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  • 1. ELIT 48C: Class 11
  • 2. What is the difference?  Peek  Peak  Pique
  • 3. "I knew a peek at the peak would pique my curiosity.” While that's not something anyone would ever say, it does illustrate proper usage of three of the most commonly confused homophones. "Peek" (a verb and a noun) denotes a stolen glance: "I have a present for you, so close your eyes and don't peek.” "Peak" (also a verb and a noun) signifies the top of something: a mountain peak, or the peak of popularity. "Pique,” (French) (also a verb and a noun) : As a verb it means to stimulate (interest or curiosity). As a noun, it suggests a feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to one's pride.
  • 4. AGENDA  Lecture: Trifles  Historical Context and Style  Discussion:  QHQs, Themes, and Symbols
  • 5. Lecture: Trifles Historical Context and Style
  • 6. Historical Context: Women‟s Issues In many ways, Susan Glaspell’s success at the turn of the century signaled a new age for women, and Trifles, still her best-known play, represents the struggles women of her era faced. In 1916, the year Glaspell wrote Trifles for the Provincetown Players, some of the important issues of the day were women’s suffrage, birth control, socialism, union organizing, and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. Women had not yet achieved the right to vote (19th Amendment 1920), and in most states women could not sit on juries.
  • 7. 1914: Margaret Sanger publishes the first text on birth control. 1916: Sanger arrested for opening America’s first birth control clinic. City life: Manufacturing jobs pay little for long days of work. Pre-teens constitute a sizable portion of America’s workforce. The factory system creates earning opportunities for women, yet women earn significantly less than men, and most are relegated to jobs in domestic service, textile factories, or offices. Life for rural women was not much better. A large portion of America’s population was still scattered in rural towns, ranches, and farmsteads. Women were responsible for the maintenance of the family.
  • 8. Style: One-Act Play The structure of a play affects all of its most important elements— the plot, characters, and themes. The one-act play is restrictive and difficult. With playing times of fifteen to forty-five minutes, the number of characters introduced is limited, and they must be developed quickly. The one-act format tends to focus on a single location and a tight plot. The Wright farmhouse, located in the countryside and set back from the road, is a lonely, desolate place. The plot involves seeking clues to suggest a motive for the murder of John Wright. Note that everything that is said and done, from the way the characters enter Mrs. Wright‟s kitchen to the discovery of her dead canary, relates in some way to the mystery at hand.
  • 9. Style: Local Color (Regionalism) In the late nineteenth century, a style of writing known as „„local color‟‟ emerged. It is characterized by its vivid description of some of the more idiosyncratic communities in the American landscape. Writers such as Mark Twain created characters whose speech and attitudes reflected the deep South These stories and novels appealed to people in larger cities, who found these descriptions of faraway places exotic and entertaining. Susan Glaspell began writing during this age of regionalism, and Trifles incorporates many of the elements of local color: regional dialect, appropriate costuming, and characters influenced by a specific locale.
  • 10. Trifles is filled with a strong sense of place. The characters in the play are deeply rooted in their rural environment. Lewis Hale was on his way into town with a load of potatoes when he stopped by the Wright‟s house to see about sharing a party line telephone, a common way for people in small communities to afford phone service during the first few decades of the century. The lives of the women seem to consist of housekeeping chores, food preparation, sewing, and raising children, with little time left for socializing. The characters‟ manner of speech reveals their limited education and rural, Midwestern environment. They use a colloquial grammar peppered with country slang. „„I don‟t think a place‟d be any cheerfuller for John Wright‟s being in it,‟‟ Mrs. Hale tells Henderson. Still, at the same time that she provides these carefully crafted details of country life, Glaspell provides her audience with ideas that transcend local color. The struggle between the sexes, loneliness, and the elusive nature of truth are all experiences shared by people across cultures and boundaries of geography.
  • 11. Themes: Gender Differences Perhaps the single most important theme in Trifles is the difference between men and women, distinguished by the roles they play in society, their physicality, their methods of communication and—vital to the plot of the play— their powers of observation. In simple terms, Trifles suggests that men tend to be aggressive, brash, rough, analytical and self-centered; in contrast, women are more circumspect, deliberative, intuitive, and sensitive to the needs of others. These differences allow Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale to find the clues needed to solve the crime, while their husbands miss the same clues.
  • 12. Themes: Isolation The devastating effects of isolation—especially on women—is another theme of the play. The men seem better suited to the loneliness and isolation of rural farming. John Wright, for example, is described as a hard-working farmer who kept to himself. He did not share a telephone line, and no one other than his wife knew him very well. The women, on the other hand, are deeply affected by isolation. Mrs. Peters remembers with dread when she and her husband were homesteading in the Dakota countryside and her only child died, leaving her alone in the house all day while her husband was out working the farm. Mrs. Hale, who has several children of her own, imagines how terrible it would be to have to live in an empty house, like Minnie, with nothing but a canary and a taciturn man for company.
  • 13. QHQs and Symbols Take 5 minutes and discuss
  • 14. Symbols  The Title  The Home  The Kitchen  The Dirty Towel  The Apron  The Fruit Preserves  The Bird  The Bird Cage  The Quilt  The Knot  Female and Male Proximity
  • 15. QHQ 1. Q: How does the title of the play, “Trifles,” relate to the plot? 2. Q: How can you describe Mrs. Wright? 3. Q: Did Mrs. Wright kill her husband? 4. Q: What‟s the motive behind the killing of Mr. Wright? 5. Q: Why did Mrs. Hale, and Mrs. Peters choose not to rat Mrs. Wright out? 6. Q: Should Mrs. Wright‟s act be viewed as self-defense, the result of madness, or an inexcusable murder?
  • 16. QHQs 1. Does the equality of women require the destruction of the patriarchy we live in? 2. To what extend were Susan Glaspell‟s images used to bring attention to and ridicule the confinement of women in societal gender roles? 3. Q: Does [Mrs. Wright] really break free from being oppressed or are there multiple cages that she must learn to get free from? [. . .] Was she able to be truly free? 4. Do men consider women‟s sensitivity to emotions as trifles and therefore declare them incapable of executing certain jobs?
  • 17. HOMEWORK  Post #11: Write a paragraph or two on how you might apply any one of the Critical theories we have discussed to Trifles. Or, discuss how might you read Trifles in connection with one of the modernist manifestos?  Read My Antonia (1918) Book I Introduction Chapters 1-10