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Literature: Kate Chopin

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The authors Kate Chopin of “Desiree’s Baby” and Susan Glaspell of Trifles
present a caste system of the 19th century. They both focus upon the theme of
the inferiority of women with respect to marriage, gender, and prospective
positions in a caste system of society. Actually, these two authors can be
thought of as feminists of their times. Surely, many readers thought that these
two authors were very liberal in their writing. Many of today’s readers would
be in agreement of the women’s plight of past times. In each of the stories,
the women characters are inferior to their husband counterparts. In
“Desiree’s Baby,” Desiree knows she must believe and follow her marriage
vows of “honor, obey, and respect.” When Armand listens to gossip and does
not inquire further, he believes his wife is not a white woman. He shuns both
her and the baby. Desiree asks him, “Shall I go, Armand? Do you want me to
go” (Chopin 359). She finally leaves with the child without any pleading or
begging for justice or explanation but out of consent. In addition, the
characterization of Armand points to his dominance over his wife. This is seen
when Desiree realizes “a strange, an awful change in her husband’s manner,
which she dared not ask him to explain” (358). During this time, women were
forbidden to question their husbands. In Trifles, Mrs. Peters is said to be
“the sheriff’s wife” and “married to the law” (Glaspell 65). She is
unimportant and belonging to the sheriff more like property that one owns. This
tolerance of being dominated by her male husband is emphasized by Mrs. Peters
stating to Mrs. Hale, “But Mrs. Hale, the law is the law” (61). Her husband
makes the law for everyone and for her. She does not question him. Glaspell
describes Minnie Foster, later known as Mrs. Wright, as happy when she was
young. She dressed nicely, she sang in a choir, and she was out in society a
great deal. Her husband, Mr. Wright, is characterized as being like a hermit,
“saying folks talked too much anyway” when referring to buying a telephone
(57). Once Mrs.Wright married Mr. Wright, she obeys him and ends up changing her
whole lifestyle. The other husbands’ wives notice her change saying “she
used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of
the town girls singing in the choir. But that—oh, that was thirty years ago”
(60). Because these women were thought of as the “wives,” they were told
what to do, when to do it, and how to do it by their husbands. The husbands,
because of their gender, see themselves as the authority figures. They do not
value any of the women’s opinions, thoughts, or even intelligence too highly
in these stories because of the women’s gender. In “Desiree’s Baby,” the
baby is determined to be black; one of the parents is black. Armand sort of
takes the initiative and declares himself, who is of nobility and master of the
plantation by gender not to be the one tainted with the inferior bloodline. This
only leaves Desiree, who does not really know her background. However, it does
not matter. Desiree, being female, assumes the guilt and gets no chance to
explain, or to seek explanation. This is significant because the one who
actually had the black heritage was Armand. In Trifles, the men criticize the
women’s thoughts and opinions. The men even make fun of the women. When the
women are talking about the fruit, the sheriff says, “Well, can you beat the
women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves” (58). Mr. Hale also
says, “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles,” about the same
situation. Neither man fully comes to understand the significance of the
women’s opinions nor thinks that the women could add anything to help solve
the case at hand. The reader realizes that the women, with their opinions and
thoughts, are the ones who actually figure out the how, who, and why of the
murder. Because of the women’s gender, the men in these patriarchal societies
in each story do not fully realize the women’s’ values or intelligence. When
looking closer, one can see that the wives in these marriages are also
restricted to being homemakers and mothers. The males agree that there was not
much more for their wives to do other than being a homemaker or a mother to
their children. In Trifles, the wives talk about their lives and
responsibilities. Mrs. Hale finishes the loaf of bread “in a manner of
returning to familiar things” (59). Mrs. Peters says, “she (Mrs. Wright)
wanted an apron,” “to make her feel more natural” (60). Mrs. Hale then
comments about “trying to get her own (Mrs. Wright’s) house to turn against
her” (61). The wives comment on “piecing a quilt” and “worrying about
her bottles of fruit” (64). All of these comments suggest that all the wives
did was housework. Even the County Attorney remarks on how Mrs. Wright was
“not much of a housekeeper” and how she did not “have the homemaking
instinct” (59). Later when Mrs. Peters leaves he “picks up the apron, and
laughs” (65). These remarks intensify the feeling that the husbands thought of
their wives as homemakers. In addition, the reader gets the feeling that the
wives had no free time. Mrs. Hale says, “there’s a great deal of work to be
done on a farm” and “farmers’ wives have their hands full” (59). Mrs.
Peters remarks “you were awful busy, Mrs. Hale—your house and your
children” (62). Mrs. Hale mentions “I’ve not seen much of her of late
years” (59). One can conclude that the wives do all the work around the house
and raise the children with not much spare time left over for them. This conveys
to the husbands the feeling that Minnie Foster could not have had time to commit
the murder. Yet, the women, who see all of the tasks half done, feel that Mrs.
Wright suddenly had to do something right then in her busy day. In
“Desiree’s Baby,” one sees that Armand, the husband, is in charge of all
the work. Chopin writes that “Young Aubigny’s rule was a strict one, too,
and under it his negroes had forgotten to be gay” (Chopin 357). Living in a
time of plantations and slaves, servants do the work around the house. “One of
La Blanche’s little quadroon boys stood fanning the child slowly with a fan of
peacock feathers” (358). Desiree is restricted to childbearing and raising
their child. Even Desiree’s mother urges her, “to come back to your mother
who loves you. Come with your child” (359). In this day, the wives did this
and nothing more than was expected of them. All of the above stated qualities
about marriage lead to one conclusion--the wives of this time were inferior to
their husband counterparts. Today, in a marriage, the wife and the husband are
closer to equal. Today, more women have well-paying jobs that allow them to
share in the support of the family expenses. Today, the thoughts that women are
inferior because of their gender are all but gone. Today, neither the woman nor
the man exclusively does the work around the house. Today, men and women are so
much more independent and self-sufficient that sometimes they do not marry or if
they do, they adjust their marriage vows accordingly. Since so much has changed
with the times, the types of marriages portrayed in these stories are almost
totally gone. The only exceptions would be the ones in movies, which portray
this earlier period. The authors Kate Chopin and Susan Glaspell speak out
against the inferiority of women in these marriages. They each lived close to
the time of their stories and therefore could get a great deal of input by
looking at other marriages and maybe their own. They both show that the women
were essentially belittled and not taken seriously. In the case of Desiree in
“Desiree’s Baby,” this is because of her gender, marriage, and race. In
the case of Mrs. Wright and the other wives in Trifles, this is due to their
gender, social positions, and marriage. For the period that these authors lived
in, the disparaging of women was commonplace. The authors should be commended
for writing such liberating thoughts and ideas that would otherwise never be
thought of in that day and time.
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Literary Culture: Reading and Writing
Literary Arguments. Editor L. Bensel-Meyers. Massachusetts: Simon & Schuster
Custom Publishing, 1999. 56-65. Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby.” Literary
Culture: Reading and Writing Literary Arguments. Editor L. Bensel-Meyers.
Massachusetts: Simon & Schuster Custom Publishing, 1999. 356-360.
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