Critical Analysis of the Play "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell
The play trifles is a true murder mystery by Susan Glaspell. The setting is in a lonely, cold landscape of the Wright’s kitchen, where the action of the play takes place. The kitchen is in disorder with unwashed dishes, a dirty dishtowel, and a loaf of bread sitting out. The scene gives the impression of a lonely household with little attention having been paid to cleaning up recently.
Three men, Sheriff Peters, the court attorney Mr. Henderson, and the neighbor Mr. Hale, enter the house. Behind the men are two women. One is Mrs. Hale, the neighbors wife and Mrs. Peter’s, the Sheriff’s wife. Both women stand by the door while the men go over to the stove to warm themselves up. The fact that two women are behind the men is a way of introducing the fact that women are inferior to the men and are supposed to follow behind their husbands. The sheriff asks Mr. Hale to describe everything that he saw the morning he discovered Mr. Wright’s body. He explains the events of his coming to the house and talking to Mrs. Wright.
Throughout the play the dialogue between the men allows us to see the demeaning view the men have for women. Mr. Hale declares that "women are used to worrying about trifles" (Glaspell 940) In saying this he is demeaning the many tasks and details women are responsible for. This also shows his ignorance of how those duties are crucial in allowing a household to function smoothly, he implies their unimportance.
When the men leave to investigate up stairs, the two ladies are left in the kitchen by themselves. Instead of focusing on the men in the case, the play concentrates on the women. They engage in small talk and without even knowing it, they use the tactics that a trained police officer would be using to figure out a mystery. They talk about how the kitchen was left after the murder. The reference to bottles of broken preserves shows how Mrs. Wright was much like these preserves. She herself stays on the shelf, alone on the farm, until the coldness of her marriage and her life breaks her apart. Mrs. Peter then notices that Mrs. Wright had been knitting a quilt. As the two women are wondering weather she was going to "quilt or knot it," the men come down and laugh, making fun of the women. The men have no idea that the women have made a very important discovery. Mrs. Hale resents the men’s attitude and rips out the wrong stitches in the quilt and repairs them.
The ladies also find another important clue, the dead bird. 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 945). Mrs. Wright understands her husbands 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. When the men return the lady’s hide what they see as evidence of Mrs. Wright’s guilt. It is realized at this point that she strangled her husband as retribution for killing her joy, the bird, and years of abuse by her husband.
The men in this story posses a shallow view of a women’s intelligence and value. While the men were looking at the situation from an exterior perspective, the women were looking on the inside, at all the small things, the trifles to find the real evidence and motive.
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