In the play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, just as in the majority of mystery dramas and narratives, the understanding of and analysis of character is essential to the development of the narrative and the successful exploration of key themes. This paper will discuss the character of Mrs. Hale who, as the protagonist of the play and the detective, is central to the exploration of theme of feminism.

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Mrs. Hale, as the protagonist of the play, can be considered as championing its key theme: the fight of woman against the oppression of men. Her name, “Hale” carries connotations of healthiness and robustness, symbolising the strength and vigour with which she stands up to the daily sexism she encounters from the men in her community, and particularly men of authority. True to the era in which the play is set – the turn of the twentieth century – Mrs. Hale is not, however, overtly and obviously aggressive. Instead, her defence against sexism is a quiet, intelligent and firm resistance, which meets men on their own ground. In defending Mrs. Wright against the County Attorney’s accusation of slovenly housekeeping, for example, Mrs. Hale remarks that “Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be.”

This remark is a a subtle and clever response to the accusation because it carries a double meaning. While on the surface the comment shifts the blame of poor housekeeping back to the men, suggesting that their own slovenly habits are as much to blame as the women who clean up after them, deeper down the comment tackled with the heart of the problem of sexism: The County Attorney’s comment carries a clear implication that Mrs. Wright’s poor housekeeping reflect poor morals, and Mrs. Hale’s reply implies that men’s own moral are not beyond reproach. The pun on the metaphor of “clean hands” for innocence, therefore, allows Mrs. Hale to covertly criticise male hegemony. Examples such as these demonstrate the determination and finesse with which Mrs. Hale approaches the solution to the mystery, striving not only for truth, but for true justice. As the character at the centre of the narrative, she reveals the play’s concern with not only the immorality of crime, but the equal immorality of a biased justice system.

Famous particularly for her recent role as Mrs. Hudson in the televised series Sherlock, an ideal actress to take on the role of Mrs. Hale would be Una Stubbs. Una Stubbs has performed a number of strong female roles over the course of her career, from Rita in the television sitcom Till Death do us Part, and Girt Mills in Call the Midwife, and would place Mrs. Hale in a long line of famous female sleuths such as Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher. As a British actress in particular, Una Stubbs accent would call to mind both the gentleness and ruthlessness of Miss Marple, and the classic skill of British detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown. Characteristic of Stubbs performances is the combination of outward meekness and inner feistiness which would suit the character of Mrs. Hale perfectly. In appearance, Una Stubbs quirky smile is suggestive of the energy and formidable nature that characterize Mr. Hale; she is middle-aged and not terrible attractive, but instead appears reliable and solid, again in keeping with Mrs. Hale as a typical female member of her community, standing out more for her strength of character than for her looks.

Overall, the character of Mrs. Hale as a strong proponent of women’s rights and justice is integral to the development of this narrative not as a typical whodunit but instead as a piece of social commentary.