How would we gradually piece together the fact that Mrs. Peters is the sheriff's wife in Trifles? If we were watching a production of Trifles and had no cast list, how would the audience recognize...

How would we gradually piece together the fact that Mrs. Peters is the sheriff's wife in Trifles?

If we were watching a production of Trifles and had no cast list, how would the audience recognize Mrs. Peters's identity. (What are the earliest lines of dialogue that allow the audience to infer this fact?)

2 Answers

dalepowell1962's profile pic

dalepowell1962 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

In Trifles, Mrs. Peters has the duty of taking in some things to Mrs. Wright at the jail.  In earlier America, the responsibility of female prisoners in a jail often fell to a sheriff's wife.  Also, Mrs. Peters tells Mrs. Hale that the men are doing no more than their duty when Mrs. Hale becomes slightly critical of the way the men are talking about Mrs. Wright.

Of course, toward the end of the play the script actually refers to Mrs. Peters as being "married to the law".  At that point, her position is very obvious.  When asked if Mrs. Peters has ever thought of herself as married to the law, she replies that she has never thought of it quite that way.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The viewer of Susan Glaspell's play Trifles is able to deduce that Mrs. Peters is the wife of the sheriff from some of her actions as well as her conversations with Mrs. Hale. There is also a reference to Mrs. Peters by the sheriff himself.

It is apparent from the early part of the drama that Mrs. Peters is not a neighbor of the Wrights'; she is connected to the situation in some other way. Shortly after the county attorney and others arrive at the Wrights' house, Mrs. Peters talks with Mrs. Hale, who is actually the Wrights' neighbor. Mrs. Hale asks Mrs. Peters if she thinks that the murder suspect, Mrs. Wright, killed her husband. Nervously, Mrs. Peters looks above her, where the men's footsteps are heard as they search for evidence. Mrs. Peters then whispers,

"Mr. Peters says it looks bad for her. Mr. Henderson is awful sarcastic in a speech and he'll make fun of her sayin' she didn't wake up."

The fact that Mrs. Hale asks Mrs. Peters about the murder suggests that Mrs. Peters is somehow closer to the facts than just some woman from the area might be. When Mrs. Peters looks up to where the men are on the second floor and then speaks softly, it is apparent that she does not want the men to hear her, so she is probably repeating something she has overheard these authorities say. In order to know this particular "something," she must be close to at least one of the men.

Further in her conversations with Mrs. Hale, Mrs. Peters mentions that on the ride out to this house, Mr. Henderson

"...said what was needed for the case was a motive, something to show anger, or—sudden feeling."

That Mrs. Peters and her husband were accompanying Mr. Henderson out to the Wright house suggests that Mr. Peters is probably connected to law enforcement, because this ride is County Attorney Henderson's first visit to the Wright house, and it is very soon after the murder. Therefore, Mr. Henderson would be on official business. 

 

These are the earliest indications that Mrs. Peters is the wife of the sheriff. Later, as the women continue to wait in the kitchen, Mrs. Hale asks Mrs. Peters, "How soon do you suppose they'll be through looking for the evidence?" and Mrs. Peters replies, "The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale." Shortly after this, she nervously warns Mrs. Hale, whose sympathies lean toward Mrs. Wright, "We mustn't—take on."

It is not long after this that it becomes apparent that the sheriff is related to Mrs. Peters, because after the men return to the first floor of the house, the county attorney calls the sheriff "Peters" and then says that he has "the team around" searching the premises. The sheriff then asks Henderson, "Do you want to see what Mrs. Peters is going to take in?" The identity of Mrs. Peters is then confirmed as Sheriff Peters refers to her as his wife. 

Sources: