Spelling Error #4: Writing that somethinghas “peaked your interest.” We’re nottalking mountain climbing here. The correctword is piqued. ELIT 48C: Class 5
"I knew a peek at the peak would pique my curiosity.” Whilethats not something anyone would ever say, it does illustrateproper usage of three of the most commonly confusedhomophones."Peek" (a verb and a noun) denotes a stolen glance: "I have apresent for you, so close your eyes and dont peek.”"Peak" (also a verb and a noun) signifies the top of something: amountain peak, or the peak of popularity."Pique,” (French) (also a verb and a noun) : As a verb it means tostimulate (interest or curiosity). As a noun, it suggests a feeling ofirritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to ones pride.
AGENDA Lecture: Trifles Historical Context and Style Discussion: QHQs, Themes, and Symbols Author Introduction: Willa Cather
Historical Context: Women’s IssuesIn many ways, Susan Glaspell’s success at the turn of thecentury signaled a new age for women, and Trifles, still herbest-known play, represents the struggles women of her erafaced.In 1916, the year Glaspell wrote Trifles for the ProvincetownPlayers, some of the important issues of the day werewomen’s suffrage, birth control, socialism, union organizing,and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud.Women had not yet achieved the right to vote (19thAmendment 1920), and in most states women could not siton juries.
1914: Margaret Sanger publishes the first text on birth control.1916: Sanger arrested for opening America’s first birth control.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, yetwomen earn significantly less than men, and most are relegatedto jobs in domestic service, textile factories, or offices.Life for rural women was not much better. A large portion ofAmerica’s population was still scattered in ruraltowns, ranches, and farmsteads. Women were responsible for themaintenance of the family.
Style: One-Act PlayThe structure of a play affects all of its most important elements—the plot, characters, and themes. The one-act play is restrictiveand difficult. With playing times of fifteen to forty-fiveminutes, the number of characters introduced is limited, and theymust be developed quickly.The one-act format tends to focus on a single location and a tightplot. The Wright farmhouse, located in the countryside and setback from the road, is a lonely, desolate place. The plot involvesseeking clues to suggest a motive for the murder of John Wright.Note that everything that is said and done, from the way thecharacters enter Mrs. Wright’s kitchen to the discovery of herdead canary, relates in some way to the mystery at hand.
Style: Local ColorIn the late nineteenth century, a style of writing known as ‘‘localcolor’’ emerged. It is characterized by its vivid description ofsome of the more idiosyncratic communities in the Americanlandscape. Writers such as Mark Twain created characters whosespeech and attitudes reflected the deep South These stories andnovels appealed to people in larger cities, who found thesedescriptions of faraway places exotic and entertaining.Susan Glaspell began writing during this age of regionalism, andTrifles incorporates many of the elements of local color: regionaldialect, appropriate costuming, and characters influenced by aspecific locale.
Trifles is filled with a strong sense of place. The characters in the play aredeeply rooted in their rural environment. Lewis Hale was on his way into townwith a load of potatoes when he stopped by the Wright’s house to see aboutsharing a party line telephone, a common way for people in small communitiesto afford phone service during the first few decades of the century.The lives of the women seem to consist of housekeeping chores, foodpreparation, 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 withcountry slang. ‘‘I don’t think a place’d be any cheerfuller for John Wright’sbeing in it,’’ Mrs. Hale tells Henderson.Still, at the same time that she provides these carefully crafted details ofcountry life, Glaspell provides her audience with ideas that transcend localcolor. The struggle between the sexes, loneliness, and the elusive nature oftruth are all experiences shared by people across cultures and boundaries ofgeography.
Themes: Gender DifferencesPerhaps the single most important theme in Trifles is thedifference between men and women, distinguished by the rolesthey play in society, their physicality, their methods ofcommunication and—vital to the plot of the play— their powersof observation.In simple terms, Trifles suggests that men tend to beaggressive, brash, rough, analytical and self-centered; incontrast, women are more circumspect, deliberative, intuitive, andsensitive to the needs of others. These differences allow Mrs.Peters and Mrs. Hale to find the clues needed to solve thecrime, while their husbands miss the same clues.
Themes: IsolationThe devastating effects of isolation—especially on women—is anothertheme of the play.The men seem better suited to the loneliness and isolation of ruralfarming. John Wright, for example, is described as a hard-workingfarmer who kept to himself. He did not share a telephone line, and noone 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 werehomesteading in the Dakota countryside and her only childdied, leaving her alone in the house all day while her husband was outworking the farm. Mrs. Hale, who has several children of herown, imagines how terrible it would be to have to live in an emptyhouse, like Minnie, with nothing but a canary and a taciturn man forcompany.
Symbols The Title Knitting The Bird The Quilt The Bird Cage The Quilting knots The Dirty Towel The Women’s names The Apron Minnie Foster Mrs. Peters The Jars of Fruit Mrs. Hale The Telephone Laughter
Willa Cather Born in Virginia in 1873. Willa Cather spent the first decade of her life on her familys farm. In 1884, her family moved to join her fathers relatives among the ethnically diverse settlers of the Great Plains. This area would serve as the inspiration for several of her novels, including My Ántonia Her father tried farming but soon settled the family in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Cather remembered vividly both the trauma of leaving a hill farm for a flat, empty land and the subsequent excitement of growing up in the new country. She took intense pleasure in riding her pony to neighboring farms and listening to the stories of the immigrant farm women she met there.
At sixteen, she enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.Her freshman English instructor gave her essay on ThomasCarlyle to a Lincoln newspaper for publication, and by her junioryear, she was supporting herself as a journalist.From Lincoln, she moved to Pittsburgh as a magazine editor andnewspaper writer. She then became a high school teacher, usingsummer vacations to concentrate on fiction. In 1905, she publishedher first collection of short stories, The Troll Garden.In 1906, Cather was hired to edit a leading magazine and movedto New York City. Her older literary friend Sarah Orne Jewettadvised her to "find your own quiet centre of life, and write fromthat to the world."
Yet, she found it difficult to give up a position as a highly successful womaneditor during a time when journalism was almost wholly dominated bymen, and did not quit her position for three years. In 1912, on a visit to herfamily in Red Cloud, she stood on the edge of a wheat field and watched herfirst harvest in years. By then, she was emotionally ready to use her youthfulmemories of Nebraska. From this experience evolved O Pioneers!, the novel shepreferred to think of as her first. It is this long perspective that gives Catherswork about Nebraska a rich aura of nostalgia, a poignancy also found in hernext Nebraska novel, My Ántonia.Although Cathers 1922 novel about World War I, One of Ours, was receivedwith mixed critical reviews, it was a best seller and won Cather the PulitzerPrize. She continued to write until physical infirmities prevented her fromdoing so. In 1945, she wrote that she had gotten much of what she wanted fromlife and had avoided the things she most violently had not wanted—too muchmoney, noisy publicity, and the bother of meeting too many people. WillaCather died from a massive cerebral hemorrhage on April 24, 1947.
HOMEWORK Read My Antonia (1918) Book I Chapters 11-19 Post #5: Answer one of the following prompts: 1. QHQ CHAPTERS 1-19 2. Discuss why Willa Cather chose a male narrator and why women dominate the novel. 3. Explore the story or relationship of Pavel and Peter. 4. Compare and contrast the lives of Jim Burden and Antonia. Explain what drew them together and enabled them to become close friends. 5. Compare and contrast the relationship between Antonia and Jim in Section 1 (Chapters 1-10) and Section 2 (Chapters 11-19)
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