At the turn of the 20th century, the present view on gender rights and equality did not exist. During the time, males clearly governed every aspect of life and females were left with little significance. Throughout history, gender roles placed women in the kitchen where they were expected to prepare meals and serve their men as well as be good mothers to their children and submissive caretakers to their husbands (Chaisilwattana 11). Towards the end of the century, women started fighting for equal rights and struggled hard to free themselves from the stereotypical roles that society had cast them into. Writers such as Susan Glaspell used symbolism in her literary works to fight for gender equality.
“Trifles” is a play authored by Susan Glaspell and discusses the stereotypes held against women as well as the female perspective about men. Although the author uses verbal flashbacks of the events that had happened the previous day when John Wright was murdered, the entire plot in this play begins and ends in a span of one day. Glaspell also presents a unified plot to create a single setting which is Mr. Wright’s isolated farmhouse kitchen (Glaspell 391). In essence, the entire plot is centered on John Wright’s murder and his wife, Mrs. Wright, happens to be the main suspect. The County Attorney, Mr. Hale and the Sheriff are in charge of this investigation which takes place in Mr. Wright’s house. Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale accompany these three men to gather Mrs. Wright’s belongings that she would need in jail. Putting the men and women in the same setting, the author aims at examining the relationships between husbands and wives especially in a 19th century marriage that ended in murder as reflected by the messy kitchen.
The title “Trifles” is a symbol that reflects the perception of men on women. In essence, trifle is a small thing that is of little significance or value and has no consequence. Throughout this play, the author uses dialogue to allow the audience to see the demeaning stereotypes that men held against women in the 19th century. For Instance, Mr. Hale, a neighboring farmer who discovers Mr. Wright’s body says that women are primarily used to worrying over trifles (Glaspell401). In this play, men constantly undervalue the many details and tasks that women are paying attention to such as the unfinished quilt. Ironically, when men were busy running around looking for significant clues and motives, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters discovered who murdered Mr. Wright and the motive behind the killer’s actions but decided to hind the evidence without which the men cannot solve the case. The men’s ignorance of how crucial women’s duties mainly imply their unimportance.
This play meticulously incorporates important symbols that help the audience to construe and recognize the depth and significance of the unfinished quilt, bird, the birdcage and the jar of fruit preserves. Through these symbols emphasizes that things are not always as insignificant as they appear to be. The women seem to understand this principle as they understand the importance of” reading between the lines” which is why they can crack the case. The small and domestic details that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters focus on are the clues and pieces of evidence that the men are searching for yet they cannot see them since they constantly overlook them as they regard them as trifles (Glaspell 403). In their wisdom, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters did not only look at the obvious facts of the murder like the men but paid attention to every detail and even Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s history. This explains that these women were more intuitive and sensitive to Minnie Wright’s life (or lack of), which enabled them to solve the case using the trifles which were indeed valuable,
The climax of the play unfolds with Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters finding an empty birdcage with a broken hinge. As they starts peculating why the birdcage was empty, Mrs. Hale tells Mrs. Peters about Mrs. Wright’s life as a single unmarried woman as she knew her. Mrs. Wright’s maiden name was Minnie Foster, and she was a beautiful songstress. However, her incredible voice was muted when she became married to Mr. John Wright (Mustazza 489). As such, when Mrs. Hale sees the dead bird lying on Mrs. Wright’s sewing box, she instantly recognizes why Mrs. Wright murdered her husband. Mr. Wright was an abusive man who used silence and coldness to control and mold his wife into someone he thought she should be. Therefore, to fight back, Mrs. Wright kept singing bird which was a symbol of the free Minnie Foster. When Mr. Wright killed Mrs. Wright’s bird, he, in an indirect way killed her joy of singing and her spirit thus keeping her in her own “cage” which she could not escape from unless she got rid of whoever/whatever was holding her prisoner (Mustazza 489). The act of quilting thus symbolized Mrs. Wright’s action strangling her husband with a rope. The frozen fruits in a jar represented Mrs. Wright’s untold coldness against her husband.
Chaisilwattana, Yuwapa, et al. “The Housewife and the Stage: A Study of Domestic Space and Homemaking in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles.” Journal of Liberal Arts 15.2 (2015): 1-23.
Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Frank Shay, 1916.
Mustazza, L. (1989). Generic Translation and Thematic Shift in Susan Glaspell’s” Trifles” and” A Jury of Her Peers.” Studies in Short Fiction, 26(4), 489.