Discovering Mrs. Wright Essay, Research Paper
Discovering Mrs. Wright
The play “Trifles”, by Susan Glaspell , is an examination of the different levels of early 1900’s mid-western farming society’s attitudes towards women and equality. The obvious theme in this story is men discounting women’s intelligence and their ability to play a man’s role, as detectives, in the story. A less apparent theme is the empathy the women in the plot find for each other. Looking at the play from this perspective we see a distinct set of characters, a plot, and a final act of sacrifice.
The three main characters, Mrs. Peters, the Sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Wright are all products of an oppressive society which denies them their right to think and speak freely, in the case of Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, and denies them their right to a happy, free life as in Mrs. Wright’s case. Throughout the play Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are able to find clues to the motive for the murder from their detailed knowledge of simple housewifery of which the men are ignorant. They also are forced to find an empathy for Mrs. Wright as they compare their own experiences to the clues they discover of her life. In the end this empathy causes them to make a decision which also casts them into the underdog’s lot of women fighting for their freedom in the early part of our century.
At the opening of the play we find the two women not taking a very active part in the play. In fact, they seem a little disconcerted to be on the scene of a murder, their only words as they stand by cold door on a cold night is “I’m not – cold.”(1170) The women do not start to take an active role in the story until the county attorney finds the broken preserves jars in the cabinets. Then we see the ladies’ first defense of Mrs. Wright. After the attorney makes a jibe, “Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.”(1172), he tries to clean his hands but has trouble finding a clean rag. He comments on Mrs. Wright to the ladies, “Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?”(1172) Here Mrs. Hale starts her defense and also starts to identify with Mrs. Wright, “Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.”(1172) A few line’s later she comment’s on Mr. Wright and what Mrs. Wright’s relationship and life must have been like, “But I don’t think a place’d be any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it.”(1172)
As the ladies examine the house, while the men are other places, picking clothes and an apron up for Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Hale gains sympathy for her until finally she starts to take action. When they find the block of quilting that has stitching askew, she starts to fix it, perhaps to cover for Mrs. Wright’s distraught state of mind. While Mrs. Hale is finding sympathy for Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Peters offers a counterpoint that tries to justifies the men’s viewpoints and actions. Her comments to Mrs. Hale’s resentful musings on Mrs. Wright’s unhappy life and on the actions of men in regards to women in general all seem to be rote answers programmed into her by society and a desire not to cause any trouble. This all changes as soon as Mrs. Peters finds the bird.
Mrs. Peters says “Somebody – wrung – its – neck.” [Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension, of horror…](1177) Now the women have both found enough empathy for Mrs. Wright to fight a small battle for an oppressed woman and Mrs. Hale tells the first lie. “We think the – the cat got it..”(1177), in reply to the County Attorney quest for a clue in the empty bird cage. Now the ladies start to reveal their true feelings about living under the yoke of male oppression. Mrs. Peters tells a story of a boy killing her kitten. Then she tells a story of more heartache, “I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died – after he was two years old, and me with no other then…”(1178) Mrs. Hale, at the same time, comments on how important the bird would have been to Mrs. Wright. Then she says something that reveals her true sympathy for Mrs. Wright and all the other women lost under male oppression in that era, “I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be – for women… We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things – it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”(1178) This is the theme Glaspell tries to get across by writing this play.
Both Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale participate in the final damning act of saving Mrs. Wright. The ladies are reminded of their actions when the County Attorney says “a sheriff’s wife is married to the law”, meaning that a sheriff’s wife would never act against her husbands interests. Yet they still both are part of grabbing the box with the dead bird and hiding it from the men to save Mrs. Wright. The unity the ladies have found with each other and Mrs. Wright is stated by Mrs. Hale in the final line of the play. “We call it – knot it, Mr. Henderson.”(1179) This has a double meaning, one that the ladies were united by their common bond of living in a male controlled world, where men think women are only good for such activities as quilting and housework. Second, that the women are united by their common bond of fighting for each other. Her reference to knotting the quilt can also be construed as a reference to knotting Mr. Wright’s neck. This final retaliatory remark shows the determination of women in that era to fight for equal rights and sisterhood, no matter what the moral cost.