Study Guide

Trifles

by Susan Glaspell

Trifles Summary

Summary

Trifles

The setting for Susan Glaspell's Trifles, a bleak, untidy kitchen in an abandoned rural farmhouse, quickly establishes the claustrophobic mood of the play. While a cold winter wind blows outside, the characters file in one at a time to investigate a violent murder: the farm’s owner, John Wright, was apparently strangled to death while he slept, and his wife, Minnie, has been taken into custody as a suspect in the crime.

The sheriff, Henry Peters, is the first to enter the farmhouse, followed by George Henderson, the attorney prosecuting the case. Lewis Hale, a neighbor, is next to enter. The men cluster around a stove to get warm while they prepare for their investigation.

Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale follow the men into the kitchen; yet, they hesitate just inside the door. They are obviously quite disturbed by what has happened in the house and proceed with more care than their husbands.

In a play filled with minor details (trifles) that take on major significance, the entrance of the characters is very revealing. There is an obvious divide—social, psychological, and physical—separating the men from the women, a fact that takes on a larger significance as the play progresses.

The investigation begins with Henderson questioning Lewis, who discovered the murder the day before. Lewis explains that he was on his way into town with a load of potatoes and stopped at the Wright farmhouse to see if John and Minnie wanted to share a telephone line with him, since they were neighbors. The farmer admits that he didn’t think John would be interested, since he didn’t like to talk much and didn’t seem to care about what his wife might want.

When he appeared at the Wright’s door early in the morning, he found Minnie rocking nervously in a chair, pleating her apron. When he asked to see her husband, she quietly told Lewis that he was lying upstairs with a rope around his neck, dead.

Lewis summoned his partner, Harry, to check the grisly scene. The two men found John just as his wife described him. Minnie claimed someone strangled him in the middle of the night without disturbing her. ‘‘I sleep sound,’’ she explained to her shocked neighbor.

Henderson suggests the men should look around the house for clues, beginning with the bedroom upstairs and the barn outside. Henry casually dismisses the room where Minnie sat, suggesting there is ‘‘nothing here but kitchen things.’’

It is those very kitchen things, however, which prove to be the most telling clues about what really happened in the Wright farmhouse. Climbing up on a chair to view the top shelf of a cupboard closet, Henderson finds some broken jars of fruit preserves. Mrs. Peters asserts that Minnie was afraid those jars would freeze and break while she was away. ‘‘Well, can you beat the woman!’’ Henry scoffs, ‘‘Held...

(The entire section is 1209 words.)