1900s Plays by Susan Glaspell
“During the spring semester, the class was assigned reading two dramas. The dramas were Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, and A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. Both of these plays serve as a great example of the evolving changes in the role and treatment of women over time. The plays, Trifles, and A Streetcar Named Desire were set in the early 190s. During these times, women were confined to the home and had been given the traditional roles of being a housewife, and a stay at home mother. The men were considered the head of his household. Women were merely property to men and were not seen as partners in a successful relationship.
Williams set his play, A Streetcar Named Desire, in the French Quarter of New Orleans during 1947. In this play, Stella Kowalski and Blanche Dubois are sisters who are mistreated by Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski. The sisters were raised as Southern belles on a prominent plantation in Laurel, Mississippi, called Belle Reve. Although they were raised to find a marriage that would provide money and security, both girls marry men who aren’t suitable for either of them. Blanches is running from her husband who turns out to be gay. Stella’s husband is aggressive and from a lower social class. The theme of men dominating women is seen throughout the play. For example, when the men came over to play poker, Mitch, one of the players stated, “poker should not be played in a house with women (A Streetcar Named Desire, 3.57).” In this statement, Mitch puts an emphasis on the domestic role of women by claiming women are not smart enough to engage in such a masculine game. Throughout the play, Stanley is verbally and physically abusive to Stella. Blanche even sees the abuse and encourages her sister to do whatever it takes to keep Stanley interested in her. Most women in today’s society would have encouraged Stella to leave. However, Blanche instills the idea to stay no matter what in Stella when Blanche says “and men don’t want anything they get too easy but on the other hand men lose interest quickly (A Streetcar Named Desire, 5.94).” Stanley shows Blanche finally his true colors when he rapes Blanche to exert power and control over her.
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Glaspell sets her play, Trifles, during 1916 in a farmhouse located in the small rural town of Iowa. The story is based on the investigation of a murder committed on Mr. Wright by his wife, Mrs. Wright. The two main women in the play, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, are brought to the home of Mrs. Wright to gather a few things she would need to be incarcerated. The play makes it very clear these women are of no value to the men in helping to solve the murder, but finally it was the women who put the whole crime scene together. However, during this time in society, women’s opinions were not valued or ask for. Mrs. Wright was a battered woman who had lived a life conforming to the acceptable standards of women during this time. In the beginning, the lower class treatment of women was ignited when Mr. Haled said to the Sheriff about a conversation he had with Mr. Wright about going in with him on a telephone line. Mr. Haled said, “I thought maybe if I went to the house and talked about it before his wife, though I said to Harry that I don’t know as what his wife wanted to make much difference to John.” In this statement is strongly suggesting what a woman thinks to makes no difference to what the men will do. In this play, the men are portrayed as being intellectually superior to the females and treat their wives as being childish with their concerns over the trifles and domestic details. However, in the end, the women come out on top by secretly solving the murder and showing female dominance.
In both plays, the women are victims of a society where women are to be seen and not heard. The common theme of these plays rest on the oppression of women and is expressed by the men’s point of views toward them. This type of society leaves women with few choices to have a life without depending on answers from a male figure. Since the early 1900s, women have fought and earned the right to walk along the side of men and to be treated as an equal. However, in today’s society, one can still look around and find these women who are duplicates of Stella, Blanche, and Mrs. Wright. One major difference noticed in these two plays are the names of the women. In Trifles, during 1916, the women were referred to as by their husbands’ names, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. Thirty-one years later in A Street Car Named Desire, the women are called by their individual first names.
As time evolves, we have seen most women continue to grow and become stronger. In 2016, we even had our first woman, Hilary Clinton, run for President of the United States (Myers, 2017). As Taylor Swift once said “Be the strong girl that everyone knew would make it through the worst. Be that fearless girl the one would dare to do anything. Be that independent girl, who doesn’t need a man. Be that girl who never backed down (Swift, 2018).” Some may choose to believe a man is only as good as the woman who stands beside him.”