Trifles Essay Research Paper Susan Glaspells

Trifles Essay, Research Paper

Susan Glaspells’s Trifles is a little gem of a play. In one short act, the playwright presents the

audience with a complex human drama leaving us with a haunting question. Did an abused Nebraska

farm wife murder her husband? Through the clever use of clues and the incriminating dialogue of the

two main characters, this murder mystery unfolds into a psychological masterpiece of enormous

proportions. Written in 1916, the play deals with the theme of the roles of women in society. This was a

time before women had the right to vote or sit on juries. Shortly after writing the play, Glaspell wrote it

as a short story entitled A Jury of Her Peers.

The scene is set in the cold, gloomy kitchen of a Nebraska farmhouse. The room is quite messy

with signs of uncompleted work everywhere; unwashed pots, a dirty hand towel, and bread left open on

the table. The first characters to enter the stage are two middle-aged men, the county sheriff, Henry

Peters, and Lewis Hale, a local farmer. They are followed by a younger man, George Henderson, the

county attorney. Then, the main characters arrive on stage, the sheriff’s wife and the farmer’s wife, Mrs.

Peters and Mrs. Hale.

The men have arrived to investigate the murder of the owner of the house, John Wright. The

women have come to gather some clothes and personal belongings for Minnie (Foster) Wright, who now

is in the county jail on charges that she killed her husband. The men are all caught up in the so called

“important” investigation of the case, belittling the women’s concerns as being mere “trifles”, when

actually the women are the ones uncovering the clues which could solve the case and reveal the


The “trifles” uncovered by the two women are intriguing to say the least. They tell the audience a

great deal about the home life and mental state of Mrs. Wright. The house didn’t have a telephone

because when Mr. Hale asked if Mr. Wright would want to join him in paying for a party line, Wright’s

reply was “folks talk too much anyway and all he wanted was peace and quiet.” When Mr. Hale found

Mrs. Wright, she was sitting in her rocking chair “looking queer, as if she didn’t know what she was

going to do next.” Hale then went upstairs and discovered Wright’s body lying in bed, a rope tied

around his neck. Wright had been strangled.

The pieces of evidence found in the kitchen by the women paint a picture of a desperate woman

who had suffered mental and perhaps physical abuse at the hands of her cruel husband for 30 years.

Jars of cherries that Mrs. Wright had preserved were found broken and the women assume it is because

of the cold. A roller towel was found dirty, dirty pots under the sink, and a loaf of bread on the table was

left to go stale. Mrs. Hale doesn’t think Minnie Wright did it because Minnie is still concerned about

the household things. She wondered how a person could be strangled without waking up or wakening

someone in bed with him. The women find a quilt that Mrs. Wright had been working on and the last

stitches are uneven and Mrs. Hale pulls them out. Mrs. Peters finds a birdcage with a broken door hinge

that looked as if someone had been rough with it. They find the dead bird wrapped up in silk in a box in

Mrs. Wright’s sewing basket, it’s neck broken. The climax of the play is when the men return and Mrs.

Hale hides the bird in her coat pocket and Mrs. Peters keeps the secret.

The protagonist of the play is probably Mrs. Hale. She knew Minnie Foster Wright as a happy,

beautiful, talented young girl before the years of toil and abuse by John Wright had turned her into a sad,

lonely and perhaps, battered woman. Mrs. Hale was sympathetic because she also was a farm wife but

at least, she had her children to keep her company. Mrs. Hale felt guilty that she hadn’t taken the time to

visit Minnie Wright but she excused herself saying that their was so much work to do on the farm and

the Wright place never looked cheerful.

The play was filled with symbols, especially the broken cage and the dead bird, which could have

represented Minnie Wright herself, a woman whose zest for life had been squeezed out of her by her

tyrant of a husband. There was suspense as the women hide the evidence, perhaps saving Mrs. Wright’s

life. This leads to a moral dilemma. Did the women have the right to conceal the evidence? Were they

doing it only for Minnie Wright or for all women who could never have a jury of their peers?


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