Gender analysis of the short story by Susan Glaspell, also titled "Trifles"
Link to Short Story: http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/GlaJury.html
In a court case, is the motive of the crime evidence for or against the convicted? While on the one hand it is used to prove guilty, it can also be persuasive in justifying an act. Oppression is a cause enough to substantiate civil disobedience, or that is at least the national precedent, seeing that this country was founded on lawbreaking and rebellion against the British. Thus began over two centuries of compromising the law, in big and small ways, for the “natural rights of man.” The “civil rights movement” has addressed slavery, racism, and the more recent feministic agendas. The latter is what stimulates the conflict in Susan Glaspell’s short story and urges the reader to rethink what it means to be a victim. While Minnie Foster is the one that is criminally accused, the real trial is, as the title suggests, that of John Wright and, in a broader sense, men.
Homicide is not so much the subject of suspense as the motive is. The only qualified suspect to the reader is Minnie Foster. Her strange behavior (pleating at her apron rather than showing her usual hospitality); which may also include her unfinished duties (the poor sowing, half-wiped table, half-poured sugar bag) and her suspicious testimony; and the material evidence (the rope being the Wrights’ possession, no physical evidence of an intruder) give the reader an early assumption of the guilty party, and more evidence is compiled by the end of the narrative. The depth of the story questions not so must “who murdered John Wright,” which is so quickly determined, but “why was John Wright murdered.” And this begins the conception of Minnie Foster not as a criminal but a victim.
First, Minnie Foster is represented as a victim because the male gender is represented as ungrateful and mocking, causing grief to the whole female gender. The conduct of the men is foreshadowed by Mr. Hale’s “impatient” reply to his wife. Mrs. Hale’s testimony is put off, though the witness of her husband is heard. The misinterpretation of Mrs. Hale’s commentary on the glumness of the home stirs some sex-related tension. In another instance, the men search the crime scene upstairs, and the women are left to gather the more trivial evidence downstairs. The reason is given by the departing statement: “would the women know a clue if they came upon it?” Ironically, they are the only ones that discover any motive. As well as the belittling behavior of the males is the slanderous comments they give of things directly related to the concerns of women, or as unto Minnie Foster but that could be applied broadly to the women in the house. The men are quick to criticize the disarray of the household, while failing to acknowledge that “there’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.” The preserves that took all summer to can are deemed “trifles,” as are many of the other activities of the women (quilting or knotting the quilt).
Secondly, Minnie Foster is represented as a victim because of the evidences of marital oppression. Within the dialogue of the ladies, the transformation of Minnie Foster singing and parading around town contrasts the feeble image of Mrs. Wright on the rocking chair, the first image presented of her. As before noted, Mrs. Hale recognized the solemn mood of the household in past visits. But one of the most direct and physical afflictions that would seem to rationalize her criminal act is the killing of her singing bird. The bird is meant to be symbolic: while Mr. Wright was not guilty of humane homicide, he was the murderer of the bird which represents Minnie Foster. The idea is that Minnie Foster killed Mr. Wright no more than he killed her.
Thirdly, Minnie Foster is represented as a victim by the conclusive acts of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. Both of these characters undergo a feminine metamorphosis to arrive at their scheme at the end of the book. The transformation of Mrs. Hale is subtle in comparison to the other, but here remorse (wishing she had visited more often, perhaps to relieve some of the subjugation) turned to activism quickly (fixing the quilt). Mrs. Peters is represented as far from active in judicial affairs, and contrasts nicely with the boisterous law enforcement of her husband. She is very gullible, and perhaps even submissive to her husband in many respectable ways. These evidences move her, however, until she begins sympathizing with Minnie Foster (“A person gets discouraged—and loses heart”), perhaps largely because of her own experience with “stillness.” Though is takes more time and persuasion, the greatest contribution that Mrs. Peters makes in the short story is concealing the dead bird, a substantial clue for the men.
Using gender opposition, the author can defend both the validity of women and their reasoning by giving realistic abuses that the common woman could experience. The murder gives the hostility more urgency, and so the conduct of both sides can be taken to excessive measures and we can see the overall outcome of both methods clearer. And while we bring accusations to judge another, it is so often that we heap judgments on the other. It may just be that the tyranny of one can be the rope or the role.