Susan Glaspell's Trifles and Shelagh Delaney's A Taste Of Honey Analysis

Feminists believe in rebalancing the social, economic and political power between the sexes, in the name of their common humanity. They aim to steer clear from the once normal stereotype of women being weak, fragile, domestic beings needing to be cared for and to cater to men. Instead they aim to blur the capability line of both male and female genders and rather look at an equality and acceptance that both sexes and all genders should not be subjects to such assumptions and rather have the choice and the right to decide to do what they want to do.

For centuries femininity was determined on your domesticity, that women and men inhabit different spaces and that women are oppressed by the existing social and spatial connotations of these spaces. Both Susan Glaspell (Trifles) and Shelagh Delaney (A Taste Of Honey) have written plays that focus on the domestic space and bring to light not only the idea that women are known to rule the domestic space but why these ideals should be broken, and that it is in fact the patriarchal spatial connotations of these spaces that keep women trapped within their socially constructed narratives struggling to identify in their femininity without its domestic counterpart.

Female Spaces’ are generally associated to female roles’ as mothers and homemakers such as stores, classrooms and the household itself, they are very few in number and diversity. Whereas, Male Spaces’ not only come under a larger bracket of categories but are also almost always associated with true power such as the military and in parliament.

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They are segregated in this way as they play to the gender roles that are normally associated with these sexes. This essay will look to examine the use of domestic space within plays Trifles by Susan Glaspell and A taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney and how these authors subvert the idea of the domestic space, femininity and womanhood and what implications this has to world of the time and today. Susan Glaspell’s Trifles is a play that follows the murder of Mr. Wright who has been found strangled in his bed with Mrs Wright seemingly being be the only suspect. Trifles is noted as being one of the first feminist dramas’ being first published and performed in 1916, its aim is to comment on the treatment, or rather mistreatment of women at this time. In 1916 the women’s rights movement was rising as this was the same year the first U.S. birth-control clinic was opened, as well as a form to the Congressional Union for women’s right to vote three years prior.

As the County Attorney, Sheriff Peters and neighbour Mr. Hale investigate the house for clues and evidence as to what happened to cause Mr Wrights untimely death Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are left in the kitchen. From the outset of the play there seems to be a clear separation of the men and the women. The three men entering first with the women following behind we are able to visually see the clear separation and segregation of women in America at the time, subconsciously forcing them into their domestic secondary role. The men begin to examine the scene starting in the kitchen, where the play is set and stays throughout.

Glaspell’s choice of setting Trifles in the kitchen may be because this is a women’s domain’ and as the main suspect is Mrs Wright, the wife and the homemaker’, reasonably this would be the first place to look. The first stage direction of the kitchen is that it is gloomy’ which sets the tone for the rest of the play, this was not a cheerful’ place. The Kitchen is dirty, with dishes in the sink and dirty towels which is the first thing then men notice it is the Court Attorney who just dismisses it and states not much of a housekeeper, would you say ladies?’ this jokingly manner in dealing with a case as serious as a murder illustrates how women were not taken seriously at all at this time. It shows a facetious outlook as they see the kitchen as a women’s place to reside and therefore pointless. The men’s reaction to the kitchen proves women are judged by her housekeeping further shown when the Court Attorney claims I shouldn’t say she has the homemaking instinct’ suggesting that women should have an innate way about them to ensure that the house is a home’ and that if you are not a good housemaker then you are not a good woman’. However, Glaspell makes it apparent that the men are quite uncomfortable in the kitchen and or maybe that they don’t belong in the kitchen as they hardly in it. The attitudes of the men throughout the play are to not only reflect their own patriarchal views but also the common patriarchal views of most the men in the country at the time.

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are able to infer things about Mrs. Wright just by looking at the way her kitchen is kept. This is an interesting way to look at the domestic space as a pure reflection on its homeowner, moreover the kitchen a pure reflection of Mrs. Wright and tells her own hidden story that can only be uncovered by those who are familiar with a space like this, the women. Glaspell uses Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters as professionals’ of the domestic space itself, as they too are women that reside just like Mrs. Wright in her kitchen. They are able to notice the small hidden clues that Mrs. Wright left for them and are able to analyse them to learn the truth. The men then proceed to go upstairs where they remain the majority of the play to “investigate clues”. Ironically, it is Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters who are left in the kitchen that are able to gather clues that piece together the murder and the motives behind it. The ladies look deeper into the reasoning as to why everything is done so haphazardly, for example, the stitching of the quilt and whether she was going to quilt it or knot it’ where we late find that the knots in her quilt match the ones in the rope used to strangle her husband.

As the story develops what is first assumed an outburst of rage transcends into something that may have been more calculated and sinister than once thought. Glaspell makes the wives and audience sympathise with Mrs. Wright and slowly begin to make them question their own moral code. It becomes abundantly clear that Mrs. Wright is guilty for the murder of her husband, but the wives’ reactions begin to make Mr. Wrights death seem justifiable. Glaspell does this intentionally as the play is not necessarily a mystery, making the audience wonder who killed Mr Wright, because it is made clear, instead it is to focus on why Mrs. Wright killed her husband. As we learn about the relationship between Mr and Mrs. Wright we learn that Mrs. Wright was torn down by her husband trapped by both him and the societal expectation of a wife or woman.

Glaspell does this to deconstruct the cultural image of marriage at the time. Feminist writers often put attributes to pessimism of marriages to highlight the inability of heterosexual marriage and how radical it was at reconstructing society’ not to necessarily forbid marriage all together, but to allow people to see the hypocrisy and ingrained discrimination and segregation of the patriarchy and women’s dangers to succumb to these powers. Over her Marriage to Mr. Wright, Mrs. Wright lost every sense of herself, and her individuality. She first lost her name, no longer was she Minnie Foster who sang in the choir, she was Mrs. Wright, Mr. Wrights wife. We learn from Mrs. Hale that this was not a cheerful place. Glaspell forebodes this with the description of the domestic space, as we learn more about the house Mrs. Wright resides, it increasingly becomes an undesirable residence. It is down in a hollow and you don’t see it from the road’ which immediately isolates it. It is unbearably cold resembling an inescapable prison-like dungeon instead of a home.

Glaspell uses the domestic space in this way to clearly portray how Mrs. Wright was not only in physically trapped in a house away from everyone, but also trapped in her marriage. Glaspell also does not move the play; it stays in the confines of the Wright home and more importantly in the kitchen. The use of keeping the play set in the kitchen allows both the characters and the audience to feel the same claustrophobia that Mrs. Wright felt, because although not physically trapped with a lock and a ball and chain’ she is trapped within the social confines of her marriage to Mr. Wright. Even if she wanted to leave him, she couldn’t. A woman who left their husbands in a period like this were made social outcasts, In the 1900’s you had to prove your significant other had committed adultery, abused, or abandoned you and seeing as there isn’t any evidence that Mrs. Wright was physically’ abused or cheated on and definitely not physically abandoned by her husband (which she would have loved) she had no legal bounds to divorce him, she was desperately trapped almost like a bird in a cage.

When Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale find an empty bird cage they ponder about whether or not Mrs. Wright would have had a pet bird. This is where Mrs. Hale claims, come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and fluttery.’ Later a small dead Canary bird is found with is neck wrung and the women begin to piece together the motive behind the murder of Mr. Wright. she used to wear pretty clothes and be lively when she was Minnie Foster singing in the town choir.’ The canary, a bird known for its beautiful singing is a symbol of Mrs. Wright. Both delicate and small, trapped in a cage with a voice that can no longer be heard due to the hands of Mr. Wright. When the women find the canary in the red box, they immediately piece together the reasoning behind the bread outside the breadbox, the half-cleaned counters and the uneven stitching, Mrs. Wright had lost her voice she had lost everything that has once made her whole, she was living in a cage confined to being the woman that society had shaped her out to be. The canary was her glimpse of hope, a piece of herself and when Mr. Wright killed it, that was the last shred of hope and individuality she had left. Taken once again by her husband. There was no other way for her to now escape, years of neglect and anger built up at this point to her, there was no other justifiable way to avenge him other than to kill him, because in a way he had already killed her.

Arguably, the most interesting use of subverting the domestic space is Glaspell’s focus on the relationship between Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale within it. As women they too have a shared knowledge of the domestic space and the tasks that come with it. The focus on their shared experience of womanly duty both help them identify with each other and with Mrs. Wright, sharing the common field that although they lead different lives these women all go through the same thing. we live close together and far apart. We all go through the same things it’s just a different kind of the same thing’ Glaspell focuses on the relationship between these two women to show us the mundane similarity between all housewives and the patriarchal captivity within their idea of freedom.

Mrs Peters is wife to the Sheriff, she is married to the law’. Initially she is shy and reserved as Mrs Hale begins to examine elements of the kitchen. I don’t think we ought to touch things’ . She too is part of her husband and therefore part of his profession, she cares for the law because her husband cares for the law and that is what she should do, being his wife; his property. But Mrs. Hale, the law is the law’. For most of the play she seems to be the moral code, trying to separate herself from Mrs. Wright as best as she can, but as the play develops, she too finds elements of herself in Mrs. Wright. When she reminisces about the story when she was a child and a boy took a hatchet and killed her kitten she claims if they hadn’t held me back, I would have…hurt him’. Finally empathising the motivation behind Mrs. Wrights actions, blurring her once clear line on right and wrong in the name of the law.

Mrs Hale is the wife to the Farmer Mr Hale and lives next door. She is seen as quite a domineering character from the outset of the play who stands up to the men when they speak ill of Mrs. Wright’s housekeeping there’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm’. Being described as loyal to (her) sex’ Mrs. Hale blames herself for allowing Mrs. Wright to lead such a horrible life, knowing how things can be for women’ she was aware, that her avoiding coming over to Mrs. Wright because the house was gloomy’ and uncheerful’ was in fact one of the reasons Mrs. Wright felt so alone. She sees herself as being to blame and her negligence over a fellow woman to be a crime’. Glaspell indicates that the indoctrinated patriarchal mindset runs so deep, Mrs. Hale sees herself to blame over Mr. Wright mistreatment of his wife as she had the responsibility to interject. Mrs. Hale’s realisation that maybe she could have done more to help could be a cry to all women watching or reading the play at the time, that maybe they too could do more to help. As well as realising in the inequality in an overarching androcentric, patriarchal system that women are no more than homemakers

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Susan Glaspell's Trifles and Shelagh Delaney's A Taste Of Honey Analysis. (2019, Nov 24). Retrieved from

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