The patriarchal society of the 19th and early 20th centuries was characterized by quite an arrogant and humiliating attitude towards women, who were condemned to their eternal roles of mothers, wives, and housekeepers. Two plays depicting the blossom of androcentrism, “ Trifles” by Susan Glaspell and “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen, clearly show that men tended to communicate with women as if the latter were inferior (less, educated, intelligent and had fewer social entitlements in general), whereas both authors also suggest that ideal marriage necessarily implies treating women with respect, as an equal partner on whom it is possible to rely.
In the short play “Trifles”, Glaspell identifies the gendered division of roles. As the literary work begins with a visit to the home where a murder has recently occurred, the two male investigators begin to “sneak” around the house searching for important details, whereas their female companions were left in the kitchen so that they do not bother the men. The female characters of the play are of greatest significance, whereas the behaviors of Sheriff, Mr.Hale, and Mr.Wright are described as the explanation of the woman’s decision to keep secret the true evidence of the manslaughter.
The communication between the men and the women seems a bit strange at the very beginning, as Mr.Hale and the Sheriff appear to be ironic about virtually everything the women say and seem to be listening to them without truly hearing what they are talking about. When Mr.Hale, one of the witnesses, says: “women are used to worrying over trifles” (Glaspell, at www.vcu.edu, 2009), the ‘small-minded’ women decide to teach a lesson to the conceited and self-reliant men. Another significant reason for the stress on female reasoning that, as the author demonstrates, excels male logic, is the notion that males are not likely to listen to the arguments of their female companions. Mrs.Hale and Mrs.Peters build a perfectly logical chain which leads them to the revelation of the true murderer: first, they notice that the last piece Mrs.Wright quilted was irregular; further, they begin to reflect upon the origin of the cage the women notice in the kitchen and conclude that Mrs.Wright might have had a bird.
Finding the dead canary, they realize that poor Minnie lived in the offensive atmosphere created by her authoritarian spouse, whom she decides to kill after he deprives her of the only source of joy and happiness, her little canary. Whereas Mrs.Wright is mentioned as a great housekeeper, kind and beautiful woman, her husband might have been not willing to evaluate her patience, and contribution she made to the family hearth. After years of maltreatment and humiliation, she decides to liberate herself from her violent husband.
Similarly, Nora’s epiphany is logically and emotionally associated with the freedom from her narrow-minded spouse Torvald who tends to view merely as his “little squirrel”, or cuddle little toy (Ibsen, p.20). Although she sacrifices the health and well-being of her father, her safety, and her legal status, when borrowing the money for their trip to Italy, her spouse regards this action as recklessness. Even though Nora has been living in constant fear and self-constraint, saving his life and paying the debt off, Torvald does not realize the depth of her attachment to the family. Torvald fails to take her seriously and instead treats her as the means of meeting his need for a supportive family and cozy home.
He fully reveals his disrespect for his wife after being informed by Krogstad about the details of Nora’s loan; as a result, his conversation with the woman turns into a stream of offenses, accusations, and reproaches. Similar to Mr.Hale and the Sheriff, Torvald is reluctant to listen to Nora’s response and conceive the true meaning of her words. As a result, Nora abandons him, feeling too aggrieved to make excuses or continue the talk.
As one can conclude, by depicting dysfunctional families and unhappy marriages, both Ibsen and Glaspell suggest several main features of the ideal couple. First of all, there should be a mutual understanding between the husband and wife so that each of them shows attention to and interest in the partner’s life. Secondly, the ideal family is characterized by respect, i.e. each of them should approach the other half in the way s/he wants to be treated.
Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. Plain Label Books, 1950.
Glaspell, S. Trifles. Web.