The Use of Symbols in Susan Glaspell’s Play Trifles
In the nineteenth century until the twentieth century, women lived under men’s shadows. In that time, inequality between genders was the most obvious thing that characterized the society. Women’s role was guided by men and was simply related to their domestic environment; nothing but a caring wife and a busy mother. Unlike now, men looked at women as machines that had to provide comfort and mind relax to their husbands even if their husbands did not provide that to them. To be specific, society in that time took the women’s right away from them; they cannot be what they want to be.
However, in this Era, there were many writers, who wrote about this issue. On July 1, 1876, in Davenport, Iowa Susan Glaspell was born. Susan was one of those writers that women’s inferiority in society bothered her. She wrote several literary works which are strongly feminist and discusses the roles that women forced to play in society and the relationships between men and women. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1899, in Drake University and worked on the staff of the Des Moines Daily News as a journalist.
Her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered, was published in 1809 and her short stories were both sold to magazines such as Harper’s and The Ladies’ Home Journal. Glaspell married to George Cram Cook who was known as a classics professor, a novelist and poet. They later moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and founded the Provincetown Players theatre group in 1915 with some friends. There, she was encouraged by her husband to write a play to the Provincetown Players. She originally wrote “A Jury of Her Peers” as a play entitled Trifles, it was written in just ten short days.
The play was produced in 1916 and in 1917. Noticeably, Susan Glaspell had never liked to feel controlled which maybe gives her the inspiration and the encouragement to write Trifles. But, the main influence of this play came from a murder that Glaspell covered while working for the Des Moines Daily News, as a reporter. For most readers, Susan Glaspell is known primarily as the author of Trifles, the classic feminist play that has been performed all over America. This whole play is about two women’s secret discovery of a wife’s murder of her husband.
And, how women beat the men with their cleverness by considering the trifles items in the house, especially in the kitchen as evidences, while, men mock them. The success of Trifles is back to Glaspell’s intelligence in choosing themes that portrays what society needed to consider in that time. Also, her talent in writing played a major role in the audience positive reaction to Trifles. And the important obvious factor of this success is her use of symbols. However, Symbolism is the representation of something by symbols, used to show the significance of objects that portray the ideas and themes.
In Trifles, symbolism is used so that the audience is able to see through the eyes of the main character, Minnie Wright, and determine why she murdered her husband. Glaspell does an extraordinary work of changing the everyday house items in the play into important images which conveys to the reader a deeper understanding of the hidden meanings during the play. Some of the house objects which Glaspell chooses to use are a bird cage which suggests the main character Minnie Wright being trapped, the canary, a yellow bird seen as a sign of happiness to Mrs.
Wright, the fruits that reveals Mrs. Wright’s past, the apron that Mrs. Wright wore, and the rocking chair where Mrs. Wright sits after committed the crime. In fact, I like the use of the last two symbols. They highly refer to Susan Glaspell’s ability to portray the psychological condition of Mrs. Wright and how does she feel about living with her husband, John Wright. In Trifles, the investigation of the murder has done by Mr. Peters and his wife, the county attorney, and the neighbor Mr. Hale and his wife. The first Symbol, the apron, is mentioned two times in the play.
First, in the beginning of the play ,when the county attorney asks Mr. Hale who discovers the murder first to describe what he saw. Then, Mr. Hale replays that he entered the house and found Mrs. Wright on her chair “pleating at her apron”. The fact that she was pleating her apron while Mr. Hale is asking her about her husband means that she was nervous and looking for comfort, as if she really committed the crime . The second time the apron is mentioned when Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale collect things for Mrs. Wright which was the main purpose of their coming. And, while gathering Mrs. Wright’s stuff, Mrs.
Peter’s statement “she said she wanted an apron…” and she continues “…Funny thing to want; for there isn’t much to get you dirty in jail. Goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural” Explains that Mrs. Wright’s request is a quite strange. Still, the use of this symbol in these two statements indicates Glaspell’s skill in showing what Mrs. Wright really misses in her life and in jail, particularly, comfort and protection. In my opinion, I believe that Susan Glaspell successes in illustration the importance of the apron, by showing the security and calm that brings to Mrs.
Wright. Also, Mrs. Peter’s statement represents the apron as a kind of daily clothes for women in that time, which obviously connected to their roles in home. Also, I think there is no one who can do what Susan Glaspell did in using such a simple piece of fabric in portrays the whole psychological condition of the main character. That appears, in how Mrs. Wright pleats her apron as if it is a tool that relaxes her, while there is no one does, especially her dead husband. As well, she considers it as a shield that secures her from the murder accusation that she faces.
In the beginning of the play, Mr. Hale tells the county attorney that he found Mrs. Wright sits on her chair and “she was rockin’ back and forth. ” The second symbol that I love in Trifles is the rocker. Susan Glaspell uses the rocking chair as a sign of Mrs. Wright trying to stay calm and peaceful, but her way of rocking backward and forward shows that she was very nervous. Since, any move that follows a certain rhythm indicates a sense of anxiety; Mrs. Wright was extremely scared from getting caught. Also, I see that maybe Mrs.
Wright used to sit on that chair every time she feels uncomfortable or worried; it was as a habit for her. Even nowadays, the rocking chair gives us a sense of comfort. Just the motion of rocking back and forth will calm most of us. On the other hand, I think the movement of the chair “back and forth” could symbolize Mrs. Wright’s mind, and how she always remembers her happy past and then goes back to the unpleasant present. As if the chair moves according to her thinking, moving from the memory of how she was and returning to her status today, as a murderess.
All these literary meaning of this symbol makes me highly impressed by Susan Glaspell writing of Trifles, and her ability to connect between the theme of the main character’s isolation and a simple drift of a chair. From my judgment, this symbol mentioned one time in the play but it carries a lot of significant meanings which serve the characterization of Mrs. Wright and one of the important play’s themes. To conclude, finding Mrs. Wright in her rocking chair and pleating her apron are both symbols used by Glaspell to indicate the main character feelings and emotions.
In my opinion, I think that one act plays, as Trifles are hard to convey a complete idea only if the playwright was so talented. Therefore, I believe that Susan Glaspell did a marvelous work in her play Trifles by making use of simple things to suggest her themes and perspective, strongly. Work Cited: 1-Mary E. Papke, Susan Glaspell Society http://academic. shu. edu/glaspell 2-The Meaning of Symbolism. http://www. thefreedictionary. com/symbolism 3-Literary encyclopedia http://www. litencyc. com/php/sworks. php? rec=true&UID=15992