Susan Glaspell’s Trifles: Why Glaspell's Choice for Trifles Is Such an Appropriate Title
Written by Susan Glaspell, Trifles is a masterpiece rich in both historical and biographical elements. Glaspell hinges this story on a murder story she had to cover as a journalist and this offers the biographical part of it. The historical element of Trifles sprouts from some of the themes presented in this play. Therefore, Trifles is both a biographical and historical play.
Two women also join the men in Mrs. Wright’s kitchen- Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters. The characters look at the murder differently and this discussion will focus on the development in terms of roundness and flatness of the characters and the degree to which the characters are stereotypes. Mrs. Wright the protagonist that we do not meet on stage but learn about from other characters because she is in custody for suspicion of her husband’s murder is a round character. Prior to her marrying her late husband, she was a cheerful young woman. She even wore colorful clothes because she enjoyed life and was a bubbly young woman. In addition, she enjoyed singing and once sang in a choir, this kept her cheerful. However, after marriage she changed and become another person. Mrs. Hale noticed her personality change because she remembered her as a sweet woman and very beautiful. This contrasts with the bitter woman she came to be that murdered her husband in cold blood. She was also a timid woman according to Mrs. Hale yet the woman we see when Mr. Henderson stopped by to speak to Mr. Wright was not timid because she stood there unmoved and in a composed manner told him, he could not speak to Mr. Wright because he was dead. Mrs. Hale appears to be timid when we meet her at first. However as the play progresses we see a woman who is empathetic and even agrees to commit a crime by concealing the evidence they find in Mrs. Wright’s kitchen from the men investigating the crime. She is a remorseful person because she regrets not having come more often to visit Mrs. Wright because she knew of her loneliness. She manages to talk Mrs. Peters into the conspiracy of silence regarding the motive and evidence of Mr. Wright’s murder. Her understanding of the suffering of her fellow woman makes her frustrated with the men’s attitude towards women and thus chooses to protect one of her own.They think she might have committed the crime out of frustration and anger of her environment, which they say was lonely and depressing. Mrs. Wright was a lonely woman with no child and her only company was her bird that most probably was killed by her husband. Thus, she killed him in retaliation and Mrs. Peters identifies with her situation as she says how lonely she felt when her two-year-old child died and protects hides the evidence in her coat pocket. The two women describe Mr. Wright as a good man. This means that he had a dual character because to the outsiders he appeared as a quiet good husband. Yet Mrs. Hale says that he was a hard man and not pleasant to live with and that is why Mrs. Wright must had bought a bird to keep her company. Even though Mr. Wright did not take alcohol and always kept his word, he was not kind to his wife and did not try to make her life cheerful as he was always out working and mean when at home.
“Trifles” is essentially a presentation of challenges that women faced in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Born in 1876, Glaspell was among the first women to pursue higher education and a profession at a time when this was a preserve of the men. By writing Trifles, Glaspell sought to address issues like, “women’s suffrage, birth control, socialism, union organizing, and the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud” (Godwin, 1999, p. 46). At this time, women could not participate in juries or even vote. Women earned way below their male counterparts; moreover, as aforementioned most women qualified as ‘housewives’ and nothing more. The same case applied to urban women; a subject that Trifles addresses. Women were not recognized as important figures in the society; something that Mrs. Wright experienced. Nevertheless, Glaspell finally manages to show that women were significant after all. Their ‘trifles’ were significant if only men would recognize it. For instance, their ‘trifles’ led to discovery of a strangled bird; something that would convict Mrs. Wright; therefore, women would sit in juries, if given opportunity. Mrs. Peters explicates how women suffered and lived at the mercies of their ever-busy husbands. She remembers how Mrs. Wright would sing melodiously as a bird during her childhood; however, she bemoans that things changed the moment Mrs. Wright married. She notes that Mr. Wright “first killed the song in her and finally killed the song in her bird” (Glaspell, 1951, p. 14). Loneliness was consuming many women including those who did not face marital strife. For instance, Mrs. Peters painfully recalls, “…we were homesteaders in the Dakota Territory, when our first baby died leaving me alone in the house most of the day while my husband worked outside…” (Glaspell, 1951, p. 18). Glaspell sought to highlight these historical issues that affected women relegating them to insignificant figures in society. This theme offers the historical interpretation of this play.
Briefly, Mrs.Hale protects Mrs. Wright by taking the pretty box with the pretty bird inside. Mrs. Hale knows the difference between the law and justice. She gave justice to Mrs.Wright when no one else was going to. The title Trifles is an appropriate name for this play, because it’s the small, simple details that are the evidence for solving this murder. Susan Glaspell uses this play to show how women were treated in the early 20th century, and how the husbands took their wives for granted. She wanted justice for the women, and she makes an incredible argument in this play.
Glaspell, S. (1951). Trifles: A Play in One Act. New York; Walter H. Baker.
Godwin, L. (1999). Preface to Fidelity. New York; Persephone Books.
Holstein, S. (2003). Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s Trifles. The Midwest Quarterly. 44(2); 282-290.
Reuben, P. (2008). Susan Glaspell. Perspectives in American Literature. Retrieved from;