In Susan Glaspell's play Trifles, what do the men see as trifles that the women see as significant?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Susan Glaspell’s play titled Trifles, the male characters tend to regard the apparently mundane details of the Wright home as mere trifles, but the women in the play see these details as far more significant.  Examples include the following:

  • Mrs. Hale notes that Mrs. Wright’s clothing looks “shabby,” whereas when she was younger – before her marriage – she used to dress well.  Her now-“shabby” clothes may indicate depression, a withdrawal from society, and/or a husband who did not care about her clothing, her looks, or perhaps even her as well.
  • The women wonder why Mrs. Wright seems to have strangled her husband instead of shooting him, since there was a gun in the house. Her strange method of murder, however, will make more sense when it emerges later that her pet bird also died by strangulation. Perhaps Mrs. Wright killed the bird herself (out of despair), in which case she was an "old hand" at strangling living things. Or perhaps (and more likely) Mr. Wright strangled her pet and so she retaliated by strangling him.
  • Evidence of a quilt badly stitched by Mrs. Wright is interpreted by the women as an indication that she may not have been thinking clearly when she did the stitching. The men, in contrast, see no significance in this fact. They treat the women's concerns, like the evidence itself, as "trifles."
  • The cage in which the bird was living has apparently been roughly handled, suggesting, perhaps, that someone with real strength had had contact with it. Thus Mrs. Peters says to Mrs. Hale,

Why, look at this door. It's broke. One hinge is pulled apart. 

To which Mrs. Hale replies,

Looks as if someone must have been rough with it. 

  • The songbird that once lived inside the cage is discovered to have been strangled, perhaps by Mrs. Wright out of frustration over the way she herself has been symbolically encaged in her marriage, or, more likely, by the dour Mr. Wright, who may have been annoyed by its singing.  Mrs. Hale, in fact, says of the bird,

No, Wright [that is, Mr. Wright] wouldn't like the bird -- a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too. 

Mrs. Hale, then, interprets what might be regarded as a “trifile” (a strangled bird) as evidence that Mr. Wright killed both the literal bird and the happiness, creativity, and freedom his wife had once enjoyed before their marriage.

If Mrs. Wright is indeed the murderer of her husband (and there is little reason to think otherwise), then her decision to kill him may have been motivated by a desire for retaliation.

Alkthough the dead bird, then, may seem a mere “trifle,” Mrs. Hale is nevertheless careful to conceal it from the men at the very end of the play. Perhaps she realizes that even the men would realize its significance if they knew of its existence.