How might the main characters be analyzed in Trifles?
An interesting way to analyze the characters in Trifles is to think of them in the context of a classic murder mystery story, such as a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The great detective Sherlock Holmes had been part of the culture for about three decades when Susan Glaspell wrote this play. Whether she had those stories in mind when she wrote or not, one can draw some parallels.
Mrs. Hale would represent Sherlock Holmes in this play. She uses her powers of observation and her specially honed emotional intuition to piece together the crime. She notices the jagged stitching on the quilt squares and concludes Mrs. Wright was nervous. She concludes after seeing the bird cage that "someone must have been rough with it." She takes a non-traditional approach toward solving the crime, relying not just on outward observation, as Holmes does, but on her understanding of human nature. She reaches a surprising conclusion--that the suspected perpetrator was actually a victim in the case. As Holmes has been known to do on occasion (for example, in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" and "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"), Mrs. Hale withholds evidence that means a guilty party may go free.
Mrs. Peters, then, is Watson. Although she is capable of making observations, she doesn't see the deeper meaning behind them that Mrs. Hale does until Mrs. Hale enlightens her. She doesn't necessarily agree with Mrs. Hale's deduction that Minnie was nervous, and although she is the first to notice the broken door on the cage, Mrs. Hale realizes its significance. Mrs. Peters, like Watson, tends to view the world through a traditional lens.
The County Attorney, Sheriff Peters, and Mr. Hale represent Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard or the police force that Holmes always outshines. While they go about pursuing the case using traditional methods, because they don't have Mrs. Hale's unique skill in understanding people, they miss the important clues. They diminish the women's skills as Scotland Yard often downplays Holmes' methods--until they are forced to admit his superiority. In this play, of course, Mrs. Hale does not reveal her superior methods to them, leaving them in the dark, as Holmes has also been known to do.
Mr. Wright, the murder victim, is revealed through Mrs. Hale's sleuthing to be the actual perpetrator of crimes against his wife that are unlikely to have been punished, let alone acknowledged, in the patriarchal society they lived in. Mrs. Wright, although guilty of a heinous crime, was a victim herself and deemed, by the empathy of the women investigators, to be worthy of mercy because of what she endured.
I can see seven main characters that we can analyze in this play.
Minnie - She is the accused murderer and wife of an unloving and emotionally abusive man. Her refusal to speak, react or confess to the crime shows the reader that she is a strong and resolute woman who has changed from her earlier years as a more free-spirited girl.
John Wright - He is the victim. He is described as cold, isolating and uncaring. He kills the only ounce of joy that Minnie has in their quiet, childless home - the bird.
Sheriff Peters, Mr. Hale and Mr. Henderson - I am grouping these three men together because they essentially represent the same thing - a patriarchal existence with no regard for the input of women. As they investigate the house they constantly joke about the women and their "trifles" such as the condition of the jelly or the contents of a sewing kit. By disregarding the women's point of view, they do not come up with any evidence against Minnie Wright.
Mrs. Peters - She is the character that changes the most in the play. She comes in a dutiful Sheriff's wife with no real opinion or idea other than what he feeds here. Through her understanding of Minnie's bleak existence and her past experience with cruel and domineering males, she begins to change her mind about the circumstances surrounding the murder and joins Mrs. Hale in hiding evidence which could convict Minnie.
Mrs. Hale - She is the strong farm wife who knows how hard it is to put away jelly, keep a clean house, and care for a family. She realizes that she had avoided Minnie herself over the years when perhaps she needed a friend. She hides the body of the bird herself in a place where the men will never look and takes a stand against the treatment of women at this time.