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Confined Freedom or Free Confinement in Trifles by Susan Glaspell

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To confine is to keep or restrict someone or something within certain limits. Confines are defined as borders or boundaries of a place, especially with regard to their restricting freedom. Freedom is defined as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. In “A Doll House by Henrick Ibsen and “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell it is determined that confines and freedoms can be those of a home, one’s self, and/or of marriage. Trifles is written of an abused Mrs. Wright being held for murder of her husband as the sheriff and his wife, the county attorney, and neighbor Mr. Hale and his wife are present in the Wright’s home to find evidence and motive. A Doll House tells of Torvold and Nora, a husband and wife institutionalized in marriage and following the expected domestic roles therein and one resorting to deceit to find certain power and pleasure in forbidden measures. Both women seek the ultimate freedom from certain confines.

In Trifles, when the two women (Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters) are speaking of the Wright’s home,

“MRS. HALE: [...] I've never liked this place. Maybe because it's down in a hollow and you don't see the road.” (Glaspell 1155).

This prison-like description gives the image of this gloomy home almost being confined itself and surrounded by walls. Even though Mrs. Wright was not an actual prisoner, one can see how she could certainly feel like one in this place. Similarly, so, in A Doll House,

“NORA: […] Our home has been nothing but a play-room. I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa’s doll-child.” (Ibsen 1654).

This statement paints a picture of the central metaphor of this work that Nora has been nothing but a toy in a toy house for much of her lifetime. The constraints of both homes have confined these women of the freedoms they desire but are a result of personally choosing to be there.

When Mr. Wright is dead, Mrs. Wright with her newfound freedom, chooses to stay in her rocking chair in the kitchen and does not flee the home. Mrs. Hale describes the young Mrs. Wright known as Minnie Foster of “dressing pretty,” and was “a lively town girl singing in the choir.” (Glaspell 1155). Even though Mr. Wright is known to be a hard man demanding quiet and solitude, Mrs. Wright is also known for not having any friends and keeping to herself. It is her husband, but also, she, who confined herself to her home out of sheer depression and lack of self-esteem. Likewise, Nora has chosen to flitter and scamper about her home and play the part per say. She strives to please the man of the home whether it be her father or her husband to keep her childlike personality and avoid growing up. For this, both women are held captive by their own shortcomings of self-worth. and accepting the restrictive roles of housewives in marriage.

Women of the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century were assumed in their marriages to be helpless, uneducated, and deemed unable to make certain choices for their tendencies to worry over silly things and make childlike decisions. However, women accepted these assumptions and restrictive roles of housewives in marriage and all too often they would lose their individuality in the marriage. Mrs. Wright divulged herself in the farmhouse life of baking bread, sewing quilts, and bottling preserves. Her apron became her identity.

“MRS. PETERS: She said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, for there isn't much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural.” (Glaspell 1155).

She no longer sang because her husband didn’t approve. Also, Nora made sure to always appear to obey her husband’s wishes and passed on the act of the doll in the doll house by dressing the place and herself as he would like.

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“NORA: Certainly, Torvald does understand how to make a house dainty and attractive.' (Ibsen 1654).

Both women also sought freedom from these very constraints they put themselves in.

Mrs. Wright purchased a bird and Glaspell uses the irony of her keeping it in a cage. The prisoner herself imprisons something she loves. Even though her circumstances have silenced her voice, she finds pleasure in hearing the bird sing as she once did. It is her one escape from the silence of her home as she has no children, no friends, and no communication with her husband.

“MRS. HALE: [Her own feeling not interrupted.] If there’s been years and years of nothing, then a bird to sing to you, it would be awful—still, after the bird was still.” (Glaspell 1155). Likewise, Nora feels certain restrictions in her life such as not being able to have a job outside of the home and her husband forbidding her to eat sweets to avoid unnecessary dental bills. She in returns goes to certain lengths to gain a sense of freedom from these constraints. She borrows money, takes on odd jobs without her husband’s knowledge, and hides macaroons in her purse.

“NORA: Now, now, don’t be afraid. You couldn’t possibly know that Torvald had forbidden them. You see, he’s worried they’ll ruin my teeth. But hmp! Just this once!”. (Ibsen 1654) She had a passion to seek these freedoms, but they also ironically restrained her due to her having to lie and find ways to pay off the debt.

This paradox of confinement and freedom has continued throughout much of Mrs. Wright and Nora’s lives until each seeks complete emancipation following a transforming event. When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are looking for Mrs. Wrights sewing tools to keep her occupied in jail they come across her dead canary with it’s neck wrung.

“MRS. HALE: [With a slow look around her.] I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around. [Pause.] No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.” (Glaspell 1154)

When Nora’s secret of borrowing money behind Torvald’s back is finally revealed to him she, in her childlike naivety, is certain a miracle will take place, he will understand why she did it and protect her. Unfortunately, she is met with the harsh realization that her husband’s reputation far surpasses her importance in their marriage.

“TORVALD: The thing has to be hushed up at any cost. And as for you and me, it’s got to seem like everything between us is just as it was—to the outside world, that is. / From now on happiness doesn’t matter; all that matters is saving the bits and pieces, the appearance.” (Ibsen 1654)

In the end both women are rid themselves of their husband’s and lifestyles. Mrs. Wright murders Mr. Wright by wringing his neck in the same manner her beloved bird died, gaining confined freedom. Nora leaves Torvald and dismisses herself of any obligations to the home, leaving him to all responsibilities including the children to gain her individual freedom. It is Mr. Wright and Torvald who then are ironically in turn sentenced to ultimate confinement.

Works Cited

  1. Amato, Paul R. “Tension between Institutional and Individual Views of Marriage.” Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 66, no. 4, 2004, pp. 959–965. JSTOR,
  2. Henrick Ibsen, “A Doll House”, (p.1654) Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter.. [Columbia College].
  3. Marso, Lori Jo. “Freedom's Poses.” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 70, no. 4, 2017, pp. 720–727. JSTOR,
  4. Susan Glaspell, “Trifles”, (p.1155) Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter.. [Columbia College].
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Confined Freedom or Free Confinement in Trifles by Susan Glaspell. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from
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