In Susan Glaspell's play Trifles, the wife of the deceased farmer does not appear on stage. What clues to her character are presented in the play?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Susan Glaspell’s play titled Trifles, Mrs. Wright, the woman who has almost certainly strangled her husband while he was sleeping, never appears on stage. Nonetheless, Glaspell provides many clues about her character or personality, including the following:

  • She was conscientious about her household duties – so-called “woman’s work.”
  • She was once an attractive, well-dressed young woman but gradually became socially withdrawn and badly dressed during her years of marriage. As Mrs. Hale puts it,

She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that -- oh, that was thirty years ago.

  • Recently she seems to have been confused, distracted, nervous, or tired, as evidenced by flaws in her normally competent stitching.
  • When she was a young woman, she used to sing well and seemed to love music.
  • She was probably lonely, since she had no children and since her husband was far from sociable.  In the words of Mrs. Hale,

Not having children makes less work -- but it makes a quiet house, and Wright out to work all day, and no company when he did come in.

  • She valued her pet bird, perhaps both for its music and for the companionship it provided. She may have been angry when (as apparently happened) her husband strangled it.

Just as the women in the play piece together the details of Mrs. Wright’s motivations, so readers or viewers of the play piece together clues about the nature of her personality.

SOMETHING EXTRA: The fact that Mrs. Wright is absent from the stage can be seen, from one perspective, as symbolizing the nature of her life in general. Just as she was a shadowy, distant figure to most people in the town and was little known by most of her neighbors, so she seems such a figure to the readers or audiences of this play. Just as she is never a complete person in the play, so, for much of her marriage, she was not a complete person in the way she had been in her youth. Just as her husband dominated her during their marriage, so he will continue, in a sense, to dominate her even after his death. Almost certainly she will be punished for her crime, and almost certainly she will spend the rest of her life even lonelier, even more isolated, even more friendless than she has been already.

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