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Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon
The Blindness of Men Theme Icon
Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
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Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Theme Icon

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.

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Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty Quotes in Trifles

Below you will find the important quotes in Trifles related to the theme of Gender Allegiance vs. Legal Duty.
Trifles Quotes

“I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing.” “Of course it’s no more than their duty.”

Related Characters: Lewis Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters (speaker), George Henderson, Henry Peters
Related Symbols: The Dirty Towel
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

The men go upstairs to examine the bedroom where Mr. Wright was killed, and Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are left in the kitchen. The kitchen is in a state of disarray, and the men had unfavorably commented on Mrs. Wright's housekeeping—George Henderson had picked up a dirty towel and pointed out the disorganization of the kitchen. Mrs. Hale is upset by this, and comments so to Mrs. Peters. She sees the work Mrs. Wright has put into running a farming household, because she has works hard every day herself. The men, of course, cannot appreciate this in the same way. Mrs. Hale is more explicitly critical of the men than Mrs. Peters, who often provides excuses for their behavior. 

Although the women are oppressed by the strict gender roles of this setting, they cannot fully reject the roles they have been conditioned to expect. In this passage, Mrs. Hale thinks of the kitchen as belonging to Mrs. Wright and not to her husband. The kitchen is a woman's space and responsibility. Mrs. Peters, for her part, sees the men's work and duties as something she cannot question. Ultimately, the play shows the evolution of these characters when they deliberately conceal evidence in order to protect Mrs. Wright from the men. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters's allegiance to another women is an act of rebellion against the social order, something that is a challenge for both of them. 


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“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.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters, John Wright
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale is critical of John Wright's character, which begins to shift the reader's opinion of the couple at the heart of this play. One has been killed and the other accused of murder. Yet, what is the true crime? One of John Wright's "crimes" was his coldness and harshness to his wife. Mrs. Hale cannot imagine being married to this man, and even imagining passing the time of day with him makes her shiver. This statement shows that John Wright was not kind, and he must have been very difficult to live with. What did Minnie Wright experience while cooped up in her isolated house with him? The metaphorical language of this passage emotionally conveys John Wright's unkindness and shares the sensation of being around him with the reader or audience. To be near him was like being in a "raw wind that gets to the bone." We can understand and relate to this unpleasant sensation, and Mrs. Hale's comment subtly turns the reader or audience against John Wright.

This comment also shows another important shift, as Mrs. Hale starts to identify with Minnie Wright and relate to her experiences as a suffering wife. Mrs. Hale is already aligning herself with the other woman, and entering an emotional state in which she will want to defend Minnie against the cruel treatment of men. Her sympathy is the initial source of her willingness to lie to protect Minnie. She sees that John Wright is not wholly innocent, but his personality and abuses are not the concern of the legal system. 

“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.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Dead Bird
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

When faced with the evidence that Mr. Wright killed Minnie's pet bird, Mrs. Peters explains a traumatic childhood memory of a boy who killed her pet cat. Mrs. Peters shares this experience in common with Minnie Wright, and by describing this experience, she empathizes with the suffering and pain Minnie would have felt. But Mrs. Peters also acknowledges her reactionary feelings of anger and violence. Having been hurt, she wanted to lash out in return. This shows both Mrs. Peters and the reader/audience that Minnie's reaction is natural, or at least understandable. It is clear that Mrs. Peters acknowledges the similarities between their situations as she "catches herself, looks upstairs where steps are heard, falters weakly." She is confronting the truth that she could easily have been in Minnie's shoes, with something to hide from the men searching her home. 

Mrs. Peters is much more traditional and obedient than Mrs. Hale at the beginning of the play. Mrs. Hale makes several disparaging comments about the men, while Mrs. Peters refuses to criticize them. Therefore, it seems harder for Mrs. Peters to sympathize with Minnie Wright and consider protecting her even at the risk of defying her husband. Yet this is the moment when her perspective shifts. She sees herself aligned with and loyal to Minnie, rather than to the men, as both have been hurt by men in the past.

“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?”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hale (speaker), Minnie Wright
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale's sympathy for Minnie Wright shifts into personal guilt as she comes to understands how much the other woman must have suffered alone at her house without the support of friends. She knows that if Minnie Wright had had the support of other women--to complain to, to talk with, to help her feel that she wasn't suffering alone at the hands of her husband--she might not currently be a murder suspect. Mrs. Hale could not have solved the larger problem of inequality between the genders, nor the specific problem of Mrs. Wright suffering at the hands of her husband, but she could have emotionally supported Minnie Wright. 

Mrs. Hale refers to her own actions as a "crime," and the term is repeated for emphasis in this passage. The legal system, crime, and evidence are repeatedly discussed in Trifles, although they are mostly used by the male characters to refer, in a limited way, to the murder of Mr. Wright and the prosecution of his murderer. Mrs. Hale shifts the definition of crime here, however. She sees her oversight as a crime, and she sees Minnie's isolation as a crime. This reveals that many things in the world could be considered crimes that are beyond the regulation of the legal system. One reason for this is that men dominate the legal system. Only men will decide Minnie Wright's fate through a trial, and consideration of crimes such as Minnie's isolation won't occur to these men or be relevant in Minnie's case. Justice, in Mrs. Hale's eyes, should be more broadly applied. 

“We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale points out that all women have suffered isolation, mistreatment, and unhappiness because of the structure of a society that treats them as inferior to men. She speaks here in the first person plural, which includes herself and Mrs. Peters in a group with Minnie Wright. The context further implies that she uses "we" to refer to all women. She acknowledges that there are differences in the way women are treated from town to town and household to household, but these treatments are fundamentally the same thing. These "same things" are the products of oppression. In one case, a woman may be physically abused. In another case, a woman may be refused a job over a male candidate. In a third case, a woman may give up on friendship because her husband expects her to prioritize caring for his household over everything else. These are all "different kinds of the same thing" because they have the same cause: social oppression of a single group of people--women. 

This sentence is a key turning point in the play, because it solidifies Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters's "us" versus "them" thinking. These two women see their identities as women as being more important than their identities as citizens or wives. They know that women everywhere are experiencing the same mistreatment and suffering, and this outweighs their timidity and motivates them to protect Minnie Wright.

“No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter, a sheriff’s wife is married to the law.”

Related Characters: George Henderson (speaker), Henry Peters, Mrs. Peters
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters have selected some clothes and other items to take to Minnie Wright at the jail, and Mr. Peters asks if George Henderson would like to check through these items before they are delivered to Minnie. Henderson scoffs at the necessity of this, dismissing it for two reasons. First, he doesn't believe that the women could be a threat simply because they are women. Henderson sees Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters as unintelligent and subservient. It is clear that he is not suspicious of them, which means he does not believe them to be capable of outwitting their husbands or concealing evidence.

Second, Henderson states that Mrs. Peters in particular is above suspicion because she is married to the sheriff. A woman, of course, follows the thinking and ideals of her husband, and, as the wife of the sheriff, Mrs. Peters must be particularly law-abiding. This quote works to emphasize what is at stake for Mrs. Peters in her deception. She is deliberately acting illegally and concealing evidence, even though her husband (who, society dictates, should direct her in all things) is committed to upholding the law. Mrs. Peters has chosen loyalty to Minnie Wright over loyalty to her husband and to the law. Not only are the representatives of the law (sheriff, attorney) all male, but so will be the jury that tries Minnie Wright. The women are uniting and simultaneously thwarting both men and the law.