Trifles by Susan Glaspell Research Paper

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer


Trifles, a play written by Susan Glaspell, is one of the most famous works of literature published in the United States. It touches sensitive issues which are burning for the American society, particularly during her life time.

The play is a one-act piece, and seeks to illustrate woman’s sorrow when the main character is trapped in a relationship with her husband. Susan Glaspell also tries to present the nature of woman’s intelligence. On the other hand, the play, Trifles, depicts men as insensitive and judgmental. Prejudice prevents them from making the right decisions in their quest to resolve a case of the murder (Mael 21).

Eventually, the women determine the course of the investigation by concealing the evidence that can incriminate a fellow woman. They understand the suspect’s situation and circumstances under which she might have committed that crime and killed her husband. Through the drama, it is possible to see the attitude of the author to the issue as well as her views since her literature presents her feelings and her opinion on the sensitive social matters (Smith 36).

Susan Keating Glaspell’s background

Susan Keating Glaspell was born on July 1, 1876, and died the same month 72 years later. By the time of her death, she became a well-known poet, a novelist, a playwright, and a screenplay director who won many prizes. It is evident that Susan Glaspell’s plays and novels have a deep meaning and sympathetic characters that many people thought to be a result of her personal life experiences (Makowsky 45).

Apart from Trifles, she also wrote A Jury of Her Peers, which is known to have some feminine inclination. During her early years as a writer, she wrote and published a fiction called For the Love of the Hills in a journal and received a critical acclaim from many media houses. Ladies Home Journal and Women’s Home Companion were among some of the magazines that praised her. (Makowsky, 321)

Susan Glaspell grew up with two brothers, and when she was younger, she accompanied her father who sold hay and animal feed for a living. At a tender age, she gained a significant experience in farms and the farming culture. (Ben-Zvi, 211). Later she explored farming in her fictional works as an adult.

Having grown up as the only girl in the family and having spent her childhood on the farm, Susan knew the many challenges women faced, either in their matrimonial homes or in the society. This explains why most of her works were deeply sympathetic to the feminine gender. In addition, her experience on the family farm as well as the farms she visited with her father is also reflected in her works.

As seen in the play Trifles, Susan was a devout feminist and always pointed out the problems women faced. According to the play, Mrs. Wright acted in anger, directed not just to her husband in particular, but to all the males in general. Her husband, Cook, stole her life away from her. It was also a man who killed her only companion when he had failed to be there for her. (Alkaley-Gut 612).

The family setting

Glaspell used Trifles to express her view on women in an average family setting. She was a feminist who tried to present a radical view on women in her plays and books. While married, she was the major income earner, not her husband, Cook. She took this responsibility for all those years that she lived with Cook. However, the events in the play seem to illustrate the course of her life. In the play, after the crime has been committed, strange circumstances surround the case.

There is no apparent motive for the murder. However, due to Mrs. Wright’s reserved nature and her denial of knowing anything, she is arrested for the murder. On the other hand, Glaspell lost her husband in 1924 (Alkaley-Gut 25). However, he was not murdered. In addition, there were no severe differences between Glaspell and her husband since they were still together. On the other hand, Mrs. Wright, the main character in the play, has been leading a sad life with her husband until he has been eventually murdered.

Glaspell’s feminism

Susan Glaspell contrasted men and women in her plays. Women are presented as sympathetic and emotional as compared to men. On the other hand, men are presented as objective and cold-blooded in their conduct. However, women are only sympathetic to one of their own. Mrs. Hale claims to have known Mrs. Wright since she was a girl.

She recalls her observation of the singing talent in Mrs. Wright. She also regrets that she has not visited Mrs. Wright for a long time. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are worried about Mrs. Wright’s preserves, despite the fact that she is already in jail and probably about to face murder charges.

Men’s insensitivity

All men in the play are presented as unemotional and objective. When Mr. Hale is asked to give his account of the incident, he describes how he and Harry arrived at Mr. Wright’s house and got a cold reception by his wife. She reluctantly responded to his queries by telling him that Mr. Wright was dead. She was knitting a garment and apparently unperturbed by the death of her husband. After they confirmed that Mr. Wright was dead, they also noticed that he had been strangled.

Mrs. Wright denied o being aware of who was her husband’s murderer, and this implied that she could have killed him herself. Consequently, the men acted objectively by reporting the incident to the authorities. The sheriff and the county attorney portrayed men’s insensitivity when they were inspecting the house. They laughed at the fact that the women were more concerned with jars and clothing rather than the circumstances of the murder.

Women have little sympathy for Mr. Wright, despite the fact that he was murdered. They describe him as an insensitive man. They do not want to accept the possibility that Mrs. Wright could be guilty of the murder. This seems to be an effort by Susan Glaspell to present the nature of women’s interpretation of situation. Women are more concerned with the plight of people that are alive at that moment.

This is why Mrs. Wright’s predicament appeals to their emotions. Susan Glaspell was a feminist, and her feminist stance is further exemplified in her portrayal of women’s intelligence in case when Mr. Peters, the sheriff, and Mr. Henderson, the county attorney, are investigating the murder. They move all over the house. They are convinced that Mrs. Peters is the murderer. The only remaining piece of evidence is the motive behind the murder.

The men do not consider the possibility that Mrs. Wright might have been in a psychological distress. Consequently, the sheriff and the county attorney miss all the important pieces of evidence.

On the other hand, the women do not move much. This is an effort by the author to express the docile nature of feminism. They uncover compelling evidence without having to score the house. Feminism is portrayed as a superior characteristic as compared to masculinity. Throughout her life, Glaspell remained true to her view regarding feminism

Allusion to Glaspell’s life

The drama, Trifles, slightly alludes to Susan Glaspell’s life. She was born in a relatively rural setting. This is portrayed in the characters of the play as Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s neighbor, Mr. Hale, is a farmer. This means that the neighborhood is obviously located in a rural setting.

There are as well other instances that refer to her life albeit with a slight difference. Although her life was not as sad as that of Mrs. Wright, she drew a parallel between Mrs. Wright and herself. Just as Susan formed a drama group in her youth, Mrs. Wright sings in a choir in her youth too. However, her talent is not exploited due to the life led with her husband. It is apparent that her marriage has a significant influence on her talent.

Susan’s first husband, George Cook, was a farmer. He had a passion for literature, and did farming as a means of earning an income (Fetterley 74).

He adopted this lifestyle since he believed that creative writing should not have been done for financial gain. In several screenplays for Trifles, Susan would play the part of Mrs. Hale, the wife of the farmer. This shows that Susan Glaspell could relate her life to the plot of the play. She pictured herself as a part of the female gender suppressed by the males due to the women’s seemingly passive nature.

The literature was Susan Glaspell’s way of expression, as seen in the play. All men in the play look down on women. They agree that Minnie Foster is not a good housekeeper (Bigsby 54). This is an assumption based on the dirty utensils found in the house, the dirty garments and a table that is halfway cleaned. County attorney and the sheriff do not consider the contribution of Mr. Wright to the situation in the house.

Apart from several instances in the play that have allusion to Susan’s experiences in her life, the whole play also alludes to a real life incident. When Susan became a reporter for a newspaper, she was required to report on a sensational murder case for the daily. She created the play in the perspective of the case she had reported. The part of the play where Harry confirmed that Mr. Wright was dead can be directly related to the murder case she had investigated.

The play, Trifles, revolves around the role of women in the society and oppression of females by men (Mael 12). The sheriff and the county attorney do not adequately engage the two women in their investigation. In addition, women are likened to imprisoned people who eventually end up in a bad situation.

Mrs. Wright led a sad life with her husband and was finally imprisoned on suspicion of murdering her husband. Like the bird she kept, she spent her life in a cage until she was eventually killed. Susan Glaspell had a similar experience where she had a troubled marriage and eventually lost he husband. This is all a part of the author’s feminist agenda (Mael 4). Her plays are aimed at sensitizing the female audience of their situation.

Furthermore, she encourages women to take action and fight for their rights and equality. This is why the women in the play control the course of the investigation and eventually decide to pardon Mrs. Wright on their own terms (Bigsby 38). During Susan’s time, women were not allowed to sit in the jury since they were considered unfit to give a sound judgment. For this reason, Glaspell decided to urge women to struggle for their involvement in such matters.


Clearly, Glaspell was influenced by the course and experiences of her life to write her play, Trifles. Most of the characters in the play correspond to real life characters. For example, her husband, Cook, corresponds to Mr. Wright, an honest but unemotional person as Glaspell’s husband was also honest and cooperative.

He helped Susan to build her career and become a prominent writer and playwright. However, the couple had constant differences in their views on life, so Cook decided to start a new career away form Glaspell’s drama activities. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Wright represent different phases and situations in Susan’s life. Her appearance is similar to that of Mrs. Wright regarding dressing and vigor. Such biographical aspects of the play Trifles are also evident in other works by Susan Glaspell.

Works Cited

Alkaley-Gut, Karen. Jury of Her Peers: The Importance of Trifles. 2002. PDF File. Web.

Ben-Zvi, Linda. “‘Murder, She Wrote’: The Genesis of Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” Theatre Journal 44.2(1992): 141-162. Print.

Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982. Print.

Fetterley, Judith. Provisions: A Reader from 19th–Century American Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Print.

Mael, Phyllis. “”Trifles”: The Path to Sisterhood.” Literature/Film Quarterly 17.4 (1989): 281-84. Print.

Makowsky, Veronica A. Susan Glaspell’s Century of American Women: A Critical Interpretation of Her Work. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.

Smith, Beverly A. “Women’s Work – “Trifles”: The Skill and Insights of Playwright Susan Glaspell”. International Journal of Women’s Studies 5.2 (1982): 172-–84. Print.

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