation. After this emotional talk Krogstad sends another letter, in which he forgives Noras’s debts. Mr. Helmer is very happy that his professional and personal life is saved, however Nora states that she can not live with such a man, after witnessing his cruel temper (Ibsen 49).
All in all, we can clearly see that main female protagonists from these two plays were looking only for their own places in life; they tried to be more independent and equal in rights with their husbands. Though, some people still believe that women can not do certain “male” things, you should bear in mind that this is only prejudices that should be eradicated from the male minds. Only when all people will respect each other, without judging genders, only then we will do the first step in getting rid of problems in gender roles.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Players Pr. 2007.
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles”. 2009. Web.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Dolls House. London: W3 7ST. 1999.