“Trifles” is a play written by Susan Glaspell who was inspired by a murder she had reported for a newspaper. This one-act work depicts two farmwives who hide evidence that could convict another woman abused by her husband, John Wright. The play was performed in 1916, and cause resonance by its unusual plot and daring female characters. In general, it is a detective drama with some unexpected twists that captivate the reader and creates tension. However, there are no policemen, ghosts or mystery; it is a narration about how two housewives challenge the male domination without rights to do it. The author centers on a typical scene of murder’ however, the things are not trivial as they seem to be. Susan Glaspell emphasizes that men and women differ in points of view and perception of the same things. Moreover, women are abused by men who are rude and dominant. At that time, they were subjected to concern and care of husbands and spent all time in the kitchens. Glaspell very skillfully provides the farmwives with numerous clues that serve as universal symbols of abuse and oppression. However, the author does not reveal her implications but makes her symbols open for interpretation. In “Trifles”, Susan Glaspell emphasizes the differences between men’s and women’s nature, exposes male domination and all literary elements contribute to the main idea of the play.
The play opens with a company of people enter a gloomy house of the Wrights and see a complete mess, dirty kitchen, and damaged preserves. In the exposition, the author also states the reason of their arrival: to find reasons for the murder that was committed by Minnie Wright. It is more likely that she had killed her husband by making a knot on his neck. In the rising action, Mrs. Hale, one of the farmwives, comes closer to the understanding of Minnie’s life with the abused husband, and the first big complication takes place when she and Mrs. Peters finds a dead canary and a broken cage. Undoubtedly, the climax or the highest tension happens when the women do not reveal their evidence to convict Minnie Wright but stand for her and other women. As the play is one-act, after the climax, the reader is exposed to the resolution, in which the men are still clueless but the story is resolved for both women and the audience.
Actually, “Trifles” is considered a feminist drama because the author focuses on the themes of femininity and women. The play shows how women were abused, belittled and oppressed by their husbands. That is why Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, who, by the way, was the wife of the sheriff and was sure to be married to law as well, decide to hide evidence that makes evident that it is Minnie who murdered her husband. Undoubtedly, the women sympathize with her because they are also neglected, belittled, and oppressed. Another theme that is covered in the play is the theme of justice because typically, when a person commits a crime, he or she must be punished. However, “Trifles” says that not always. Glaspell insists that in the world where laws are created by men, women are not always expected to obey. The author also touches upon the theme of freedom and confinement by making parallels between these notions and marriage and prison. Women were harshly abused by men and were confined to kitchens.
Glaspell uses the direct characterization to describe her characters that can be seen in the first block of stage directions of “Trifles”, [Mrs. Peters] is a slight wiry woman, a thin nervous face. Mrs. Hale is larger and would ordinarily be called more comfortable looking, but she is disturbed now and looks fearfully as she enters” (Glaspell). The author states clearly what the main women are like. Besides, the dialogues contribute to the character’s characterization because it is what an audience hears. From the blatant monologue of Mrs. Hale, the reader understands the real nature of John Wright who was, "like a raw wind that gets to the bone" (Glaspell). The characters talk much not only about others but also about themselves and their attitudes. For example, when Mrs. Peters says, “the law is the law” (Glaspell), the author implies that her husband, sheriff, is sexist and makes the wife thinks in a similar way.
Symbolism is the main literary element, which helps the author develop the main idea. The surname of the main characters is Wright that has the pronunciation “right”. It implies that Minnie should be justified as she had murdered her husband to escape oppression. Minnie is another speaking name that stands for someone minor, small, and weak. Indeed, the woman was subjected to oppression due to her husband’s domination. The quilt, which Minnie intended to knot, symbolizes the way she had murdered John. "This image conveys the sense of knotting the rope around the husband's neck: they have discovered the murderess. And they will 'knot' tell," (Alkalay-Gut, p.8). The broken cage is a symbol of Minnie’s life with husband. “Minnie was symbolically caged, confined in her isolated home and her abusive marriage” (Angel, 561). The birdcage symbolizes Minnie’s married life but, finally, she managed to get away. Later, the women found a dead canary with broken neck wrapped in silk in a beautiful box. “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird - a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too” (Glaspell). In fact, a canary is a symbol of happiness, joy and beauty. Mrs. Hale stated, "She was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery," (Glaspell). Indeed, the singing canary helped Minnie to relieve her heartache and represented her youth and happiness before marriage. The actions take place in winter that is also symbolic because nature dies during this season, and the author hints at someone’s death. The freezing and cold weather represents John’s attitude towards his wife. The messy kitchen implies Minnie’s rebellion against men’s oppression and liberation from the burden of a housewife.
There is no doubts that the play is dark due to the presence of such things as a murder, a dead bird, the corpse of John Wright, the gloomy kitchen in the abandoned house, which contributes to the whole atmosphere. However, at first, the play may be considered as a comedy because when county attorney sees the mess, he insists that Mrs. Wright did not have the homemaking instinct. Mrs. Hale also admits that the same can be said about John. These very lines introduce the main theme of the play and express the author’s idea that men are also responsible for making a home. Glaspell was extremely realistic depicting the position of women because her characters are normal people who speak as usual people do. In addition, the author places her characters in a realistic place in realistic situations. Susan Glaspell is not afraid of being critiqued or misunderstood; therefore, she challenges the norms of society of that time and draws the people’s attention to the problem of treatment of women. Indeed, the men depicted in the play do not attack the reader due to their constant remarks and belittling the women who, in their turn, cause respect for their empathy and kindness.
Angel, Marina. “Teaching Susan Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers and Trifles”. Journal of Legal Education 53.4 (2003): 548–563. Print.
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles and Six Other Short Plays”. London: E. Benn, 1926. Web 02. 07. 2016
Alkalay-Gut, Karen. "Jury of Her Peers: The Importance of Trifles." Studies in Short Fiction 21 (Winter 1984): 1-9. Print.
Smith, Beverly A. "Women's Work--Trifles? The Skill and Insights of Playwright Susan Glaspell." International Journal of Women's Studies 5 (March 1982): 172-84. Web 02.07.2016