Trifles Essay, Research Paper
Susan Glaspell was born in 1882 in Davenport, Iowa. She graduated from Drake University and worked as a journalist on the staff of the Des Moines Daily News. When her stories began appearing in magazines such as Harper’s and The Ladies’ Home Journal, she gave up the newspaper business. In 1915, Glaspell met George Cook, a talented stage director. Together they founded the Provincetown Players on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Players were a remarkable gathering of actors, directors and writers. In 1916, Glaspell wrote the play Trifles for the Provincetown Players. The play was inspired by a murder that Glaspell covered while working as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. Trifles is a short, one act play about an investigation of the murder of a farmer named John Wright. While trying to find evidence that his wife was his killer, the men in the story, Mr. Hale, the county attorney, and the sheriff, are looking for solid evidence. At the same time, two women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff s wife, are talking and gathering some things to take to Mrs. Wright at the jail. The men desire to find something concrete, but in their simple acts, the women find the real proof. Although Trifles concerns a murder investigation, the story is not a mystery of finding the murderer as much as it is a mystery of motive. As the women in the story discover the motive by paying close attention to “women’s trifles,” the theme of the story is revealed. Using symbolism in dialogue and various images in Trifles, Susan Glaspell reveals men s shallow view of women s intelligence and value.
During the early 1900 s, society perceived women as inferior beings. Throughout the play we read dialogue that allows us to see the demeaning view the men have for the women. Mr. Hale declares that, women are used to worrying about trifles (Glaspell 660). In saying this he is trivializing the many tasks and details that women are responsible for. And seemingly in his ignorance of how those duties are crucial in allowing a household to function smoothly, he implies their unimportance. The remark about Mrs. Wright from the County Attorney, Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies? (Glaspell 660) is insensitive and unjustified. All because his hand finds the sticky residue of her exploded preserves, a soiled spot on her roll towel, and some pans are left unclean. We know that all these situations are outside of Minnie s control- what is not due to her not even being there is due to her dire emotional state. These statements and others made by the men as the play progresses show that women are just not looked on with any meaning for society.
Major images and symbols in Glaspell s Trifles also reveal men s opinion of women as trivial and insignificant. When the men and the women come to the Wright house they find a great deal of incomplete work. These tasks are signs of an incompetent housekeeper to the officers of the court; to the women and to the audience these props help to establish the presence of a disturbed consciousness. The incomplete tasks in Mrs. Wright s kitchen argue that she acted very soon after provocation, or after the strangling of her bird. The bird is a child-substitute for the solitary Minnie; the canary’s voice acts to displace the silence of a coldly authoritarian husband and replace the sounds of the unborn children. Through the traditional literary metaphor of the bird’s song as the voice of the soul, the women acknowledge that John Wright not only killed Mrs. Wright s canary, but her very spirit. Mrs. Wright was kind of like a bird herself-real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and-fluttery (Glaspell 665). Mrs. Wright understands her husband’s action as a symbolic strangling of herself, his wife. It is not just because he kills the bird, but because she herself is a caged bird and he strangles her by preventing her from communicating with others.
Mr. Wright proves his idea of Mrs. Wright being incompetent and unimportant by forcing her to become a housewife and nothing more. The play makes reference to bottles of broken preserves in Mrs. Wright s kitchen. In her own right, Mrs. Wright is much like the preserves. She herself stays on the shelf, alone on the farm, until the coldness of her marriage, and her life in general, breaks her apart. Her secrets kept under pressure burst from their fragile containers. The single intact jar symbolizes the one remaining secret, the motive to complete the prosecutor’s case. When Mr. Wright is found dead Mrs. Wright is said to be piecing a quilt. The question is raised as to if she is going to quilt it or knot it (Glaspell 663). At the end of the play it is concluded that Mrs. Wright is going to knot the quilt. This image conveys the sense of knotting the rope around the husband s neck: the women discover the murderess. And they will knot tell. The bond among women is the essential knot needed in dealing with unfair treatment from men.
Trifles is a clever way of presenting the societal image of women in the 1900 s. Glaspell shows that men possessed a shallow view of women s intelligence and value. They were simply trifles. The men of that time had control over that view and while women did not always openly dispute it, based on the plot of Trifles; we know that they did not agree with it. The point of this tale is that while the men, smart as they were, were looking at the situation for an exterior perspective, the women were looking on the inside, at the small things, the trifles to find the real evidence and motive.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Discovering Literature Compact Edition. Guth, Hans, and Gabriele Rico, eds. Upper Saddle River [NJ]: Prentice Hall, 2000.