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Justice in Glaspell (Essay Sample)


Analyzing justice in the play

Justice in Glaspell's Trifles
Trifles, a play written by Susan Glaspell in 1916, delve into issues of gender role and justice in society. According to Holstein, trifles are "small details of trivial importance and having no great or lasting merit" (290). In her play, Glaspell depicts those trivial details as crucial in the investigation, hence the title. The setting of the play is John and Minnie Wright's farmhouse. The play begins with discovery of Wright's death, a result of strangling. The fact that he slept with his wife on that fateful night makes Minnie the first suspect. The other characters include Henderson the county attorney, Peters the sheriff and his wife, as well as Hale and his wife. The questioning of Mr. Hale by the sheriff sets the stage of the play. Hale was walking past Wright's house when he thought he could get in and sell him a telephone line. Mrs. Wright informs him that her husband is dead. Hale invites his friend Harry to go with him and see Wright's corpse upstairs. Together, they call the sheriff who is later joined by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. The team begins looking for evidence to help in uncovering the killer. The women, obviously more perceptive than men, come across subtle, yet crucial evidence that could unravel the murderer. Ultimately, men investigators find no evidence to incriminate anyone while it was clear to the women who the murderer was. Many scholars have interpreted the refusal by the women to disclose their evidence as protest against men's injustice while others have viewed it as obstruction of justice. Justice entails fairness and freedom from discrimination. Gender justice refers to a state whereby the society offers all genders fair and equal chance without prejudice and stereotyping. The women in the play were pursuing gender justice. They were morally right to suppress their evidence as doing otherwise would show lack of empathy and perpetuate men's arrogance and injustice.
To understand gender justice in the play, it is important to look at the position of both genders in the society. A cursory glance at the play shows that men were not only arrogant towards women but also abused and suppressed their identity, right to be heard and live without marginalization. To begin with, women lack identity. To accentuate this, Glaspell does not refer to her women characters with their name. Instead, she identifies them in respect to their husband. There is Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters. While it is essentially cultural to refer to women as "Mrs.”, the feminist perspective is that the practice amounts to loss of identity. In other words, women exist because of their husbands. The stripping of identity, though not offensive, psychologically prepares women to suppression by their husband and other men.
To gain further understanding of women in the play, and hence their intuitive decision to suppress evidence, it is important to understand the protagonist's, Mrs. Wright, predicaments. To begin with, she had no children. Her life was difficult and unbearable. She had learned to bury her sorrows in the singing of her bird. Bizarrely, Mr. Right killed the bird, the only source of joy for her. Glaspell use of bird at a symbolic level is not lost to the reader. To Mrs. Wright, the bird symbolized joy and escape from sorrows and cruelty of the world. The sense of detachment from her husband and lack of children left her with little source of emotional and psychological support. By wringing the neck of the bird, Mr. Wright was killing his wife's only source of joy, happiness, and hope. There is strong possibility that Mrs. Wright wrung the rope around her husband's neck out of anger and frustration emanating from his cruelty. The bottom line is that just like many women during her time; she is suppressed, abused, and marginalized without recourse.
The title of the play, trifles, captures the manner in which men in the society held women. According to Holstein, Women, and their opinions, were "mere simpletons, there to be seen but not to be heard" (295). No one embodies this attitude more than the sheriff, the man on whose shoulders laid the responsibility to unearth the murderer. While the women see the messy house as a sign of a troubled mind, men see it as a sign of laziness and neglect of domestic chores. The sheriff thinks that since he is the man who enforces the law, his wife too is married to the law. Women play rudimental role in the society, at least as far as men are concerned. This collective suppression bred a strong sense of comradeship between the women to the extent of withholding evidence to save their own.
Trivialization by men is just one of the many reasons that women could cite to protect one of their own. The society was unable and unwilling to understand and appreciate the differences in men and women and harness them for collective well-being. Men's attitude towards women had inculcated a sense of timidity on women. Notice the body language and behavior of women in the opening part of the play. Their slow movement and position near the door illustrate "high levels of inferiority complex that men's dominance had embedded in their minds" (Tatar 274). The more men became critical of Mrs. Wright, the more women came together physically, and inevitably psychologically. This is very crucial as it informed their intuitive agreement to suppress the evidence and shield one of their own.
The abuse, suppression, and marginalization of women meant that Mrs. Wright did not stand any chance of justice in a male dominated system. Holstein argues that the "precept of natural justice is that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent jurisdiction of law" (291). In this case, however, the sheriff and his male coterie have presumed Mrs. Wright guilty even without enough incriminating evidence. Even if they was only her and her husband at the time of death, something investigators had not ascertained, there was still a possibility that other causes could have caused Mr. Wright's death. Moreover, by constantly being critical of Mrs. Wright perceived negligence of domestic chores, the men were being unfair to a woman who, supposedly, might have been mourning. This is only an indication that they had presumed her guilty before trial.
To understand why the women suppressed the evidence, it is also crucial to understand how women relate with one another. In Glaspell's Trifles, this is evident from the opening of the play. The women get into the house and stick close to each other physically. Because of their socialization, "they are very percept...
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