Absent Character in Susan Glaspell

Susan Clasped Is at her best when she uses the medium of the theatre In order to discuss the politics of gender, the position of women bound by the social and gender conventions in a male dominant society, freedom of speech, woman’s identity and the life in woman’s rights. The device of one absent character serves more than well to this purpose in one of Scalpel’s plays, Trifles. The absent heroine controls the action and raises several important issues along the way.

It forces us, the readers, to be engaged more actively and to consider all the clues that the absent heroine had left for us. In this case, the absence of the mall protagonist helps Clasped deal with the personal space of her female characters. This Is where Scalpel’s skills as a dramatist come to surface. In her other play, The Inheritors, Clasped uses the same device to raw attention to other issues of equal importance. She focuses on what it means to be an American, how people differently perceive historical events and for what reasons.

In both of these plays, her device of the absent character fully engages the reader and at the same time successfully communicates Scalpel’s ideas. Susan Scalpel’s Trifles tackles gender roles and the separate spheres in which men and women operate, and exposes oppression and maltreatment of women in the early 20th century America. It also explores sympathy and sisterhood in the light of a complex moral dilemma on approaching the truth. The action of the play revolves around solving the murder.

What is interesting about the play, however, is that the key characters, Mr.. And Mrs.. Wright never appear on the stage, which is “a trademark of Scalpel’s plays. ” Although Mrs.. Wright is not physically present in the play, her existence is felt and touched upon and will prove to have an important role for the development of the action in the play. Traces of the unfinished work of Mrs.. Wright and all the other details present at the crime scene will help two other women of the play to get an insight into Mrs..

Wright’s state of mind, which will turn out to be of racial importance for discovering the motive and thus solving the murder. It is by her absence in the play that the women notice all the “trifles” and that the men “at the end of the play (… ) know no more than at the beginning. ” How is it that we come to know so much about Mrs.. Wright although she is virtually not present in the play? First of all, her personal items help us reflect on her life as well as on the circumstances that led her to kill her husband.

Interpreting all the clues that Minnie Foster left around the house, the women come to the conclusion that her marriage prided her of happiness, liveliness and Joy, and transformed her into a completely different woman. We also come to a conclusion that Minnie was not alone, that there were many women who were dealing with the same problems, alone. Moreover, the two women in the play realize that they, too, share Mince’s destiny. Consequently, the women are faced with a moral dilemma in having to make a decision whether to reveal what they had found out and send Mrs..

Wright to prison for the crime she did commit. This is where the idea of the sisterhood comes to life. Among other indications, it is Mince’s bird and the cage that help us realize that she was leading a life in captivity. The importance of the bird involves several issues. First of all, it is a clue to solving the murder, because the strangled bird provided a motive for it. Mrs.. Hale concludes that it was Mr.. Wright who strangled the bird because he was irritated by its song.

The bird and Minnie stand for beauty and life and the cage stands for Mince’s married life, and we do not need Minnie on stage in order to realize that. Her very absence helps the two women to take notice of the bird, perceive its importance to Mrs.. Wright and identify themselves with her. Besides the bird and the cage, Mrs.. Peters and Mrs.. Hale find few other things such as an unfinished quilt which represented her nervous state of mind, and find out that Minnie was a victim of domestic isolation. In this way, the author creates a bond between her female characters.

The absence of Minnie serves several other purposes. It portrays the way in which men from the play approach the investigation and the very way they perceive women. Starting from her husband, neither of the men seems to understand Minnie. The three men performing the role of the investigators fail to see the complexity of the situation and the importance of insight into Mince’s psychological condition which proves to be important for solving the details of her house since the men don’t share her context. The absence of the character of Minnie therefore, demonstrates the injustice and the suffering in separate spheres, and the unjust treatment of women. Moreover, Clasped uses this device in order to show the ability of Mrs.. Peters and Mrs.. Hale to find out the true story of Minnie Wright’s life by obviously displaying Mince’s everyday object and ere personal space, in this case, the kitchen. Ben-Xvi touches upon one other important issue which is highlighted by Mince’s absent character.

Although absent from the stage, the character of Minnie Wright functions not Just as a link that holds the action of the entire play together, but also as a link to the lives of the other two female characters. Linda Ben-Xvi points out: “Clasped depicts inarticulate power of women to understand the shared experiences of other women unstructured by language, but nevertheless communicated through mutually shared pain. ” One of the central themes of the play, the “shared experience”, enables women to develop and nourish mutual trust and understanding and defines how they struggle together against conventions.

It is the voice of Minnie that is echoed through the house and the play that enables women to realize this important notion. By introducing the dramatic technique of keeping the protagonist off the stage, Clasped invites the audience on a quest to truth through dialogue and actions of the characters that remain on stage. Moreover, she starts her play after a death, wishing for her audience to experience a new kind of a Journey. Her play

Inheritors, on the other hand, is one of Scalpel’s most original responses to the American identity crisis and the concern by the isolationist and xenophobic policy of President Wilson “whose anti-immigrant and anti-anarchist laws, the Espionage and Sedition Acts, were devised to protect war-time morale by curbing any political dissent”. In this three-act play set in the American Midwest, Clasped uses the device of the absent character but this time applied to the Native American population in order to express these ideas.

Similar to Trifles, absent Native Americans function on overall levels and serve several important purposes. With the two-layered temporal structure of the play, Clasped explores the construction of an American ethos. By keeping the Native Americans off the stage, Clasped tackles misconceptions that do not only concern women: Native Americans were also victims of injustice and degradation. This attitude is best expressed in Smith’s prejudiced misconceptions: “l guess you believe the saying that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Smith expresses the attitude of many other white Americans who were ignorant regarding heir own past and who in their oversimplified vision of the war saw the Indians as bad and the white settlers and soldiers as good. Smith is also ignorant because he believes that the American government paid a good compensation to the Indians for their land: GRANDMOTHER: But poor old Blackjack-?what he didn’t know was how many white man there was. After the war-?when he was beaten but not conquered in his heart-?they took him east-?Washington, Philadelphia, New York-?and when he saw the white man’s cities-?it was a different Indian came back.

He Just let his heart break without turning a hand. SMITH: But we paid them for their lands. (she looks at him) Paid them something. GRANDMOTHER: Something. For fifteen million acres of and thirty-four dollars and fifty cents, we promised to deliver annually goods to the value of one thousand dollars. Not a fancy price-?even for them days. The portrayal of Black Hawk by Grandma Morton does not concur with the picture Smith had in his mind about the Indians. He does not know that Black Hawk was a prisoner of war displayed throughout the USA in order to entertain the population.

In this aspect Clasped is rather daring because, under the government legislation, she loud have been accused of anti-nationalism allegedly displayed in her play. Native Americans never appear on stage, they are alive through the words of the white settlers who knew them, in this case, Grandmother Morton and later her son Sills. Nellie Hernandez-Real believes that the fact that no Native American characters appear on stage corresponds to “Scalpel’s remark that they have been removed from the American landscape. Inline Jove further suggests that the Whites conquered the West and erased the Indians from the American scene and that by adopting the treated of the absent character, the playwright literalism the metaphor: Through Grandmother Moron’s affectionate evocation of the Indian Chief and the references to the injustices Indians endured, Clasped presents her spectators another version of their national past and also infers that, in spite of their actual removal and erasure from the American landscape, Native Americans as well as women can regain some visibility through oral tradition.

Grandmother’s version stems from life, real experience, and not from books or official governmental documents written to arouse the loyalty of the country’s inhabitants. … ) By reviving the past, Clasped aims to keep social memory alive in order to preserve the ties that cement the community, the Nation. By restoring the primacy of autobiographical memories over history, Clasped also shows that the past should not be reduced to a series of sterile stereotypes.

The complex nature of the past is to be passed on from one generation to the next, cherished as the gift of knowledge which, contrary to the ignorance that breeds intolerance, favors cohabitation, that is living together as a Nation. Through the role of the absent character of Native Americans, Clasped subtly questions the guiding principles underlying the foundation of the United States of America: that all men are created equal, and that they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Clasped infers that the respect of these principles is essential if people want to live together as a Nation and that the cultural differences of each member of the community should be taken into account. Moreover, Clasped subtly draws a comparative line between the whites and the Indians in a time when Darning’s theories were used to Justify the inferiority of the Indians. She does this wrought Grandmother Morton who observes that she noticed “something of the same nature in white folk”, regarding the attitude towards land, which allows Clasped to infer that the Native Americans and the Whites are similar in nature.

Although Native Americans are not present on stage, the white people who knew them help us understand their situation better and also enable Clasped to draw some of the talk with her husband about how the Indians and the white men could live together and that sharing the same land is indeed possible. We can conclude that Scalpel’s theatrical device of the absent character functions n several levels in Trifles. First of all, the absence of Minnie helps Mrs.. Peters and Mrs.. Hales feel empathy towards her to such an extent that they are willing to hide the evidence from their husbands.

On the other hand, they recognize in Minnie their own position in the social system of the time. The absent Minnie found a way out of her oppression by killing her husband and shortly regained her independence. At the same time, she brought to light the dilemmas of women who live in a situation similar to hers. Furthermore, according to Linda Ben-Xvi, Trifles becomes an important vehicle that brings real-life events closer to drama. In her opinion, Clasped even contributed to the shaping of public opinion about a woman being tried.

Inheritors, on the other hand, functions similarly but has a different agenda: Theatre is the art that can give flesh to the past. As a collective experience, theatre seems to be one of the most adequate forms of art to rekindle collective memory since it makes the past alive in the present of the audience who are invited to transcend the world of fiction and consider to what extent the issues raised on stage can be related to their social reality. Like the philosopher, the playwright calls upon ere readers and spectators to draw lessons from the past and act in accordance in the present in the name of Justice.

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