A Critical Discussion Of The Play
“Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority. ” (Mary Wollstonecraft) This powerful one act play by Susan Glaspell is easily and clearly feminist. Then again, that would be jumping the gun.
As is with any other criticism of a literary piece, one starts with the basics of the written text or manuscript, or its form, before one even tackles the content or substance in the piece It is a temptation to choose just two literary element in the piece to zero in and discuss, however, this brilliant piece of literature deserve more than just a nit picking of one or two literary elements, but rather, a seamless discussion of its form and content collectively. We shall begin then by paying closer attention to the piece’s form.
The piece is an outstanding literary gem, and succeeds as a one act play as it exhibits mastery and skillful manipulation of formalist elements of a play. The narrative device, it being a play, is done through the medium of a dialogue. From the play itself, we glean a dialogue appropriate to its geography and setting. Although the play written was written and set during an earlier period, the dialogues are not archaic at all. There is a fluidity to the narration and the dialogue that approximates the natural digressions or banter between the characters. Here’s sampling to illustrate such crisp exchange: COUNTY ATTORNEY.
What–was she doing? HALE. She was rockin’ back and forth. She had her apron in her hand and was kind of–pleating it. A Critical Discussion 4 COUNTY 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. There is also a foreshadowing in the play, as evidenced by the order of discovery of the women as to the state of things in the house, with the final discovery of the canary and their recollection of how the murdered husband and the saintly wife lived together.
There is also a brilliant use of figurative language and metaphor that ties the whole story very tightly; or shall I say, ‘knots it, not quilts’ (Glaspell) From the comparison of the stitches and knots in Mrs. Wright’s quilt, to the singing canary and it being ‘caged’, to it being killed, up to the way Mr. Wright was killed by strangling him with a ‘knotted’ rope; the metaphors are effortlessly and organically united! Even the seeming worthless recollection of Mrs. Peters about the boy with the toy hatchet and her kitten finds recurrence with the alibi on how a cat must have killed Mrs. Wright’s canary.
There was excellent character development and progression as the ladies turned from being apathetic and disinterested, to being nostalgic, to their internal conflict with laws and morals, up their beautiful soul blossoming to be co-conspirators all and guardians of another’s pain and liberation. The technical and literary merits of the form of this piece are just amazing. However, before we get stuck in the mush of gushing over the beautiful A Critical Discussion 5 literary execution and performance of the piece, let us move on to the more exciting aspect of the piece’s substance and content.
SUBSTANCE, CONTENT AND READING “A woman, especially, if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can”. (Jane Austen) As it has been mentioned at the outset, the play is a Feminist piece. However, before we flinch at the word and start developing an instant, pro-forma, and preconceived idea of how Feminist literature goes, let me put forward that this piece is not just another Feminist-Protest literature. Early on, let me draw your attention to this exchange by the characters in the play. MRS. HALE.
I wish if they’re going to find any evidence they’d be about it. I don’t like this place. MRS. PETERS. But I’m awful glad you came with me, Mrs. Hale. It would be lonesome of me sitting here alone. … MRS. PETERS. It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale. Killing a man while he slept, slipping a rope around his neck that choked the life out of him. MRS. HALE. His neck, Choked the life out of him. … A Critical Discussion 6 MRS. HALE (moving). How soon do you suppose they’ll be through, looking for evidence? MRS.
PETERS. I know what stillness is. (Pulling herself back). The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale. MRS. HALE (not as if answering that). I wish you’d seen MInnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang. (A look around the room). Oh, I wish I’d come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who’s going to punish that? … It is clear that at the start, they were disinterested, yet law abiding citizens, with the intent of acting as good neighbors and good help for the law.
It must be remembered that the context of law and authority in this piece is patriarchal in nature and is adequately shown by a male dominance in the representatives or agents of the law; the county attorney, the sheriff, and those other officers detailed to the Wright’s home. It is also clear how the men ridiculed women’s trifle’s and how the ladies acted according to stereotypes tied with gender roles. Seriously, one could easily question the legitimacy of this piece’s outright Feminism, with these elements in hand.
My own personal reading however, is not as lofty and grand as Feminism or any other ‘isms’ for that matter. This for me is a story of sympathy and empathy over and above ‘classism’ or ‘genderism’ for that matter. It is simply a story of how one’s soul find kinship in another’s life, mirrored by the ‘trifles’ that are daily commonplace things, becoming testaments and eloquent A Critical Discussion 7 witnesses to how one lived his or her life; those tugs of unmistakable partaking and sharing of a significant human experience with another. MRS. HALE (her own feeling not interrupted.
) If there’d been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful–still, after the bird was still. MRS. PETERS (something within her speaking). I know what stillness is. When we homesteaded in Dakota, and my first baby died–after he was two years old, and me with no other then– … MRS. HALE. I might have known she needed help! I know how things can be–for women. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things–it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.
(Brushes her eyes, noticing the bottle of fruit, reaches out for it. ) If I was you, I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right. Take this in to prove it to her. She–she may never know whether it was broke or not. … If we are to get very technical, perhaps, the most glaring Feminist element in this piece that I have seen is the debunking of the traditional profession that is the police work or law officer’s work of deduction. In fact, the ladies were the better detectives and investigators, with their dilly-dallying with Mrs.
Wright’s ‘trifles’, as compared to the learned and ‘professional’ sleuthing and detective work of the men who were supposed to be highly trained for such occurrences. A Critical Discussion 8 It is on a fitting and deeply satisfying note that the play ends. SHERIFF. We’ll be right out, Mr. Hale. (Hale goes outside. The Sheriff follows the County Attorney into the other room. Then Mrs. Hale rises, hands tight together, looking intensely at Mrs. Peters, whose eyes take a slow turn, finally meeting Mrs. Hale’s. A moment Mrs.
Hale holds her, then her own eyes point the way to where the box is concealed. Suddenly Mrs. Peters throws back quilt pieces and tries to put the box in the bag she is wearing. It is too big. She opens box, starts to take the bird out, cannot touch it, goes to pieces, stands there helpless. Sound of a knob turning in the other room. Mrs. Hale snatches the box and puts it in the pocket of her big coat. Enter County Attorney and Sheriff. ) COUNTY ATTORNEY (facetiously). Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to–what is it you call it, ladies!
MRS. HALE (her hand against her pocket). We call it–knot it, Mr. Henderson. If I were to suggest some Hollywood stars to essay roles in this play, my suggestions would be as follows. MRS HALE: Glen Close. The character takes on such dramatic turns in the play and I believe Glen Close would be perfect for the role. The internal dilemma and the reversal and change of heart later would be powerfully and adeptly played by Glen Close. A Critical Discussion 8 MRS PETERS: Meryl Streep would be the perfect actress for this role; strong, full of convictions and powerful.
The dynamics and interaction between her and Glen Close as Mrs. Hale would be just delicious and intriguing. COUNTY ATTORNEY: Anthony Hopkins. The image of power, strength and authority as a man of the law fits Hopkins; cold, calculating, and stereotypical I think he would do justice to the character. SHERRIF: Jack Nicholson would be great for this role. Another domineering ‘male’ character in the play, Nicholson’s sterling acting and top notch portrayals would be just right for this character. MR PETERS: Pierce Brosnan.
Maybe I’m just not yet over the delightful pair up between Streep and Brosnan in Mama Mia, but surprisingly, they do have chemistry. To have him play this role would be another chance to see another ‘pair-up. ’ Brosnan’s acting range would be great for this character. There is no big earth shattering revelation; just a furtive glance, and that poetic moment of epiphany that moves you towards silence; an implosion instead of an explosion. A hush and an unspoken thing that brings the play full circle, to tie it all up very nicely. No. Make that, knot it!Sample Essay of Custom-Writing