Feminism in “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell

Table of Contents


Before the 1900’s, men dominated society in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world, while women were considered inferior to them. Women were discriminated against in all walks of life. The Feminist Movement, also called the Women’s Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement, included a series of efforts by women all over the world to fight for restoration of gender equality. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that that ever has.” These sage words of famous American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead (Eisenberg & Ruthsdotter) is an appropriate elucidation of the Women’s Liberation Movement. One such committed citizen was Susan Keating Glaspell, who, like other Feminist writers, contributed to the Feminist Movement through her powerful writings by creating female characters who wished to be liberated from the typically restrictive roles that society had created for them. Her play Trifles published in 1916 during the peak of the Feminist Movement is one such example. The play’s title refers to something that is insignificant or very trivial, which holds very little or no importance; this is what males thought about females during those days in that patriarchal society; the title sets the tone for the rest of the play as Glaspell first goes about showing {with the help of several strong indications}, how gender discrimination takes place in society, and then makes the female characters in the play adopt a feminist attitude by fighting back against the discrimination.

Body of Essay

In Trifles, a farmer {John Wright} is murdered in a farmhouse. Three male investigators {a court attorney, Sheriff Peters and a farmer named Hale} gather to try and solve the murder. The first indication of gender discrimination is that the three 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. Secondly, 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). The third indication is the condescending male attitude which 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). Fourthly, the attorney belittles Mrs. Peters {and women in general}, 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 just an extension of her husband with no individual identity of her own. The last indication is 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 don the cloak of feminism and resist the male tendency to demean and suppress their gender. The female fight back against societal discrimination begins in response to Hale’s disparaging remarks about women worrying about trifles. The ominous response of the two women is to “move a little closer together” not only physically, but also psychologically as they prepare to fight back on two fronts, namely, on the one hand to defend their gender in general, while on the other hand to focus their resistance on Mrs. Wright in particular and silently show unity with her (Itech.fgcu.edu).

Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale go about their plan in an adroit manner. Rather than putting across their viewpoint forcefully and abruptly, they choose to gradually put forth their views {that the male investigators look, interpret and judge things from a broader, unbiased perspective} in a calm and logical way that is quietly purposeful and ultimately serves its purpose as they succeed in exposing the killing of Mr. Wright as the act of a person done in desperation born of the need of sheer, basic survival (McGrath).


In conclusion, the Women’s Movement today has achieved all the targets laid down in the original Declaration of Sentiments. Women have now crossed each and every threshold that used to be denied to them because of their unity and determination that enabled them to contribute 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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