Male domination in 1916, when Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles was written, was the way of life. Men controlled most women and women were not very outspoken during that time period. Mr. Wright in her play was no different from the rest, but she made him a symbol of all the men in the community. The play opens at the scene of the crime. The first three characters who enter the room are the three men involved in the investigation of the murder at hand. The purpose of their visit is to find evidence of motivation of murder, but the women who they leave downstairs find the very evidence that they are looking for.
The men presume the women to be harmless for a couple of reasons one being: the women are left in the kitchen where, according to the Sheriff, there are “nothing but kitchen things”(1174). His comment was in response to the County Attorney’s question about the Sheriff being “convinced that there was nothing important” in the kitchen “nothing that would point to any motive” (1174). The concerns of the women are considered little or silly and insignificant and this is the most important reason for the men’s comments about them.
The Sheriff laughs when the women express that maybe the frozen preserves have some meaning (1174). Mr. Hale, who is the husband of one of the women, comments “women are used to worrying over trifles” (1174). They figure the women are not dangerous because they are in a room where there could not possibly be any evidence, but also because they believe that the women’s minds are so limited to “trifles” that they are not a threat to the investigation. The men feel that the women cannot think, cannot act, and cannot do any harm to their investigative work.
However, the women find lots of evidence in that room. They do think, act, and sabotage the investigation. They find the very evidence that the men are looking for. In most stories of this nature the men are the center of attention, but Glaspell opens our eyes to something new. Not only do the men not solve the case, but they also aren’t the center of attention. Even though the men were not using lots of demeaning dialogue and they are not patronizing the women, it is clear that they are using the traditional manly ways to put the women down.
Men say that they are superior to women and that they can do everything by themselves, but why is it that the County Attorney’s biggest dilemma is that he cannot figure this case out by himself yet the women can? The men’s lack of knowledge, the failure to solve the case, and the men’s insignificance in the play speak for themselves. This is a reversal of the characterizations of the women of that time period. Glaspell was successful in showing us this by letting the audience see everything from a woman’s point of view. Not only were the men superficial feminists, they were simply trifles.