First and Last Name
30 November 2018
All People Have Value
Performed August 8, 1916, Susan Glaspell’s Trifles takes place in Mrs. Wright’s farmhouse kitchen during the 1900s. The play begins when two investigators and two housewives gather in Mrs. Wright’s kitchen, in order to determine who killed her husband. The investigators ask Mr. Hale to recall the events that led to his discovery of Mr. Wright’s body. Shortly after his retelling, the investigators leave the kitchen, opting to search the scene of the crime: The Wrights’ bedroom. Once the investigators and Mr. Hale leave, the two women gather the supplies that Mrs. Wright left in the kitchen. Ironically, these supplies prove that Mrs. Wright is the murderer. Eventually, the women conclude that Mrs. Wright murdered her husband for not only strangling her canary but for also oppressing her emotionally, physically, and mentally. Since the two women have experienced similar forms of oppression, they feel empathy for Mrs. Wright and ultimately tamper with the evidence they find. In the play, the plot causes readers to consider the value that oppressed people have in their community. Through irony and characterization, Susan Glaspell’s play, Trifles, emphasizes the theme that everyone is essential in a society, including those who are oppressed.
Although irony occurs throughout the play, the most obvious sign of verbal irony appears in the title, Trifles, which insidiously refers to the play’s primary theme: oppression. The word “Trifles” is defined as something of little value or insignificance. The word is first used in the play when Mr. Hale condescendingly observes, “Women are used to worrying over trifles.” Although this is the only direct reference to the word in the play, the characters continuously evoke the word’s meaning throughout the drama. For example, the sheriff mockingly says, “They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it!” This degrades the value of women and their opinions. The title becomes ironic when the women discover the murderer and the murderer’s motives, instead of the investigators. This verbal irony causes readers to ponder why society tyrannizes people who provide valuable contributions to the community. The title, Trifles, demonstrates that even oppressed people are necessary for a society to function successfully.
Another instance of verbal irony that supports the theme occurs when the investigators degrade the women’s work. This occurs when the county attorney asks if there is any important evidence in the kitchen. The sheriff condescending responds, “Nothing here but Kitching things.” This emphasizes the lack of respect toward the work women perform in the kitchen as well as degrades the value of women and their ideas. This verbal irony not only demonstrates the oppression people experience when society deems them inferior, but also the disregard for the tasks these people accomplish. As the play continues, readers notice that these ironic trifles allow the women to solve the crime. This demonstrates that women as well as the tasks they perform are needed in society. Readers realize they need to contemplate the value of every job. This instance of verbal irony reinforces the theme that all members of society are needed in order to perform all the essential tasks.
After the sheriff’s off-putting remarks, another instance of verbal irony occurs in the farmhouse kitchen to reinforce the theme. This verbal irony happens when the sheriff states, “Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.” This line in the play demonstrates that the men not only view the women and their tasks as minimally important, but it also shows that they see their concerns as trivial. Despite the men’s condescension, however, the women compassionately express their concerns for Mrs. Wright. Ironically, these emotions allow them to not only discover the murderer but also understand Mrs. Wright’s motives. This teaches readers the importance to express empathy instead of superiority toward others, especially those oppressed by society. Ultimately, this sort of insight encourages readers to understand the actions of those who are oppressed, and as a result, offer them help and support. This not only reinforces the theme that everyone is important, but it also demonstrates the importance of showing empathy toward others, especially people who society oppresses.
Just as verbal irony supports the theme, Mrs. Hale’s character reinforces everyone’s value. Mrs. Hale combats the investigator’s patronizing attitude by stating, “‘Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.’” This statement not only shows Mrs. Hale’s respect for Mrs. Wright, but also shocks readers and forces them to contemplate the value of respect. Interestingly, Mrs. Hale does not physically fight the men.
Instead, she uses language to confront their degrading comments. Mrs. Hale continues to demonstrate this when she hides the evidence from the men. Again, her action surprises readers and causes them to realize oppressed people often passively revolt. This provokes readers to ponder how they treat people they view as unimportant. This aspect of Mrs. Hale’s character demonstrates the obligation to defend and respect others, which reinforces the theme that everyone is valuable to society.
Mrs. Hale’s character continues to reinforce the theme by expressing the necessity to help others. Mrs. Hale notes that Mr. Wright’s uncaring attitude resulted in a cheerless home, which drove the community away. In fact, Mr. Wright’s attitude ultimately murders his wife. Mrs. Hale even observes, “But he was a hard man…Just to pass the day with him-like a raw wind.” When Mrs. Hale realizes she did not do all she could to support Mrs. Wright, she feels remorse. Mrs. Hale expresses her wish that she visited Mrs. Wright more often. Readers realize that harsh people are joyless and cause everyone around them to feel miserable. This emphasizes the importance to do all they can to help people in difficult situations. Mrs. Hale’s character demonstrates the necessity to support others since everyone is important to a society.
Mrs. Hale’s character reinforces the theme when she demonstrates the necessity to love others. Since Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Wright are neighbors, one of the investigators assumes they are friends. However, Mrs. Hale avoids the Wright’s home, since it is not cheerful. She even acknowledges she has not seen Mrs. Wright in over a year. When Mrs. Hale discovers the motives behind the murder, she states, “‘But I tell you what I do wish, Mrs. Peters. I wish I had come over sometimes when she was here. I—wish I had.’” Mrs. Hale’s remorseful comment causes readers to understand the importance of showing compassion toward others. This revelation provokes readers to ponder how they treat others. It also challenges readers to love and offer support. Mrs. Hale’s character reinforces the theme that everyone is important by demonstrating the necessity to express love.
Trifles teaches many lessons about oppression and that all members of a society have value. Oppressed people often experience isolation and loneliness, much like the women in Glaspell’s play. Oppressed people may do things they would not normally do out of desperation. Mrs. Wright’s murder clearly demonstrates this. Her actions challenge readers to value and help all people, especially those who are oppressed. Readers also learn the need to defend others. Mrs. Hale’s character teaches that empathy and love need to be the foundation for any help given. These attributes and actions help people feel loved and valued. Susan Glaspell’s play, Trifles, shows that everyone, even the oppressed, is valuable to society.
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