There are similarities in the relationships between men and women in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles and Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. The assumptions that men have about women lead to conflicts in both plays. Conflicts in these two plays are a result of a male-dominated society. The men believe that women focus on trivial matters and are incapable of intelligent thinking, while the women quietly prove the men’s expectations wrong. In the plays Trifles and A Doll House men believe women only focus on trivial matters.
While Mrs. Wright is being held in jail for the murder of her husband, she is concerned about the cold weather causing her jars of fruit to freeze and burst. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale discuss Mrs. Wright’s concern over her canned fruit after finding a broken jar. Mrs. Peters voices Mrs. Wright’s concern, “She said the fir’d go out and her jars would break” (Glaspell 1. 27). The Sheriff’s response is, “Well can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves” (Glaspell 1. 28).
The women realize the hard work involved in canning this fruit and understand Mrs. Wright’s concern. The men see this as unimportant compared to the trouble Mrs. Wright is facing. Likewise, in Isben’s play A Doll House Helmer believes that his wife Nora only focuses on trivial matters. Three weeks prior to Christmas Nora spent every evening working alone. Helmer believes that Nora is making the family Christmas ornaments and other treats for the Christmas holidays. In reality, Nora is working for money to repay a loan that she illegally acquired when Helmer was ill. The house cat is blamed for destroying the nonexisting ornaments.
Helmer reminds her of the long hours spent away from the family. Helmer says, “It was the dullest three weeks I ever spent” (Isben 1. 73). While Helmer believes Nora to be spending her time on trivial ornaments, she is actually working on something important. Another example showing that Helmer believes his wife concentrates on unimportant matters is the way he treats her after she returns from shopping. Helmer says, “Hasn’t Miss Sweet-Tooth been breaking rules in town to-day? . . . There, there, of course I was only joking” (Isben 1. 57-65).
While Helmer says he is only joking about Nora eating sweets, Nora lies and says she would not go against his wishes. This suggests Helmer has rules that he expects Nora to follow. This example shows the childlike behavior Nora resorts to because of Helmer’s rules. In both plays the men treat women as if they are not intelligent enough to think beyond simple matters. A second similarity between Trifles and A Doll House is that women appear to conform to the men’s expectations. In the play A Doll House, Nora conforms to her father and husband’s expectations.
Nora says, “When I was home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from his opinion I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it” (Isben 3. 280). Nora’s life has been shaped by a dominant father, as well as her submissive attitude. This also set a pattern for her marriage with Helmer. On the surface, Nora plays the role of a loving wife and mother. Nora plays with the children and does the things that Helmer likes. Nora says to Helmer, “You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you-or else I pretend to” (Isben 3. 0).
Nora plays her role so well, she thinks she is happy. Then one day, after her husband does not support her, Nora realizes the two of them do not know each other very well. Nora says to Helmer, “Torvald-it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children” (Isben 3. 349). Nora has conformed to men for so long she no longer has a personal identity. Likewise, in the play Trifles Mrs. Wright conforms to the expectations of a dominant husband.
Mr. Hale attempts to get Mr. Wright to go in with him to get a party telephone line, but Mr. Wright refuses. Mr. Hale later thinks that if he brings up this subject with Mr. Wright in front of Mrs. Wright, he might be successful in convincing him to get a telephone. Mr. Hale later says, “I don’t know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John-” (Glaspell 1. 9). Whether or not Mrs. Wright would enjoy having a telephone is unknown, but the fact is known; Mr. Wright makes decisions without consulting his wife.
Another example of this domination in Mrs. Wright’s life is her lack of socializing with other women. Mrs. Hale says, “She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that-oh, that was thirty years ago” (Glaspell 1. 56). Mrs. Hale reflects on the happiness in Mrs. Wright’s life before she was married. Mrs. Wright, at that time, had a lively spirit and took pride in the way she dressed. Now, Mrs. Wright keeps to herself. She is not a member of the local Ladies Aid which it seems almost every woman belongs to.
Mrs. Hale attributes this to Mrs. Wrights shabby feelings. These feelings are not only her physical appearance, but also her emotional state. Mrs. Wright has been summoned by her husband to do her farm duties without outside interference. Mrs. Wright and Nora conform to dominant men in their lives. It is rebellion against this dominance that eventually sets them free. A last similarity in these two plays is the women being treated as if they are incapable of intelligent thinking.
In the play Trifles, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discover a quilt Mrs. Wright is making. Mrs. Hale asks, “I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it? ” (Glaspell 1. 72). The men hear the women talking about the quilt and laugh at them; this makes the women resentful. The men continue to joke and play off of these words. The men view the quilt as insignificant. The women realize the knot in the quilt is an important clue in the murder investigation, but they do not tell the men. In the meantime, the men are looking for clues throughout the farm but are having trouble building a case against Mrs. Wright.