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First, read Susan Glaspell’s Trifles (PLEASE SEE THE LINK BELOW FOR THIS). Then, re-read the ATTACHED specific passage from the play. Based on this specific passage, make and defend a specific claim about how this specific passage reflects and/or ​responds to its cultural or historical surroundings. You can show how the details of the following passage celebrate a culture, challenge a history, make us reimagine a cultural understanding, or simply reflect the cultural norms of its time period (Hint: Think about the historical background and gender dynamics at the time the play was written). The author was writing during a particular time from a particular culture. How does that show up in the writing, and what was the author attempting to say about that culture or history?

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HERE IS THE LINK FOR Trifles: https://www.one-act-plays.com/dramas/trifles.html

In your argument:

  1. Give a brief description of the cultural and/or historical context (PLEASE SEE THE ATTACHED HISTORICAL CONTEXTUAL APPROACH)
  2. Make a clear, interpretative claim about how the reading reflects and/or responds to its cultural or historical surroundings
  3. Support your claim with evidence from the text and analysis of that evidence
  4. In your analysis, explain how at least two literary elements add to this argument: an image or set of images, the author’s tone, style, diction, or any other literary element that shows how the style of the piece adds to the argument as much as the content. 

Your response should have a clear organizational structure and use MLA citation rules wherever applicable. 


COUNTY ATTORNEY: (looking around) I guess we’ll go upstairs first—and then out to the barn and around there, (to the SHERIFF) You’re convinced that there was nothing important here—nothing that would point to any motive.

SHERIFF: Nothing here but kitchen things.

[The COUNTY ATTORNEY, after again looking around the kitchen, opens the door of a cupboard closet. He gets up on a chair and looks on a shelf. Pulls his hand away, sticky.]

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Here’s a nice mess.

[The women draw nearer.]

MRS PETERS: (to the other woman) Oh, her fruit; it did freeze, (to the LAWYER) She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire’d go out and her jars would break.

SHERIFF: Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin’ about her preserves.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: I guess before we’re through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.

HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.

[The two women move a little closer together.]

COUNTY ATTORNEY: (with the gallantry of a young politician) And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies? (the women do not unbend. He goes to the sink, takes a dipperful of water from the pail and pouring it into a basin, washes his hands. Starts to wipe them on the roller-towel, turns it for a cleaner place) Dirty towels! (kicks his foot against the pans under the sink) Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?

MRS HALE: (stiffly) There’s a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: To be sure. And yet (with a little bow to her) I know there are some Dickson county farmhouses which do not have such roller towels. (He gives it a pull to expose its length again.)

MRS HALE: Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Ah, loyal to your sex, I see. But you and Mrs Wright were neighbors. I suppose you were friends, too.

MRS HALE: (shaking her head) I’ve not seen much of her of late years. I’ve not been in this house—it’s more than a year.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: And why was that? You didn’t like her?

MRS HALE: I liked her all well enough. Farmers’ wives have their hands full, Mr Henderson. And then—


MRS HALE: (looking about) It never seemed a very cheerful place.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: No—it’s not cheerful. I shouldn’t say she had the homemaking instinct.

MRS HALE: Well, I don’t know as Wright had, either.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: You mean that they didn’t get on very well?

MRS HALE: No, I don’t mean anything. But I don’t think a place’d be any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: I’d like to talk more of that a little later. I want to get the lay of things upstairs now. (He goes to the left, where three steps lead to a stair door.)

SHERIFF: I suppose anything Mrs Peters does’ll be all right. She was to take in some clothes for her, you know, and a few little things. We left in such a hurry yesterday.

COUNTY ATTORNEY: Yes, but I would like to see what you take, Mrs Peters, and keep an eye out for anything that might be of use to us.

MRS PETERS: Yes, Mr Henderson.

[The women listen to the men’s steps on the stairs, then look about the kitchen.]

Contextual Approaches

What is a literary approach?

A literary approach is a “lens” by which we interpret literature. There are three elements in a literary exchange one might consider when making meaning from the text: the source, the text, and the receiver. Some approaches to literature focus on only the material that is contained in the text, separate from external contexts. Conversely, others believe that the text should be interpreted in the context of, for instance, the speaker’s identity, the text’s time period, the particular reader’s experiences, and so forth. There are various approaches to literature, but below is just one to consider as you read a work.

What are some contextual approaches?

Contextual approaches encompass biographical, historical, and New Historical criticism.  In contrast to New Criticism, these approaches are based on the premise that important information exists outside the text.  Most readers cannot help but wonder about who wrote the text, when it was written, and the circumstances under which it was written.  Contextual criticism insists that knowing this outside information will make a reading of a text more informed. 

Biographical Criticism looks for direct connections between an author’s life  and beliefs and his or her writing, although it recognizes that not all works are autobiographical.  Biographical criticism does not assume the writer recognized the connections between his/her life and the text, but the critic will.

Historical Criticism (Historical Approach) looks at the way the historical context of the work itself (the time period during which it was written or which it depicts) can inform our reading of the text.  For instance, the social, cultural, economic, scientific, intellectual, military, and literary history (among others) would be considered in order to determine how what was going on at the time affected what the author wrote, whether he or she recognized it or not. 

New Historicism begins with the assumption that history is not an objective reality since it, too, is no more than a “text.”  That is, a New Historicist recognizes that even history is merely a “story” about the past, someone’s versions of the facts, which means history can be read as subjectively as any text.  So, on the one hand, a New Historicist would look for ways to undermine conventional views on history or historical events.  Yet the impulse behind a New Historicist reading is to discover how “knowledge” is produced at any particular time and place.  Thus, a New Historical reading would look at other texts, such as magazines and newspapers from the period, texts from other disciplines (such as architecture, psychology, criminology, etc),  and popular literature from the time.  The goal would be to expand our understanding of a text by developing a greater understanding of the cultural, sociological, political, and ideological context of the text, linking the text to the culture of its time.

Cultural Criticism  looks at the ways that a specific culture affects the text from which it derives.  For example, texts written by African-American, Native American, Asian-American, Latino, Chicano, and authors from other non-European cultures are often greatly influenced by the history, language, cultures, traditions, and beliefs of the authors’ cultural heritage.  Cultural criticism considers the way those cultural influences enrich our understanding of the texts from these cultures.  For example, cultural criticism will study the way music and art influences texts from other cultures as well as special uses of language or emphasis on oral traditions for those cultures with an oral tradition background.  It considers the way the history and folktales of specific cultures as well as issues and conflicts of that culture are utilized in the literature to convey a sense of the culture and what makes it unique.

What questions should I consider when using contextual approaches?

· In what ways do you see the author’s life or aspects of his/her life reflected in the text? 

· Are there any significant moments in the author’s life which might help you to understand the author’s written work?  How does a knowledge of the author’s life increase your understanding of the situation depicted in the text?

· What are some of the author’s beliefs (whether in favor of something or opposed to it) and how are they reflected in the literature? 

· Identify the historical setting of the text.  How does it affect what happens in the text?

· What other information about the time period is necessary to understand the attitudes and beliefs depicted in the story?   Are there any ways in which the work seems to contradict attitudes or beliefs of the time?  If so, what does that suggest about the author’s view of the situation (historically as well as textually)?

· Consider other texts of the same time period (magazines, medical journals, popular fiction, advertisements, etc–anything goes here) that might be related to the text or expand your understanding of the text.  How does your knowledge of the cultural context affect your understanding of the story?

· What aspects of the text seem to be a function of the culture from which the author comes or which is depicted in the text?   How does a knowledge of cultural beliefs, history, and traditions inform your reading of the text?

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