How do the telephone and the bird and the bird cage in "Trifles" help reveal character and contribute to the exploration of the theme?
The items may reveal something significant about more than one character as well as moving the reader closer to understanding the theme.
The telephone: The telephone illustrates John Wright's character more than it does Minnie's. The play is set during a time when neighbors had party lines (i.e., neighbors contributed money toward the same phone line and had to be willing to share time on and access to the line with one another). At the play's beginning, the audience discovers that John had turned down an opportunity to put in a party line telephone. His refusal demonstrates that he did not care about the isolation of his farm or how his wife felt stifled and cut off from society there. The ladies, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, later characterize John Wright as overbearing and tight with his money; so his refusal to install a telephone is in keeping with his character. In regards to the theme, the lack of a telephone or seemingly any outside communication motivates Minnie Wright to murder her husband.
2. The bird and the birdcage are important to Minnie's characterization. The bird is the one element of joy in Minnie's life. It sings just as she used to when she was a social young lady in the church choir, and it provides company to her as she spends her lonely days on the farm. The birdcage is symbolic of Minnie's feelings about her life. She feels caged by her dominating husband, and he has stifled the "song" out of her through his treatment of her. The author implies that John's literal strangling of the bird causes Minnie to snap and murder John out of revenge--not just for her bird's death but also to avenge the figurative strangulation she has had to endure because of him over their married years. The bird and birdcage not only contribute to the theme of an oppressed woman fighting for her freedom, but they also illustrate Glaspell's feminist theme of male disregard of female intuition and intelligence.