Social Roles and Gender in A Doll’s House and Trifles

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The Disparities in Gender Positions

The condition of being either male or female can be referred to as gender. Instead of biological distinctions, it is typically linked to variations in cultural roles. It describes the roles, pursuits, and characteristics that society considers appropriate for both males and women. (Scanlon 2000).

Declining Value of One Gender

Women are typically seen as the inferior gender in most cultures, one that should be submissive and serve as the man's partner. Over the past few decades, tension has been caused by the disparities in gender positions. The many characteristics that society assigns to each gender divide the sexes and turn them into entirely distinct species. In the two plays, A Doll’s House and Trifles, we see a declining value of one gender while the other gender, the male gender is given a higher hand and considered more powerful over the female gender. In the set up of the two plays, the male characters in the play propagate stereotypes and assumptions are made concerning the women. The stereotyping is seen in the manner in which Torvald Helmer treats Nora, and how she acts intending to please him. The woman is expected to remain an obedient and respectful wife to the husband and the society as a whole. She should always offer support, serve, and give her life to her husband and children. However, in the two plays, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Susan Glaspell’s Trifles, the two women; Nora Helmer and Mrs. Wright decide to break away from the chains of the social expectation regardless of what the society would think.

Similar Situations

Nora and Mrs. Wright come from different homes and their lives have been different, yet they have undergone similar situations and both end up living alone. Both are married to men who are verbally abusive. When enraged, Torvald, Nora’s husband, tells Nora that she thinks and talks like a child (Ibsen). Similarly, Mr. Wright is both physically and verbally abusive. It is evident when Mrs. Hale, a character in the play points out that Mrs. Wright used to sing but her husband killed that too (Glaspell 1916).

Lack of Attention

Women are not taken seriously in both plays. In Trifles, Mr. Hale is a victim of this and is quoted by Glaspell as saying, “Women are used to worrying over Truffles.” The situation is the same in Nora’s case where her husband keeps saying to her, “here we go again, you and your frivolous ideas” (Ibsen). The picture clearly portrayed is that in both cases, women received very little, if any positive attention. This pushed them to leave their marriages.

Seeking Freedom and Individuality

Another way in which the two main women in the two plays are similar is that both are seeking their freedom, self-worth, and happiness in their lives. They both are fighting for individuality. The moment Nora gets fed up with her husband and decides that she must acquire her independence, she says that if she has to ever reach her understanding of herself and the things around her, she has to learn to stand alone (Ibsen). Nora goes ahead to say, “I believe that first and foremost I am an individual...or at least I am going to try to be.” She feels that she cannot continue to stay in an unhappy marriage with a man who has become merely a stranger to her. Mrs. Wright is equally unhappy in her marriage and buys herself a canary to help her reclaim her happiness (Glaspell 1916). Her freedom has been taken away by marriage. As a girl, she used to wear decently and sang in the choir with a sweet voice. But all that ended when she walked into marriage.

Gender Roles

Another similarity in gender roles is portrayed where women remain domesticated while men go to work. Women are expected to remain at home taking care of the house and the children. Men, on the other hand, go out to the fields and offices to work and provide for their families. This further pushes the women to continue being submissive to their husbands. In the play Trifles, Mr. Peter says that the women do nothing but the kitchen work (Glaspell 1916). In this way, he sees kitchen responsibilities as being non-important and irrelevant. His attitude towards the kitchen symbolizes the society’s view of women’s duty. Women are supposed to perform minor and irrelevant tasks as compared to the men who occupy major and essential jobs. Equally, women are not expected to accomplish certain important tasks like investigations. In the play Trifles, Mr. Hale argues that women are used to worrying about trifles, therefore he did not expect them to have the ability to accomplish important tasks (Glaspel 1916).

Suppressed Freedom and Power

In A Doll’s House, the role of women is equally small both at the family level and in the society generally. Their freedom and intelligence are suppressed by men’s authority. The authority of women to control family finances is limited, unlike the men who exercise complete control over the finances within the family. The role of Nora was to perform her duties as a wife and a mother while Torvald works at the bank and brings money home. He tells her to cut on her spending even after his salary has increased (Ibsen). The role of women in the society is also largely affected by marriage. While Nora does not have the absolute right to the family money, Mrs. Linde has more freedom and control over her money because she is single and can spend the money she earns however she pleases. Marriage appears to be like a cage in the play, which traps women into a suppressed setting where they have limited power and space.

Lack of Authority

Lack of authority for women during the time of play is also seen where Nora had to forge a signature of her father since she had no authority to sign the check herself just because she is a woman. She takes this risk knowing that she could be arrested and taken to jail. Yet she is determined to save her husband from the ailment. This brave act shows that the women are not as weak or useless as the society believes. However, from the play, it is clear that Nora is not just a “doll”, she is an independent woman and she has the courage to confront Torvald. She even leaves him to seek a better life alone.

Equality and Women's Abilities

During the time of the two plays; A Doll’s House and Trifles, the cultural perspective was that women are not essential to the society’s success. They remain home and prepare food while men go out all day to work. Meanwhile, women are expected to give respect to men and follow their rules. Henrik Ibsen, the author of A Doll’s House and Susan Glaspell of Trifles both convey a powerful message to the readers of these plays that men do not give women the appreciation they deserve as well as underestimating the abilities of women. Women should be afforded equal opportunities as men since they have strong abilities. Without the help of her father or husband, Nora was able to borrow money to pay for her husband’s hospital bills. The mystery surrounding the murder of Mr. Wright was solved by Mrs. Peter and Mrs. Hale. The themes of these plays are a strong message to the society that women are capable of doing much more than simply staying at home and doing the cooking in the kitchen. Women, just as men, are equally important in the society.

Works Cited

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. New York: Frank Shay, 1916.

Gupta, Vijay Kumar. Gender Roles and Family Analysis. New Delhi: MD Publications Pvt Ltd, 1995.

Ibsen, Henrik. ADoll's House. London: T. Fisher Unwin, n.d.

Scanlon, Jennifer. The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

June 19, 2023




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