Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Jury of Her Peers

Topics: Women'S Rights

The role of women has for long interested numerous talented authors. The development of our society was marked by changes in social attitudes towards women, and their place in the society. Speaking about women in literature, we often turn our heads towards Kate Chopin, forgetting about other prominent writers. Susan Glaspell was not recognized as a feminist author until the end of the 1970s. Her works are interesting in terms of a woman’s position in the then society against the position women currently hold.

It will be interesting to re-consider the role of women in Glaspell’s works Trifles and Jury of Her Peers.The time during which Susan Glaspell was creating her works was known for having strict boundaries between private and public lives of people. However, this time has also become the start of erasing these boundaries.“No longer relegated to the home, but not yet accepted in the marketplace, women were caught in a position of liminality, pinned between the traditional female and male world by the expectations of both.

” (Shafer 92)Susan Glaspell’s brilliant works have become the source of profound research of how law and justice were opposed to the gender differences. They have become the symbols of the female ethos, and of the gradual transformation of the relationships between women – from cold distance to concealing the evidence of the crime. While it is possible to admit that Glaspell’s stories were the evidence of the brilliant gender story, they are better be called “feminist”, because Glaspell’s stories do not depict women and men neutrally; the author emphasizes the socially inferior (but in reality, superior) position of a woman during that time.

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While the two works obviously relate to the same plot and are the two descriptions of the one case, the murder of John Wright by his wife, they supplement each other and make different emphases on the one and the same case. Speaking the name of the story symbolizes the negligence men displayed towards women. What men traditionally considered being trifles (the fact that preserves would be gone due to the very cold weather during the night), was very meaningful and important for women. This lack of understanding between the two genders risked being turned into a real conflict. In case with Minnie Wright and her husband the conflict had far reaching consequences. As for Jury of Her Peers, the emphasis in this story is also noticed in its title: the two women (virtually, Minnie’s juries) have become the expressions of the women’s search for fairness (Makowsky 24). This fairness was also lacking in the then women-men relationships, and women were often treated as mere housewives, without any regard to them as humans. The small dead bird with its head twisted was the biggest proof that men lacked hearts, warmth and understanding of their women. A small bird which had been a live creature became the victim of John Wright’s anger, as one may suggest reading both works. As a result, Minnie’s soul could not take those tortures any longer.The position of the woman in the society as depicted by Glaspell is the revelation for the reader: it is the clear picture of how emotional and empathic essence of a woman is different from the morality and theoretical principles, to which men keep (Smith 174). The redefinition of the crime, which Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale performed in the process of their small investigation, rested more in the morality of concealing the facts of the crime to save Minnie, than in morality to reveal the truth.From the viewpoint of the woman’s position in the society at that time, the following suggestions can be drawn. The place of a woman at that time was no more significant than that of the housewife, who had to make her everyday chores without demanding anything in return. “There is a great deal of work to be done on a farm” (Glaspell). This work was mainly performed by women, while men were working outside. Men had their working day finished at the same hour everyday, and women had to work as long as they were awake (Smith 175). Nevertheless, they were still viewed as the weaker sex, who could not think clearly and could not care about anything else, except for “trifles”. Glaspell’s aim was to oppose women to men, and the mere fact that the two wives managed to resolve the crime, while their husbands kept looking for the evident truth without any progress, is very symbolic. “Bound by the rigid stereotypes and the inability to step into Minnie’s shoes to solve the crime, the men who are supposed to be primary investigators in the case, miss all of the clues and are unknowingly outwitted by their wives” (Alkalay-Gut 3). Glaspell has created significant tension between the men and the women in the story, by making women open to what men have remained blind.Is the position of the contemporary woman is different from that in the discussed stories? Both “yes” and “no”. Surely, women in our society possess unlimited freedoms and equal rights in pursuing their goals. Moreover, their goals are no more limited by household chores, as in the case with Minnie Foster. It should be noted, that Glaspell took a real life case to create the plot of the two works; this is why both Trifles and Jury of Her Peers were more than realistic; they were real (Angel 95). In Glaspell’s stories, the kitchen was described and referred to as the only domain, in which Mrs. Wright existed. She could not allow doing anything beyond her household chores. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters could easily determine Mrs. Wright’s way of thinking, because they were in the same situation. Consequentially, the three women represented a typical picture of a woman during the time, when the stories were being written. “In the case with Trifles, the details of life, that accumulation of insignificant trivia, reveal the basic framework of the familial relationship and ultimately explain the cause of this family violence that led to the murder” (Angel 95). Not only was the fact of being tied to kitchen the representation of the women’s position in society. The fact of being isolated from the rest of the world greatly contributed into the fact of murder. What we see now seems to represent the perfect social surrounding in which women can do anything they want, without being limited to traditional female roles. It is difficult to disagree, that we witness the growing number of female scientists, actors, singers, public figures, and even presidents. Simultaneously, we also witness the growing number of cases, when women are mistreated and when the rights of women are neglected, either openly or secretly.We live in the society, which despite the frequent declaration of the rights’ equality, cannot totally break the existing prejudices and clichés about women. The major difference between the women’s position today and the position of women in Glaspell’s society is that people at that time did not strive to break the boundaries of the female world, and to expand the role of women beyond their households. What we currently witness is actually a partially successful fight of women for their deserved place in the civil society. Glaspell was capable of attracting the readers’ attention towards the gender inequality between men and women during 1900’s. However, the fact that her stories and their hidden meanings were discovered only by the end of the 1970s, tells much (Makowsky 39). It means that until that time the world did not notice or did not want to notice the limitations women were facing on their way towards personal development.“It’s all perfectly clear, except for the reason for doing it. But you know juries when it comes to women. If there was some definite thing – something to show. Something to make a story about. A thing that would connect up with this clumsy way of doing it” (Glaspell).Female inferiority is viewed even in this short passage. The juries, who tend to turn criminal cases which involve women into scandals or shows; the inability of a man to find hidden motives of the female crimes, when these motives are in the way men treated women; the “clumsy” evaluation of the murder itself – all these remarks contribute into the overall picture of how women were judged.There is another visual difference between the positions women took in the stories. What Glaspell has depicted was the solidarity and unity of several women in grief or in trouble. They treated each other with understanding, though they also realized they were committing a crime. Their understanding was first revealed in the way the two women were investigating the kitchen: it was real investigation worth of professional detectives (Shafer 103). Where the men saw only a mess of things, the women saw the profound implications and were searching the reasons of why Mrs. Wright had left all her work unfinished. When the woman was so responsible for everything in her house, there had to be solid reasons to make her leave everything as it was.We are provided with the latest technical achievements, which help us in our everyday lives, and which will finish everything for us in case we have to leave. We possess more favorable social position, and we try to argue and to defend our position in society. We do not accept being inferior and are capable of legally proving our equality. Women at 1900’s could not afford such luxury. “Women were degraded, because they were not given the credit of accomplishment of a harvest, but it was always seen as the man does everything” (Alkalay-Gut 8).Can we hope at fair decision for a woman in crime? The modern legal system has all prerequisites to make this true. Glaspell has created a picture of the situation in which the law was inapplicable to the case of Mrs. Wright. All characters of both stories understood that in case Minnie’s guilt was proved, she would not escape severe punishment. Thus, the society at that time was torn between the concept of justice represented by law, and the concept of “kitchen justice”, of which the juries were Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. The fair trial which is possible in our world is impossible in the world described in Trifles and Jury of Her Peers. Glaspell has depicted the dramatic distance between the laws of kitchen and the laws of the outside world, which would not leave any chance for Minnie. If Minnie lived in our time she would possibly have more chances to be justified and to be understood.The question is whether the moral dilemma which Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale faced would be resolved in the same manner if both lived in our society. They “dispense justice by circumventing the law and are clearly secure about the correctness of their actions, realizing the superiority of their secretiveness” (Angel 96). It becomes clear that while women were less protected by law, they had higher level of solidarity between each other; our society cannot boast having the same features. Our solidarity is replaced by competitiveness, and while our women strive for holding better position, they lose the intrapersonal ties, which women earlier possessed.  Even if the two women risked concealing some facts about the crime, our modern investigational technologies and the legal obligations to be open with justice would totally neutralize these efforts with possibly negative legal consequences for all of them (Angel 96).Glaspell was speaking not only of the female isolation, but the power of the woman’s powerlessness. The author was trying to attract our attention to the need of legally addressing the discussed issues in women’s existence. What do we have now? The issues have been and are being addressed, but only legally, and not morally. We keep speaking about morale, but we constantly experience considerable difficulties in limiting law from morale, or trying to combine them. The women in Glaspell’s stories could not wait until laws would be created to protect them. They decided that they had to take their rights and to exercise them for their benefit. They have actually depicted the start of the process, in which women would gain enough powers to prove their righteousness. Glaspell had created the writing, in which women were displayed through the prism of male vision – “through the masculine percepts and confirms of the male value system, authenticating the power of the public sphere by the perceived need to replicate it” (Alkalay-Gut 8). Simultaneously, the invisibility assigned to women by the societal norms at that time has led to the irreversible effects on justice, about which men did not have any idea.The two stories by Susan Glaspell – Trifles and Jury of Her Peers carry profound messages as for the real and the possible role of the woman in the society. The author was successful in showing the inferiority, which was assigned to women at that time, while in reality men did not realize the power of women. It is interesting and useful to compare gender roles in Glaspell’s stories and in our society. There are significant differences, but there are also meaningful similarities. The differences are mainly caused by the improved legal framework, which has addressed the issues in Glaspell’s stories but which has not resolved all of them. We still face the conjunction of the legal equality and our conscience, which rejects this equality, and the possibility of women being equal to men.ConclusionThe isolation in Glaspell’s stories was not overcome, but has changed its character. While Glaspell’s women were isolated from the rest of the world, and were limited in their kitchen space, contemporary women hardly know what means solidarity. They are isolated from each other. The situation which was described by Glaspell will never take place in our society because the position of the woman has changed: she has acquired new rights and can now fight for her equality. The problem is that in cases when moral should serve the basic evaluation criteria, women do not have any space to step away from the law. Glaspell has depicted the woman in her social inferiority, but she has also shown the possibility of real human relations between several women. What we have now is the total power of law, on which we rely in difficult situations, but women need some human support, which they lack at present. The conflict remains unchanged, though it has acquired some tint of justice in it. It is difficult to expect that the discussed dilemma will be resolved in the nearest time. 

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Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Jury of Her Peers. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from

Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Jury of Her Peers
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