Susan Glaspell’s Trifles: How Minnie Will Fare in Her Murder Trial and Why. Discuss the Evidence and the Involvement of the Two Women in the Play
Trifles is a murder mystery that explores gender relationships, power between the sexes, and the nature of truth. In the play, the farmer and his wife never actually appear; instead, the story focuses on the prosecutor, George Henderson, who has been called in to investigate the murder; Henry Peters, the local sheriff; Lewis Hale, a neighboring farmer who discovered Wright’s body; and Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, wives to the two local men. While the men bluster and tramp around the farmhouse searching for clues, the women discover bits of evidence in the “trifles” of a farmer’s wife—her baking, cleaning and sewing. Because the men virtually ignore the women’s world, they remain blind to the truth before their eyes.
The canary symbolized everything Minnie used to be and what she longed for. Mrs. Hale says, She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. From this the reader can interpret that before she became Mrs. Wright, Minnie was a completely different person. The canary was hope and comfort for Minnie that one day she might be happy again and once John took that away from her, she was so devastated and distraught that she became angry enough to kill him. This anger is symbolized in John Wright being strangled, because she killed him in the same way he killed her spirit, hopes, and her bird. Glaspell made the theme of isolation and the effect it can have on the psyche prominent throughout the play, because it happened to many women during this time period. Mrs. Hale said, We all go through the same things, it’s all just a different kind of the same thing. This line was significant because it solidifies their solidarity as women and the guilt Mrs. Hale has for not helping Minnie, although she had a clue of what was happening. On the other hand the question of whether Minnie could have truly been helped could be asked. John Wright isolated Minnie and he was abusive towards her. Someone who is being abused could be saved in theory, but mentally that person is broken. Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters want badly to get justice for Minnie, but they are not sure how to go about it. Ultimately they decide that hiding the dead bird would be best for Minnie. Glaspell was writing about more than just a mystery, she is portraying the different perceptions between men and women. She was writing on misogyny, and the awful effect it can have on women. When a woman is isolated and abused she can do heinous things that she may not typically be capable of. The question is does Minnie deserve the punishment deserved for murder or has she been punished enough? The women surely seem to think so as they hide the evidence from the county attorney and sheriff. As an oppressed group they felt they had the burden of protecting Minnie.
In today’s society, we generally view upon everyone as equal being who deserves equal rights. At the turn of the 20th century, this particular view didn’t exist. Men clearly dominated almost every aspect of life and women were often left with little importance. Throughout the history the gendered roles place the woman in the kitchen, serving meals, baking bread, and canning fruits and jellies. She was also expected to be a good mother to her children and a caretaker to her husband (Ferguson; 6-12). Many works of literature deal with gendered roles and their effect on society as a whole or on an individual as a person. The nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of several prominent female literary figures, such as Kate Chopin and Fanny Fern. Like many other women writers, Chopin and Fern wrote about the inequality of the sexes and the inability of women to live their own lives without reliance on men. Judith Fetterley suggests that there exists "an extraordinarily rich, diverse, and interesting body of prose literature written in the nineteenth century by American women" (Fetterley; 1). The focus of most of this literature was on "women and their lives…or, in other words . . . they chose to write about themselves" (Fetterley; 7). This is seen in her short story "The Story of an Hour," where the main character, Mrs. Mallard, first experiences a rebirth when she is told that her husband has died in a train accident but then suddenly dies at the end of the story when Mr. Mallard walks in the front door. Like Chopin, Fern was first and foremost concerned with revealing the hidden lives of women. Fern demonstrated a "willingness to articulate that women’s point of view conventionally ignored or suppressed" (Parton; 246).
As can be seen, we can imagine what forces and experiences led to Trifles and A Jury of Her Peers. We, like Martha Hale and Mrs. Peters, can quilt together the pieces of Susan Glaspell's life. Her coverage of the trial of Mrs. Hossack when she was a young reporter and her visit to the Hossack farmhouse provided factual knowledge 'of abuse and society's responses and non-responses. The kitchen of the farmhouse gave her the set for Trifles. Her exposure to feminist theory associated with the first wave of feminism in New York City, Provincetown and Chicago gave her a clear theoretical basis for her feminist views.
Fetterley, Judith. "Introduction", Provisions: A Reader from 19th- Century American Women. Ed. Judith Fetterley. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. pp1-40.
Parton, Sara Willis. "Fannie Fern: 1811-1872". Provisions: A Reader from 19th-Century American Women. Ed. Judith Fetterley. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. PP241-48.
Skaggs, Peggy. "Kate Chopin: 1851-1904." The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol.2 Gen. Ed. Paul Lauter. 2nd Ed. Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1994. PP635-37.