Susan Glaspell’s Trifles is a complex piece of literature to analyze. Beginning in the middle of the action without an introduction laying out the situation, it forces the reader to rely fully on dialogue to understand what happens in the story. The single act gives a glimpse into the investigation of the murder of John Wright, who is believed to have been killed by his wife, Minnie. Although not a single line is spoken by either of those characters, one can assess their relationship based on the cues from the text and historical evidence.
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The first clues appear when Hale describes Minnie’s behavior shortly after the murder. As Lewis Hale enters the house, he finds Minnie “rockin’ back and forth” in her chair, looking emptily into the distance and patting her apron (James et al. “9: Power and Responsibility”). When he finds out about the murder, Hale notes Mrs. Wright was looking “unconcerned” (James et al. “9: Power and Responsibility”). Minnie’s remark and behavior indicate her indifference toward the matter. This shows a troubling relationship between the spouses, which is soon confirmed by the discovery of a dead canary-bird by Lewis Hale’s wife, Mrs. Hale, and the Sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters.
When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters find a broken birdcage, the neighbor’s wife comments that Minnie used to be a good singer. She continues to tell that Mr. Wright was harsh, and spending time with him was unpleasant. As they discover a dead canary-bird, strangled similarly as was Mr. Wright, Mrs. Hale makes an insightful statement: “No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird – a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.” (James et al. “9: Power and Responsibility”) Furthermore, the interaction of the two women makes it evident that the couple did not have children and did not live in harmony. As Mrs. Hale says, “I know how things can be – for women,” she hints toward difficult spousal relationships in her neighborhood, possibly indicating abusive and unhappy marriages (James et al. “9: Power and Responsibility”). As such, Glaspell carefully plants cues that allow the reader to solve the crime.
Apart from the highlighted remarks, it is important to remember the historical context of this play. It was written in 1916 when the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the US was at its peak, giving Glaspell a platform to highlight the difficult place of women in her society (Karagoz Gumuscubuk 398). This contributes to the reader’s understanding of the Wright family dynamic, suggesting a lack of freedom for Minnie that could have led to the murder. Similarly, Chaisilwattana et al. suggest that Trifles is about the “repression of women’s domesticated farm life,” further substantiating the above assumption (4). Thus, a combination of academic research and literary analysis lets the reader fill in the blanks for Minnie’s motive to murder her husband.
In conclusion, a reader can assemble the hints placed by the author in the text, together with the historical context of the play into a vague representation of the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Wright. Indifference toward her husband’s death, a dead bird, and personality differences of the spouses indicate an unhappy marriage. The historical context suggests limited opportunities for females to express themselves or defend their rights. Together, these clues help a reader imagine Mrs. Wright’s everyday reality.
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, vol. 15, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1-23.
James, Missy et al. Reading Literature and Writing Argument, 6th ed. Pearson, 2016. Pearson Education E-book. Web.
Karagoz Gumuscubuk, Ozlem. “Domestic Space: A Terrain of Empowerment and Entrapment in Susan Glaspell’s ‘Trifles.’” Dokuz Eylul University Journal of Graduate School of Social Sciences, vol. 21, no. 2. 2019, pp. 397–407.