restricted access 7. Sharing and Bonding: Sisterhood
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169 in her article “‘The Rules of the Institution’: Susan Glaspell and Sisterhood,” Caroline V. Fletcher notes that in “her life and art,” the playwright “depended on female duos as powerful and important vehicles for [emancipation]” (240). Her closeness to Lucy Huffaker, her Drake college friend, long-standing confidant, and faithful supporter, illustrates the value the artist placed on female solidarity, a priority which, as Fletcher implies, she dramatizes in her plays. Glaspell portrays women who awaken to female bonding because of a feeling of shared experience. This sudden sense of belonging to a community of women undergoing similar trials in patriarchal society nurtures the Glaspellian heroines’ rebellions . Glaspell introduces in her plays the rousing to female solidarity as a means of empowerment against the oppressive structures that trap both men and women in assigning them to traditional stifling roles. The playwright , in Drew Eisenhauer’s words, “seems to empathize with the notion of sex solidarity, agreeing that the remedy for patriarchal construct lies in sisterhood” (“She and She” 126). A remedy, sisterhood is also a great source of hope for a better future. Although female bonding is dramatized in the great majority of Glaspell’s plays, this chapter will focus only on Trifles and The Outside, in which she stages the awakening to a sense of shared experience. Trifles (1916): “Knot” Since its recovery in 1973, the year when Mary Anne Ferguson published her groundbreaking Images of Women in Literature, Trifles has been viewed by critics and scholars as a feminist classic. Caroline Fletcher recalls s e v e n • Sharing and Bonding Sisterhood d r a m a o f h o p e 170 that the “story has been almost universally read as an endorsement of ‘female solidarity’ and the ‘bonds of sisterhood’ ” (240). In her first solo play, Glaspell literalizes onstage the abstract notion of sisterly solidarity through the prop of the quilt. As we have seen, the quilt can be viewed as a metaliterary element, which the readers and spectators are trying to interpret just as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are trying to make sense of Mrs. Wright’s bad sewing, which enables them eventually to penetrate the mystery of the murder of the farmer. The playwright uses the quilt as the trope of writing, but also, Elaine Showalter writes, as “a way to address the common threads of American women’s culture.” In Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing, Showalter identifies “piecing and patchwork” as recurrent metaphors “in women’s writing . . . for a Female Aesthetic, for sisterhood , and for a politics of feminist survival” (146). Commenting on Mrs. Hale’s concluding innuendo “knot it,” Showalter explains that “in declaring ‘knot it’ at the end of the story, the women signal their infidelity to patriarchal law and serve as a jury of Minnie Foster’s peers to acquit her of murder.” Since the two women implicitly establish themselves as Mrs. Wright’s jury of her peers, they implicitly affirm their sense of belonging to the same community. The pun on “knot it” may also be read as a reference to female solidarity, the “knot” representing the bond that unites women. Historically, Showalter argues, “the social institutions of quilting helped forge bonds between women.” “Quilting bees,” she explains, “were places where women came together to exchange information , learn new skills, and discuss political issues”; she adds, “[I]t was at a church quilting bee in Cleveland, for example, that Susan B. Anthony gave her first speech on women’s suffrage” (146, 148). This final historical reference to Anthony gives even more legitimacy to a feminist reading of the metaphor of the quilt and, more generally, of Glaspell’s text. In 1917, when Glaspell adapted her play into a short story, she titled it “A Jury of Her Peers”—an allusion to Anthony’s 1876 discourse in Philadelphia , when she reasserted women’s “right of trial by a jury of one’s peers.” Through the quilt, Glaspell restores Minnie Wright’s “community of her peers,” who eventually pass implicit judgment on the crime. Sharing and Bonding 171 In using the quilt as a positive metaphor, the playwright interestingly revives a literary tradition that, Showalter states, has been disowned by female writers of the New Women generation. Showalter dates this generation to the very end of the nineteenth century, when quilting became negatively identified with “primary symbols of women’s unpaid subjection ,” in suffragist Abigail Duniway’s words (qtd. in Showalter, Sister...