The Unheimlich: A Feminist perspective on Freud’s Uncanny in Trifles

Although released three years prior to Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny,” Susan Glaspell’s play “Trifles” is a literary personification of Freudian techniques. The remarkable tension in “Trifles” is marked by an acute sense of the unheimlich, or extraordinary, which Freud specifies as: “uneasy, spooky, blood-curdling … everything that is unheimlich ought to have stayed secret and surprise however has come to light.” In this play, the three concept female characters– Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Wright, and Mrs. Hale– can be understood as personifications of Freud’s ego, id, and superego. The symbolic unconscious appears in the text as the missing Minnie Wright, whose enigmatic existence is ingeniously provided as a lack of presence, as something not yet manifest. The unheimlich makes itself felt through Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peter’s eventual realization that they are deeply resentful of men and, from their anger, efficient in justifying murder. Their awareness coincides with the ego’s realization of the quelched id, which creates an environment of the remarkable in the text. “Trifles” is the story of ladies; it paints a photo of the female condition translucented female awareness. The mind of Glaspell’s play, its ego, superego, and id, belong to women, and males are intentionally left out from comprehending its metaphoric language. The text of the play and the events that unfold can be viewed as emblematic of the linguistic system of the female mind.

The character of Mrs. Peters functions as the play’s symbolic ego. She is extremely uneasy, cautious to a fault because she suspects herself, worried, hesitant, and, up until completion of the play, consistently unsure. She fluctuates between defending Minnie Wright and defending the patriarchal law, appearing to have no idea of what she desires and no stable conscience or conviction when it comes to Minnie Wright. When Mrs. Hale asks if she thinks Minnie Wright killed her other half, Mrs. Peters answers in a frightened voice, “Oh, I do not know” (40 ). Mrs. Hale, however, fasts to judge: “Well, I don’t believe she did. Asking for her apron and her little shawl. Worrying about her fruit” (40 ). Mrs. Hale can be interpreted as the play’s superego. She is ruled by her concepts and convictions and, throughout the play, frequently mentions her conscience. Reviewing Minnie Wright, Mrs. Hale states mournfully, “I wish I had actually come by in some cases when she was here … I stayed away due to the fact that it weren’t cheerful– which’s why I ought to have come” (42 ). Later in the play, Mrs. Hale sobs, “Oh I wish I ‘d come over here from time to time! That was a crime! That was a criminal offense! Who’s going to penalize that” (44 )? As the play’s symbolic superego, Mrs. Hale is likewise speaks straight to Mrs. Peters and advises her to believe with a conscience: “I might have known she required aid! I understand how things can be– for females. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. All of us go through the very same things– it’s all just a various sort of the same thing” (44 ).

When the ego reveals the unheimlich in the id, the exceptional is realized. It is the minute when the unconscious components surface and emerge into a kind identifiable to the private awareness. In “Trifles,” the unheimlich is revealed when Mrs. Peters, the play’s ego, chooses that Mr. Wright’s murder is appropriate. Her dawning realization follows she discovers the dead canary, Minnie’s cathexis, and acknowledges the shape of Minnie’s anger: “When I was a lady– my kittycat– there was a kid took a hatchet, and prior to my eyes– and prior to I might get there … If they had not held me back I would have … injured him” (43 ). Transference is at work here; through self-reference, the character Minnie becomes comprehendible. Freud postulates that this sense of doubleness or duality is inherent in the uncanny and describes it as “transferring mental procedures from the one person to the other … so that the one possesses understanding, feeling and experience in typical with the other … so his self ends up being confounded, or the foreign self is substituted for his own– simply put, by doubling, dividing and interchanging the self.” The astonishing appears when the ego acknowledges aspects of the id that it never knew existed. The concept of acknowledgment is substantial, since it indicates pre-established acquaintance and a certain level of inherence. Glaspell implies that all females share anger at their male oppressors, and if carried to a severe, all females can sharing Minnie’s murderous rage.

“Trifles” originates from Mr. Hale’s line, “Well, women are used to fretting over trifles” (38 ). It is a feminist play about guys’s objection to comprehend the female condition; it is about how females are disenfranchised, dismissed, and displaced by guys in the social order. This calls to mind the Freudian notion of “penis envy.” According to Freud, women get in the Oedipal stage when they discover their lack of a penis and blame the mom, relying on the dad as a love things. Nevertheless, far from supporting this idea of penis envy, Glaspell’s play denies it totally. According to Glaspell, males fear the power of women, to a degree that they continuously belittle their female equivalents to assure themselves of their own domination. Instead of blaming other ladies for their absence of a penis, the women in “Trifles” bond over shared womanhood. When Mr. Henderson demeans Minnie Wright by announcing that she is a bad house cleaner, Mrs. Hale protects her by saying, “Those towels get dirty terrible fast. Male’s hands aren’t always as tidy as they might be” (38 ). The blame is transferred from the woman to the guy; it is not her dirty towels that are to be blamed, but rather his filthy hands.

The play’s linguistic metonymy is based on the world of women. The main metaphors of the play– the protects, the birdcage, the quilt, and the knot– all live in a world that men derogate, however in “Trifles” these are the only things that speak the reality. By taking a look at these things, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters fix the mystery of Mr. Wright’s death and secure Minnie Wright by keeping their knowledge trick, which at the same time empowers their womanhood and lessens patriarchic control. The females become the ones with the power to leave out. Withholding their knowledge of the crime from the guys is, in a sense, castration, since it renders them impotent to link Minnie Wright to the murder of her spouse. “Trifles” as a whole is astonishing, due to the fact that it speaks for the minds of women, and assumes in Mrs. Hale’s line, “All of us go through the same things” that all females have repress the exact same things, that all women– even if they do not realize it– harbor the same hazardous animosity at their male oppressors (44 ). The play closes when Mr. Henderson asks the females jokingly if they think Mrs. Wright meant to sew or knot her incomplete quilt. Mrs. Hale’s ironical reply summarize in a sentence the doubleness, the astonishing, of this womanly language: “We call it– knot it, Mr. Henderson” (45 ). The castrating power of female withholding, the knot, the reference to the void, is the foundation of the play’s unheimlich.

— Works Pointed out

Bigsby, C. W. E., Ed. Plays by Susan Glaspell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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