The play, Trifles, is set in a period that male dominance was at its all-time peak in Europe. In the domestic realm the man was the king and the wife just a glorified servant. In the workplace, the women had limited chances and it was really rare to find women working as professional attorneys, detectives, or physicians. It is therefore not a shocker that the men in the play did not deem the input of the women necessary in solving the murder of Mr. Wright but rather mocked the clues they picked and referred to them as “trifles”.
The men, led by Mr. Henderson, purport to know so much about investigations and yet they miss out on clues that point out on the psychological state of Mrs. Wright and in the process they miss out on a chance to get evidence that could help them prove that Mrs. Wright killed her husband. Ironically, the clues are very clear to the women that the society considered incapable of handling and solving the level of mysteries involved in police investigations. By highlighting the ingenuity of the women in piecing up the clues to identify the murderer, Susan Glaspell brings to light the untapped ability of women in a society that oppresses its women.
The first clue that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters come across is the frozen preserves in Mrs. Wright’s cupboard. The preparation of the preserves requires careful attention and adequate supply of heat, usually from the stove. As the two women describe Minnie, it is clear she was very keen on producing high-quality preserves and for there to be cans of them that spoilt shows something signifies that something was amiss either before or immediately after the murder. In addition to this, the women came across a quilt block that was sewn in an uneven manner. The pattern was so bad that Mrs. Hales exclaims that it seemed like Minnie didn’t know what she was doing as she was sewing it.
In the art of sewing, one has to have a clear image of what they want to make right from the start. The unevenness, therefore, points out to the fact that Minnie did not put too much thought in sewing the blocks. This serves as yet another indication that Mrs. Wright’s was psychologically unsettled and the probable cause was oppression in her marriage by her husband (Chesterton 50).
As the two women go to fetch an apron for Minnie Wright, they went through her clothes. It is at this point that Mrs. Hales examined one of Mrs. Wright’s skirts and noted that it was cheap quality and price. The two then reminisced of the how well she used to dress up before she got married. They also note that she was much more outgoing at that time and specifically points out that she was a member of the church choir. The description contrasts Minnie’s life before and after she got married to Mr. Wright. The changes illustrate a decline in her well-being as a person. Mrs. Hale even explains of the high-handedness of Mr. Wright despite him being a generally good man. The changes could be argued to have pushed her to the edge and as a result she killed her husband (Chesterton 46).
As much as the above clues were important, the one that left the two women without doubt that Minnie killed her husband was the dead canary. The manner in which it was murdered suggested that Mr. Wright had killed the bird and Minnie had preserved it in her box indicates how fond Mrs. Wright was off the bird. The death of the bird seems to have made Mrs. Wright so angry that she decided to avenge by killing her husband in the same manner that he killed it. The two women liked the bird’s singing to Mrs. Wrights singing and the death must have made her realize how much Mr. Wright had messed her life up and she felt the urge to release herself from the cage-like bondage of being married to him (Ferguson 66).
The men had a scornful approach towards areas that they deemed to be for women. In the kitchen they didn’t do a thorough check and even allowed the scene to be tampered with before the investigation(Gainor 154). They felt that territories dominated by women would not have much to offer in solving the mystery and instead they opt to focus on areas such as the barn. On the other hand, the women were very keen in the areas that Mrs. Wright and to some extent even defined her as a woman. It was also easier for the women to unravel the clues since they understood things such as making preserves and quilts. They were conversant with such processes and a deviation from normal was easy for them to detect. In addition, it was easier for them to relate to the pressure that marriage life has on women and even guess the psychological impact brought about by the oppression (Ben-Zvi 24).
In Trifles, Susan aims to advocate for gender equality and she does this by highlighting the gender gap that existed in the 20th century. By solving the murder, Mrs. Hales and Mrs. Peters show that women can do just as well in jobs preserved for men, if not better. In the process the underutilized potential of women in the society is uncovered. The hidden trifles are also indicative of the impact of isolation on the human mind. The two women describe Mrs. Wright as a social woman before she was married. The isolation that she had to endure since marriage also affected her so much that she opted to kill her husband in a cruel manner when she had an easier alternative of shooting him using a gun (Ben-Zvi 24).
Overall, Trifles pushes the feminist agenda of gender equality and empowerment of women. It supports the liberation of the women from the tyrannical rule of men at home. This is represented symbolically as the bird that was eventually out of the cage even if it faced death in the end. Mrs. Wright is illustrated as the radical woman that was fed up with men domination that she chose to free herself from the shackles (Fricker and Hornsby 25). Mrs. Hales and Mrs. Peters are used to show the capability of a free woman. After piecing up all the evidence against Mrs. Wright, they also chose not to hand it over to the attorney and sheriff. This is used to illustrate the role that women have to play in freeing themselves. In the end the reader is enlightened on the importance of allowing the women to have access to same opportunities as men.
Ben-Zvi, Linda. Susan Glaspell. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.
Chesterton, G. K. Tremendous Trifles. Auckland: Floating Press, 2011. Print.
ferguson, priscillaparkhurst. ‘Trifles’.Contexts 8.4 (2009): 66-68. Web.
Fricker, Miranda, and Jennifer Hornsby.The Cambridge Companion To Feminism In Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
Gainor, J. Ellen.Susan Glaspell In Context. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Print.
Glaspell, Susan, Donna Haisty Winchell, and Susan Glaspell.Trifles. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2004. Print.
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