Susan Glaspell’s 1916 play ‘Trifles’ – Review

Susan Glaspell’s 1916 play ‘Trifles’ demonstrates how gender can impact a reader’s response. Gender explains the physical and social condition of being male or female. When seeing the Wrights kitchen as a text and the characters as the reader, it becomes clear how gender is an important function of the theory of reading.

The reader reaction theory consists of several components; it takes a look at how a reader interprets a text and what adds to that analysis.

Raman Seldon et al states ‘we vary about analyses only since our methods of checking out vary’. The way we read a text will also depend on individual experience. Wolfgang Iser argues that a piece of literature includes ‘blanks’,2 these are spaces in the text that only the reader can fill. If these blanks exist within an unfamiliar area, the reader is not likely to fill them. This impacts the readers’ construal of the text in this case the Wrights cooking area. In the early 20th century the kitchen was a location seldom inhabited by males and the County Attorney is quick to observe ‘nothing important here, nothing that would point to any motive’. The men in this scene are normal of the ‘implied reader’ described by Raman Seldon et al as ‘the reader whom the text develops for itself and totals up to a network of response-inviting structures’.

The theory looks at how a text tasks itself to the reader, Umberto Eco’s ‘the role of the reader’ argues that some texts are open while others are closed, the previous invites reader partnership in the development of significance, the latter has its significance currently determined and has expected the readers response. 5 Trifles’ is an open text, it welcomes the readers, in this case the guys and ladies to discover the meaning/evidence. The men’s failure to fill the blanks symbolizes gender problem and contributes to their ultimate failure. Another element of reader-orientated criticism is the ‘reception theory’, Hans R Jauss, a German fan of this theory utilizes the term ‘Horizon of expectation’6 to describe the requirements readers use to evaluate literary texts in any given period. The guys of law enter the scene with a fixed ‘horizon of expectation’.

Their historical experience of comparable crimes implies they try to find a particular set of codes in this case signs of evidence, due to the fact that this case does not fit into that experience they stop working to find the proof. They are restricted by their gender function and unable to read the text as anything besides manly. Along with the males, the ‘implied reader’ is Mrs. Hale. According to Raman Seldon et al we can categorise her as the ‘actual reader’ she ‘gets certain mental images in the process of reading’,7 but the images likewise depend on her ‘existing stock of experience’, in this case her understanding of what it is to be a female in her time.

Describing Judith Fetterley’s idea of the resisting reader, Sara Mills argues that ‘although texts may resolve us as males, we as females can build an area of reading which withstands the dominant reading’. 8 Mrs. Hale withstands the dominant reading and takes part in a womanly reading of the text; this enables her to check out the scene from a female viewpoint. Mrs. Peters checks out the text both as a man and as a female, although she just appears to do this at a subconscious level. She is the sheriffs’ partner; therefore, she has a more stringent gender function to abide by, her role of partner has almost obscured her natural femininity.

Sara Mills explains the gendered reading of a text as ‘one whereby the reader comes to the procedure of reading with a structure of expectations which are figured out by her gender, and she connects with aspects in a text in a gendered method’. 9 Mrs. Hale defines her gender function in comparison with Mrs. Wright when speaking about Minnie she states ‘she didn’t even come from women help ’10 she accepts that they are both farmers’ other halves and that Minnie never totally accepted that gender role.

Minnie did not get included with other women or with organisations that would have offered her freedom. The quote suggests that it was the least she might have done, Mrs. Hale does however empathise with Minnie influencing Mrs. Peters to do the very same. Raman Seldon et al state ‘the act of analysis is possible because the text allows the reader access to the author’s awareness, ’11 this permits the reader to believe and feel what the author does. This is a significant point, the males in the play try to interpret Mrs. Wright’s manner but are not able to come to any conclusions, when the women discover the untidy sewing they are able make presumptions about her state of mind and state of mind, they can relate to her as a lady and as a spouse. Sara Mills mentions that ‘the reader is subject to many discursive pressures which lead her to read in specific ways. ‘. 12 Mrs. Peters prevents answering direct concerns with her own viewpoint when asked by Mrs. Hale ‘do you think she did it? ‘

She replies with the opinions of her husband and his associates. She does sympathise, however what follows is an abrupt recall of her manly indicated reader action, e. ‘I know what stillness is, but the law has actually got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale’. 14 A reader constantly takes to a text a structure into which they fit the text, this describes why the guys check out the scene the way they do. The men analyze the text from a manly viewpoint, they only understand the truths, Mr. Wright is dead and Mrs. Wright was the only other person present. It would be natural for them, taking into account there historic perspective, indicated reader action and gender role, to search for obvious signs of an argument or struggle.

The concept of a gendered difference is critical when evaluating reader placing. The cooking area plays an essential part in representing the gender roles. Gainor states in her essay, ‘if the kitchen area is coded as the female’s sphere, then surely the bed room needs to be thought of as the male arena, ’15 this is where the men invest most of their time and naturally where John Wright passed away. Mrs. Hale and the guys in the play have an inconsistent view of John Wright’s character. When Mrs. Peters states, ‘they say he was a good male,’ she is again describing the guys’s viewpoint. While Mrs. Hale confesses that he ‘didn’t consume’, ‘kept his word’ and ‘paid his expenses’, she also describes her own impression of him as a ‘tough male’.

Mrs. Hales sees beyond the manly observations and trusts her own impulses; she describes speaking with him as ‘like a raw wind that gets to the bone’. 16 The males in the play do not talk about John Wright’s life or character. The ladies do discuss Minnie Wright, Mrs. Hale explains her prior to her marriage, ‘she utilized to use pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster’. 17 Mrs. Hale builds up a picture of Mrs. Wright that Mrs. Peters can associate with and identify with, she later on explains her as ‘like a bird herself’,18 this paired with the cold character of Mr. Wright and the discovery of the birdcage develop a picture of Minnie being caged herself. The discovery of the bird with its damaged neck is an essential minute of realisation for the 2 women.

The extent of the sadness in Minnie Wright’s life has actually become generously clear and the acknowledgment of what this grim discovery signifies seems to set Mrs. Hales mind racing. Again, referring back to her own individual experience of Mr. Wright, Mrs. Hale states ‘No, Wright would not like the bird-a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too’. 19 This statement is sufficient to make Mrs. Peters certainly unpleasant with how the scenario is unfolding. Mrs. Hale reproaches herself for not contacting Mrs. Wright occasionally; she declares ‘that was a criminal activity, who’s going to punish that? ’20 This questioning contributes to the inference that the murder was not the only criminal activity that took place in the farmhouse. Ultimately, both females read the text from a gendered viewpoint allowing them to validate why they hide the evidence.

The two females show empathy for Minnie Wright, they comprehend the challenges of being a female in their time, and Mrs. Hale states ‘all of us go through the very same things– it’s all just a different sort of the same thing’. 21 It is here the ladies seem joined, in defense of one they feel has done wrong and been wronged, in a last act of female solidarity they conceal the evidence they have found and safeguard Mrs. Wright. Susan Glaspell’s ‘Trifles’ is a play in one act that shows the significance of gendered theories of reading.

It achieves this by showing how the female make their observations and unknowingly develop the circumstances surrounding the criminal offense. They notice little details that are significant to them as women; these information allow them to relate to the text. The males in this play overlook these information because they just see the scene from a manly point of view. They read the text within a stiff structure of suitables that do not apply in this case, to be able to analyze a range of texts is to be able to check out from a gendered perspective.

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