Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are torn between their loyalty to another woman – a loyalty born of their shared experience of social oppression – and their duty to obey the law and present the evidence they uncover. The men in the play stress the importance of legal duty, particularly reminding the sheriff’s wife Mrs. Peters, that she is, for all intents and purposes, “married to the law.” Responsibility to the law is thereby equated to responsibility to one’s husband.
The men are strongly driven by their legal duties, and this equates their power as men with the power of the law. But, of course, the men’s allegiance to the law, which they see as a moral duty, is also self-serving. It is the male dominated law that helps to make the men feel and see themselves as important, which gives the men such power over their wives. The gender roles in this play are powerful because men control institutions like the legal system. Men will be the ones who rule on Minnie Wright’s court case, and ultimately decide her fate.
So it is that when Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters hide the evidence that would condemn Minnie, their act of rebellion opposes both the power of the law and the power of their husbands. It’s important to note that this rebellion is neither natural nor easy for the women. They are timid and fearful when they enter the Wrights’ house, and it’s clear that the gender restrictions of their society have prevented them from almost ever making independent decisions from their husbands. When the women discuss their dislike of the way the men invade, inspect, and judge Minnie’s domain, the home, but then remind themselves that the men are only doing what they’re supposed to do, it is as if they are playing out the way that their sense of what’s right is at war with their awareness of duty, both legal and marital. Yet, ultimately, these two women elect to side with Minnie, to protect her in whatever way they can, and hide the dead bird. Their sense of solidarity with a fellow oppressed woman outweighs the legal duty their husbands insist on.
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty ThemeTracker
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Quotes in Trifles
“I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing.” “Of course it’s no more than their duty.”
“But he was a hard man, Mrs. Peters. Just to pass the time of day with him—[Shivers] Like a raw wind that gets to the bone.”
“When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—[Covers her face an instant] If they hadn’t held me back I would have—[Catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly]—hurt him.”
“Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that?”
“We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”
“No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law.”