analysis of before breakfast and trifles

Analysis of Before Breakfast and Trifles

Eugene O’Neil and Susan Glaspell, the playwrights of “Before Breakfast” and “Trifles” respectively, talked about women’s power on their plays. The character of Mrs. Rowland in Before Breakfast and the character of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters in Trifles reveal how the playwrights significantly portrayed the negative and positive nature of women.

“Before Breakfast” is a monologue spoken to a silent listener. The speaker is a woman named Mrs. Rowland, and her listener is her husband, Alfred. The uninterrupted dialogue of Mrs. Rowland is characterized by loud and demanding frets and bitterness about her husband’s attempts to be successful in art and poetry, his failure to get a job to bring money at home, his being alcoholic, and his being a less of a man for not providing her a better life. Her dialogues are also full of mocks and sarcasm about his character and his failures. Her husband is “the millionaire Rowland’s only son, the Harvard graduate, the poet, the catch of the town” but his wife’s dialogues directly tell “what a failure he becomes”. The wife seeks triumph in a sexual battle. Her loud voice and painful words of judgment and suspicion could encourage and trigger her husband to talk but he remains mute. The play ends when the pressure of her words makes his hands tremble and shake while shaving, causing him to cut his throat.

In O’Neil’s play, the conflict starts when Mrs. Rowland utilized the power of her to catch her husband off guard. She used the obvious evidence of him being unfaithful and worthless as he had no job. Her husband chose not to talk because it would only escalate into a greater argument. However, the pain and the pressure of her words brought his life to its end. Hence, in this story, Mrs. Rowland was a woman who was portrayed by O’Neil in a negative light. The women’s tendency to get too emotional is manifested through words, and the effects sometimes are dangerous.

On the other hand, the play “Trifle” takes place in a single setting: the home of a murdered man and his wife. The dialogue begins with men and women approaching the crime scene to investigate a murder case and find evidences to determine the murderer. As the only one at home, Mrs. Wright is initially accused as the suspect, but they need to undergo standard legal procedures. Besides, they find no apparent reason to suspect Mrs. Wright. The conflict starts when the men and the women, including Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, perceive the crime in different perspectives. The men in the play approached the Wright house as a crime scene while the women who accompanied them during the investigation approached the house as a home. The women took notice of even the little details in the home that the men ignored and refused to acknowledge as possible evidence. The men thought that such things would not give them any clues to solve the case. They forgot that their primary suspect was a woman. They ignored Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters and paid attention to things that seemed meaningless. They overlooked the small and domestic things that may be related to a woman and a wife that may significantly give them idea and evidence against Mrs. Wright. This prolongs the solving of the case a little longer.

On the other hand, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale intricately and naturally observed the things at home. Their intuition, sensitivity, curiosity were significant in the story. The men attempted to solve the crime through logic and standard legal procedures, but the women who went there were able to read between the lines. They saw the clues embedded in domestic items that were specific to women. Although Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters did not know Mrs. Wright on a personal level, they could relate to her. They can put themselves in Mrs. Wright’s shoes and understand the background of the case which helped them solve the mystery of the case. Initially, the women made an agreement to conceal their discovery first because they sympathized with Mrs. Wright. They knew that if the men learned about it, they will no doubt take Mrs. Wright to prison because that is how the law works in the story. In contrast, the women in this case were overcome by their emotion. Their sensitivity and curiosity made them solve the case. Thus, Glaspell depicted women in her play in a positive light.

The setting of the two plays described by the authors was symbolically used to portray the emotions and psychological factors of the character. In the play “Before Breakfast,” the setting reflects the impoverished life of the couple which Mrs. Rowland was so bitter about. The “slender finger” described in the play showcases the sophistication of Alfred’s past life as a millionaire’s son (O’Neil). His sophistication greatly affected his sensitivity. He got affected easily by his wife’s words that cost his life.

In the story “Trifle,” the way the setting was depicted by the author helps the audience understand how sad the main character is. The setting also helps the audience to understand why Mrs. Wright was fond of her bird as the bird gave her life and happiness. In the play, Mrs. Hale said: “come to think of it, she was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery” (Glaspell). Mrs. Wright’s cheerfulness, beauty, and carefree spirit back then were metaphorically compared to a bird. “She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir,” said Mrs. Hale (Glaspel). In that remark, Mrs. Hale compared Mrs. Wright’s colorful clothes to the bird’s pretty feathers. Mrs. Wright also sang in the choir just like the birds singing in groups. However, after her marriage to Mr. Wright, she started to withdraw from her previous energetic activities maybe because she was possibly oppressed by her husband. The bird cage also symbolizes the secluded life of Minnie or Mrs. Wright. She started to live in isolation with her husband and farmland when she got married. She rarely went out and indulged herself in outdoor activities. The preserved fruit, nicely designed sewing box, and empty bird cage also mirror Mrs. Wright’s domestic and creative character. Most importantly, they were especially helpful to Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters in tracing the truth behind the murder case. The sewing box, which revealed Mrs. Wright’s unfinished quilt, suggested that she was a creative person and helped the audience understand why she was capable of such crafty and detailed murder.

            The common feature of the two plays is that both describe the nature of women. The women’s traits can be an advantage and disadvantage. Both stories were written in the early 1900’s where male dominates the civilization. Hence, the plays depict the conventional and traditional domestic nature of women. Thus, it is not surprising that Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Rowland were both portrayed as women who are fond of sewing. However, the focus of two stories is to present women’s strength as a significant factor in changing or altering situations.

Work Cited

Glaspel, Susan. Trifles. 2001. Virginia Commonwealth University. 22 October 2008


O’Neil, Eugene. Before Breakfast. 2008. 22 October 2008



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