The play presents a world of strict gender roles, in which the men occupy the sphere of work while the women exist solely in the home. Yet the separation of men’s and women’s spheres is not merely one of a division of labor. Rather, Trifles portrays a world, dominated by men, in which social expectations and restrictions have essentially confined women to the home and bound them to their husbands, with little control or identity of their own. For instance, the county attorney George Henderson and the sheriff Henry Peters emphasize Minnie Wright’s role as a housekeeper, and feel free to judge her shortcomings in this area. The main characters of the play, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, are identified solely by their husbands’ last names. Minnie is the only woman in the play to get a first name, but this name only emphasizes how she is transformed by marriage, losing possession of her very self, when she marries and goes from Minnie Foster to Minnie Wright. Minnie’s situation is an extreme one, completely isolated at home and without children, but her isolation is merely a difference of degree from that of other women. Both of the other women in the play can understand Minnie’s situation because it is just an amplification of their own. While the men socialize through their work and in the world, the women are stuck at home by themselves.
But the oppression of women displayed within the play goes even further. The male dominated society does not just lock women into lonely lives and leave them dependent on their husbands. Those very men also fail to recognize their role in oppressing the women. As a result, the men belittle the women, mocking their character, intelligence, and subservience. The men laugh at the women for their emphasis on “trifles,” the small needs of housekeeping and comfort, even when those things are all the men allow the women to have. The men have not only oppressed the women, they also blame the women for enjoying the only things their oppression allows them to have.
At the beginning of the play, the women too seem to accept the gender roles that oppress them as something of a natural world order. However, as the play progresses, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come to recognize that, as women, they are being oppressed (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they come to acknowledge what they already secretly recognized). In Minnie’s dead bird – a bird strangled by her husband – they see their own strangled hopes, perhaps even their own strangled lives. And in this joint recognition they find a connection between themselves and with other women, and begin, in their own quiet yet profound way, to rebel.
Social Oppression of Women ThemeTracker
Social Oppression of Women Quotes in Trifles
“Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.”
“I’d hate to have men coming into my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing.” “Of course it’s no more than their duty.”
“They say it was such a—funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that.”
“That’s just what Mr. Hale said. There was a gun in the house. He says that’s what he can’t understand.”
“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.”
“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.”