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Social Oppression of Women 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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Trifles, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Social Oppression of Women Theme Icon

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

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Social Oppression of Women appears in each chapter of Trifles. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Social Oppression of Women Quotes in Trifles

Below you will find the important quotes in Trifles related to the theme of Social Oppression of Women.
Trifles Quotes

“Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.”

Related Characters: Lewis Hale (speaker), Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Hale, Minnie Wright
Related Symbols: Trifles, Canning Jars of Fruit
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

George Henderson, the county attorney, accompanies Mr. Hale and Mr. Peters, and their wives, to the home of a man who was recently killed. The murdered man's wife, Mrs. Wright, has been taken into custody, and the men search the home for any evidence. They find that Mrs. Wright's hard labor of canning fruit has been ruined, as the jars have frozen and exploded in the cold weather. The women's sympathy for Mrs. Wright's ruined project draws scorn from the men. Mr. Hale dismisses their concern by stating that women "are used to worrying over trifles." This statement reveals both the attitudes of the men toward women and the social position women hold in this play. 

First, the men all think of women, and the concerns of women, as inferior to men and the concerns of men ("trifles" as compared to presumably important issues). Second, the domain of women is the domestic sphere. Men fill the roles of investigators and intellects, while women are not expected to understand or help with the search for evidence against Mrs. Wright. Because the women have been delegated lesser roles and responsibilities, the men see "women's things" (anything related to the household) as trifles. This perspective ultimately causes these men to overlook the very evidence they need, because they immediately discount the importance of women's things and concerns. As a whole, the play shows the error in this thinking. Women's concerns, emotional abuse, and social oppression are at the heart of this story, and are not trivial at all.


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“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. 

“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.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Peters (speaker), Mrs. Hale (speaker), Lewis Hale, John Wright, Minnie Wright
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discuss the murder of John Wright while alone in the kitchen. What is notable about this murder is the means used to kill Mr. Wright, who was strangled by a rope around the neck. This brutal method was used even though a gun—which would certainly have been quicker and more effective—was available in the house. This passage is an example of foreshadowing, as the women discuss the method of murder early in the play, emphasizing that this question will be key in understanding of the mystery of Mr. Wright's death. The men state that they're concerned with finding evidence that reveals a motive for killing John Wright, and for killing him in this unexpected way. 

This passage also subtly shows the gender roles for men and women expected by this society. The women rely on any information provided by their husbands, and they believe in and trust this information (as they have no other choice). Mrs. Hale quotes her husband with the understanding that this adds authority to her words. This difference in power--men control information--is examined throughout this play. Later on, however, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters withhold the information they have--the evidence they uncover gives them power and control over the situation. This is a rare experience for these woman, who are used to accepting their husbands' words as unquestionable facts. 

“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. 

“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.