‘Trifles’ by Susan Glaspell Analysis
‘Trifles’ was a one-act play written by Susan Glaspell in 1916. She was born in Davenport, Iowa. The play “Trifles” was adapted from a real life murder trial and imprisonment of a farmer’s wife that Glaspell was covering while working for Des Moines Daily News. The play proved to be a powerful insight into the lives of poverty stricken, abused and rural women. The name of the play was built around the idea that men consider the duties and opinions of women inconsequential or trivial.
In their opinion women have no real value or purpose in this world.
Women are very often criticized for paying attention to small details and not being able to look at the big picture. But these little details and inconsequential things reveal a lot about a situation or person. However, by the end of the story Glaspell makes sure that the audience realizes the actual strength, cleverness and courage of a woman and the injustices she has to deal with everyday.
The plot of Trifles revolves around Minnie Wright’s Kitchen. Her husband had been murdered and Minnie was in jail arrested as the main suspect. While the town police are investigating the house, they find absolutely no evidence or motive behind the murder. However, the female neighbors who accompany the police secretly solve the mystery.
Mrs. Wright”, a rural farmer’s wife had been driven to the edge by her unfriendly husband and their lifeless marriage. She had been isolated from her loved ones and stripped away from her love for life. After years of powerlessness she kills her husband in a fit of rage. Mrs. Wright’s uncompleted work was the first clue found by the women. The second clue was shown through an almost perfect quilting done by Mrs. Wright. The most convincing evidence was the dead bird and the birdcage.
These insignificant factors proved to the women that Mrs. Wright was behind the murder. Nevertheless, they refused to tell the men of their suspicions. The women hid the evidence from the men only because they had been in Mrs. Wright’s shoes at some point in their lives. They felt pity for her and hid all these clues so that Mrs. Wright was not convicted for the murder.
While the police officials searched persistently for, “something to show anger – or sudden feeling”, the women almost easily found such evidence but hid it conspiratorially. Mrs. Hale, one of Mrs. Wright neighbors, finds a dish towel, “half-clean, half-messy”. It was exactly how she had left her own kitchen in a hurry to ride to the Wright’s farm. Mrs. Wright also appeared to be making preserves but had left them hastily outside in the cold. The men held no interest in these trifling matters yet Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peter knew that they “ all go through the same things – it’s all just a different kind of the same thing!”. It was evident from these half completed tasks that something immense had happened and had driven her to commit a grave act.
Another trivial matter was the gorgeous quilt Mrs. Peter found with a botch at the last bit of sewing. She was certain that the quilt looked as if “she didn’t know what she was about” while the other patches appeared “nice and even”. The two women quickly undid the botch in spite of knowing that they shouldn’t “touch things”. Mrs. Peter was a woman “married to the law” but even she felt compelled to help Mrs. Wright. It seems as if both women had gone through the same feelings of prejudice and unfairness and felt solidarity with Mrs. Wright.
The last piece of the puzzle was an empty bird cage with the hinge broken open very aggressively. Mrs. Wright’s dead canary was inside with its neck wringed. Mrs. Peter knew exactly how it felt to lose a loved pet and even more if it was killed barbarically by another person. She recalled her anger when a boy killed her kitten in front of her eyes with a hatchet. Mrs. Peter, a righteous woman, hid the bird cage with the dead bird in her bag but failed because her bag is too small.
Mrs. Hale came to her rescue by hiding the birdcage in the “pocket of her big coat”. It was the birdcage, “that would make certain the conviction of the other woman – that woman who was not there and yet who had been there with them all through that hour.” They undoubtedly did not want Minnie to be imprisoned for a offense they all felt like committing.
Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peter had pieced together all the proof that triggered the murder of Mr. Wright however they had hidden it all because they knew the context that drove Mrs. Wright to the brink of insanity. They knew how it felt to have no respect or rights. Although, Glaspell never really admitted in the play that Mrs. Wright was out rightly abused by her husband but many things point out to the obvious conclusion. Mrs. Wright could never break away from this marriage no matter how cruelly she was treated.
The culture and social norms dictated divorce or separation as unthinkable. Independent working women were frowned upon by society. The legal status of women was equivalent to criminals, slaves and the insane. The role of a woman was limited to reproducing children, housekeeping and taking care of their families while their husbands worked. Mrs. Wright and the women of that time could not break free. First, Mrs. Wright spent half her life locked up in a farm with a miserly, cruel husband and then the rest of her life in a prison. The women helping her conceal the evidence were trying to change not only Mrs. Wright’s fate but the fate of many others like her.
This play powerfully dealt with gender discrimination. It was a historical glimpse at the struggles Victorian women went through to find respect and equality. Controversial writers like Glaspell intentionally or unintentionally forced women to rise up and reclaim their legal and civil rights. In this play women took the reins in their hands without men even realizing it. They finally took revenge for being thought of as stupid and unsophisticated. After years of struggle they finally claimed their silent victory.
To conclude, this play had a great role in convincing men and women of the Victorian age that women should get equal pay for equal work; equal rights to enjoy an independent self sufficient life; rights to child custody and divorce; equal stature in legal matters; Equal access to knowledge. This play influenced many other women that they shouldn’t be treated like inanimate objects that are dispensable by the society. Glaspell taught them that they deserved respect, rights and esteem. It is unfortunate that women of the Western world have managed to get equal rights through their struggles. However, women of the developing world still lack basic rights and struggle everyday between gender power relationships.
- Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Virginia Commonwealth University.
- Lawry, Robert P. The Moral Obligation of the Juror to the Law. March 2007. https://works.bepress.com/login/?next=/context/billie_carter/article/1000/type/native/viewcontent/
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