Susan Glaspell’s Trifles: How Dramatic Irony Provides an Extra Dimension to the Mystery and Show Examples of What We as the Audience Know That Some Characters Do Not
The dramatic irony in "Trifles" builds as the women, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, find the clues about life in the Wright household. They discover the dead canary and note that someone appears to have broken its neck. The women know how much Mrs. Wright loved the bird, so they and the audience should make the assumption that Mr. Wright killed it. This deduction together with the other evidence of Mrs. Wright's growing instability (like the terrible sewing) lead the women and audience to believe in Mrs. Wright's guilt and the reason she killed her husband. This situation represents dramatic irony because the sheriff and county attorney remain oblivious to these clues, so the audience knows more than they do about the crime.
The dramatic irony in Susan Glaspell's one-act play “Trifles” creates conflict that draws the audience into the play and makes it more effective as a social commentary. Written in the early 1900s, “Trifles” deals with the rights of, expectations for and assumptions about women in society at the time. In an ironic twist, the audience knows that the women have solved the murder mystery while the men remain oblivious of the truth because of their assumptions. Dramatic irony is defined as a plot device where the audience knows something that characters do not know that leads them to act under false assumptions. In “Trifles,” County Attorney George Henderson, Sheriff Henry Peters and local farmer Lewis Hale are blinded by their assumption that women concern themselves with only trifling things and are not intelligent. In reality, it is they who trifle about Minnie Wright's housekeeping, while Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale solve the mystery of why Minnie Wright killed her husband. As a final twist, the two women end up identifying with Minnie Wright’s abuse at the hands of her husband and feel the murder was justified. They then conspire to conceal the truth from their ignorant husbands and the county attorney.
On the whole, for the County Attorney, the defining moment is the fact that he is unable to figure out the truth behind the death of Mr. Hale. He knows that the perpetrator is within but is having a hard time piecing the pieces together. Gabriel Match should therefore approach the role with seriousness and the desire to get the job done. In addition, he should be on the lookout for the reactions of the suspects, as with keenness an individual will be in a position to identify who is truly behind the crime.