Play Analysis: “Trifles” by Susan Glaspell

 

Trifles tells the story of a murder that has undoubtedly been put onto the shoulders of an elderly women who was married to the victim and leaves no speculation to authorities other than the curiosity over what may have brought reason for the murder in the first place. Three men and three women enter, the men are all in positions of authority and are there as more of a formality, whereas the women are there in the background in order to go through Mrs. Wright’s personal belongings as she had requested a few items to pass the time during her arrest. The Sheriff, Henry, and County Attorney, George, are there to go through the process as they would any crime scene and yet there is this bias from them as they seem quite sure that Mrs. Wright committed the crime and that going through the scene of the crime was only something to do in order to fill out their paperwork.

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The wives, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, are hesitant to enter the property, only feeling comfortable enough to speak when the men go upstairs to where they claim Mrs. Wright hung up her husband. The women feel a connection to this woman that they hardly visited and in a moment of silence and understanding, they too realize that they very well could have been like Mrs. Wright or may still be standing in her position. These women are very much standing in the shadows of their husbands and Mrs. Wright’s situation may not be so different with her having decided to do something about it at some point. There is no indication as to how the husbands treat their wives, for all we know they could be just as bad as what we assume Mr. Wright was. He kept his wife, a natural-born singer, from doing what she loved to do simply because of this desire to be in a place of silence and solitude, keeping her from making any sort of relationship with others.

It isn’t until nearly halfway into the play that we even get Mrs. Wright’s first and maiden name. Minnie Foster was a woman that was bright and lively, something the women seem to be well aware of, and yet the men never once seemed to express any notice of a change in behavior for Minnie before and after she married her husband.

MRS HALE: (examining the skirt) Wright was close. I think maybe that’s why she kept so much to herself. She didn’t even belong to the Ladies Aid. I suppose she felt she couldn’t do her part, and then you don’t enjoy things when you feel shabby. She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that—oh, that was thirty years ago. This all you was to take in?

MRS PETERS: She said she wanted an apron. Funny thing to want, for there isn’t much to get you dirty in jail, goodness knows. But I suppose just to make her feel more natural. She said they was in the top drawer in this cupboard. Yes, here. And then her little shawl that always hung behind the door. (opens stair door and looks) Yes, here it is. (pg. 6)

All of sudden, Minnie is no longer Mrs. Wright, murderer. She is now the woman that was swallowed up by her husband’s decisions and ultimately lived a life without the things she loved in order to accommodate to her husband’s lifestyle, likely living in misery until the moment she decides enough is enough and took it upon her own hands to remove her husband from her life. It seems like quite a stretch: how can these two housewives even compare to this woman who is jail for murder? Well, this woman was similar to these women in her tasks in order to maintain a household. Only they can understand why it was heartbreaking to see jars of preserved fruit broken from the freezing weather. They can see why it felt improper to allow a loaf of bread to sit outside its breadbox.

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The men can easily see that Mrs. Wright is a murderer and that she killed her husband, and yet how can it be that they found it hilarious that she requested her apron and for her fruit to be checked? It is almost as if they are entertained by this sweet little old lady making such innocent little requests when she is being held for murder. It’s almost eerie that Minnie Foster (Mrs. Wright), and yet you can easily picture a sweet looking old woman that could possibly be the live-action vision of Granny from Looney Tunes. This old woman killed someone, and she didn’t just do it in a moment of anger or hate, she thought of this. Those hands she set quilts with sat down and tied a rope with the intention to use it. Before the bird in the box is even revealed, there is overshadowing of the confirmation that Minnie did commit murder and once the climax has been revealed, rather than feeling horrified and turning it over to their husbands, they speculate over the idea that Mr. Wright never did enjoy noise and a bird would likely have been the last thing he’d appreciate in his home. These women not only solve the question for the motive of the murder, but they also have established this feeling of protectiveness for this fellow woman.

The husbands avoid the kitchen because they believe it to be a place of women and they had no business there, yet wouldn’t that have been the best place to search if that was what they believed? Minnie didn’t hide the bird in the kitchen out of convenience, she deliberately left it there because she knew no man would think to enter the “place for women” and brings forth the idea that perhaps Minnie knew the men would overlook the kitchen, leaving the women to find it instead. Is that stretching it? Perhaps. But it is completely possible and creates an even more eerie atmosphere as the women are left with the decision of protecting Minnie or handing over the evidence to their husbands who wouldn’t have even thought to search there.

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In the end, despite the women refusing to expose their finding to their husbands, it is unlikely that Minnie is going to get away with the murder. The rope is key evidence, and although that is what they will consider during trial, but they are not likely to even mention the connection between the fact that she was only capable of making the rope just as she was able to make these quilts. It is a dead-end for Minnie in the end, but she has this power now as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. hale felt this need to protect her secret and even feel it needed to be said that they understand and that one jar of fruit has survived the harsh winters rushing through her empty and silent home.

 

You can purchase the play here.

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