A Woman’s Role Maintains Sanity

This was purely a paper I wrote for one of my English classes. No intent was meant towards women as this a just a thesis.

“Trifles” is a play written by Susan Glaspell in 1916 during the progressive era where a woman’s role was placed in the home in the minds of men. Since the play takes place during the progressive era that also included WWII, women’s roles changed. More women worked outside of the home to take on the jobs that men had to leave because of the war draft. This play could be a direct idea of, what if a woman was not ready for such a change from her normal role? Would it affect her sanity if what her purpose should be? A woman’s role had been seen as a homemaker before and well after. Mrs. Wright, the topic of interest, is held for her husband’s death. Two other women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, are present in the play because they are to fetch items that Mrs. Wright has requested. An apron was on the list. Apart from the county attorney and the sheriff, the two women begin on their own mini-investigation. During this mini-investigation, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale notice inconsistences in the completion of household chores. Their conversation of the incompletion of the chores and the odd findings thereof relays a strong message of their time; a woman’s role can be the crutch to her sanity and the only norm she can cope with. In the following paragraphs, I shall outline several examples of how a woman’s role is what keeps a woman from breaking apart.

During WWII in which the play is set in the year it was published, American women were recruited to take on positions in the army (nurses and secretaries) and in the workforce in factories. It is well noted that the women of Germany were expected to keep on with their household duties as well as work the jobs generally reserved for men. This would be no different for the American women. After the war, the men came home and the women were told to get back into the kitchen. Many have felt that the women were used and not accredited for the challenge they took on in terms of gender stereotypes. [1]

In the same year that he play was written, feminist Leta Hollingworth wrote in an article in the American Journal of Sociology about how social institutions were primed to limit women’s roles to that of a mother and housewife. She felt that evidence of this could be found in the opportunity [2] to where they were because society could only perceive women as caretakers according to skill. Still, skill is taught and therefore the women’s gender played into society’s expectations; skills or no skills. This is called labeling which gender socialization played an integral part.

“Gender socialization is the way a child is raised from birth. Boys are raised for work labor whereas girls are raised for nurturing and hoe labor. By expecting different attitudes and behaviors from us become we are male or female, the human group nudges boys and girls in separate directions in life. This foundation of contrasting attitudes and behaviors is so well established that as adults, most of us act, think, and even feel according to our cultures guidelines of what is appropriate for our sex.” (Henslin 69)

In 1916, Mrs. Wright is best guessed to be a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Her husband was raised to bring home food and income and not much less. There is not enough evidence to support that he may have been drafted into the army.

How women’s roles relate to the play is that in Mr. Wright’s death, Mrs. Wright did not know, at first, how to deal with herself:

Hale : She was rockin’ back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of ‘” pleating it.

Country Attorney : And how did she ‘” look?

Hale : Well, she looked queer.

County Attorney : How do you mean ‘” queer?

Hale : Well, as if she didn’t know what she was going to do next. And kind of done up.

It was when the reader learns that Mrs. Wright asked about her fruit and her apron.

Mrs. Peters : Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. She worried about that when it turned cold. (Glaspell 917)

Mrs. Peters : She said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, for there isn’t much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. (Glaspell 921)

The fact that Mrs. Wright wanted her fruit and apron is well enough evidence to support that she felt comfortable with some homemakers clothing and canned goods. With the fact that the chores seemed to be half done, can be taken as an indicator that Mrs. Wright at least wanted half the work done so as to feel like she did something even though she was so distraught that she could not finish the chores fully.

The outcome of history outside of the play suggests that the author must have felt that if anything a woman’s role is carved in stone and that stone is her rock. In a manner of clich©, you can take the woman out of the kitchen but you cannot take the kitchen out of the woman. Mrs. Wright clung to her role so that she could have something stable and long-lasting to keep her going. Women of that day even with capabilities of other skills knew that no one could run a home or feel at least comfortable in home more than a woman. Why else would Mrs. Wright worry about fruit and an apron?

The interpretation of the play in regard to women’s roles is that women’s roles are the foundation of their personalities and actions. Take a husband and wife of that era would feel as if they were taught to do: be a housewife. In Mrs. Wright’s case, even adding the restriction of homemaker while on trial did not stop her from wanting something of who she was raised to be. She still felt the urge to continue with her duties even if she could not complete them form the distraught she felt from her husband’s death.

Many women like Mrs. Wright, those who even work outside of the home need something of themselves to hold on to. In the case of gender socialization, that something to hold to is homemaking; the crutch and foundation to sanity. After all, it is foundations that keep a person grounded from hysteria.


daryl2007. “Roles of Women in World War I.” 2010. Hub Pages. 8 April 2011 .

Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Abcarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz. Literature: The Human Experience . Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2009. 916-929.

Henslin, James M. Sociology: A Down to Earth Approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004.

Miller, Nacy B., Falk R. Frank and Yinmei Haung. “Gender identity and the overexcitability profiles of gifted college students.” 1 July 2009. The Free Library. 8 April 2011 .

[1] (daryl2007)

[2] (Miller, Frank and Haung)