How do you interpret the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell?  

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Trifles by Susan Glaspell portray the differences in the perceptions of men and women. The men in the play believe that women are concerned only with the unimportant things in life [Trifles]. The things that they men consider trivial are cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, mending, and all of the other things that men need in order to survive. 

A murder occurs at the John Wright home.  Minnie, his wife, is accused of killing her husband.  The women have come with the men to get some things for Minnie to make her more comfortable in jail. 

The characters include the sheriff and his wife Mrs. Peters; the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Hale; and the county attorney.  The men treat the women with little respect, joking about their abilities, and chauvinistically implying that women could not solve or help to solve a murder investigation. The men think the women incapable of providing any substantial help, and therefore underestimate their intelligence, sensitivities, and usefulness. 

The men concern themselves with discussing the murder and looking at the rope that was used in the murder.  They are concerned about from where it came. The men do not conduct a thorough investigation and are not very perceptive. 

Downstairs the women begin to look around and discover that Minnie was not a bad housekeeper but apparently had been disturbed in her work.  She had a load of bread rising in preparation to bake.  As they look for things to take to Minnie,  Mrs. Hale remembers Minnie as a young girl who was happy and pretty.  She was also a good songstress.

 Mrs. Hale: Well, I guess John Wright didn’t wake up when they was slipping that rope under his neck.

Mrs. Peters: …funny way to kill a man, rigging it all up like that…Mr. Henderson said that what they needed for the case was a motive; something to show anger or…strong feelings.

Mrs. Hale: Well, I don’t see any signs of anger around here.

Here are the clues that the women find:

  1. Mrs. Peters discovers a quilt that Minnie had been making and notices the fine stitching.  At the end of the stitches, she also notices that the stitches were skewed as though something made Minnie entirely distressed. 
  2. Mrs. Peters notices an empty birdcage. Both women wonder about why the door has been yanked off its hinges.  Someone was angry when this occurred.  The bird is gone. Mrs. Hale knows that Minnie did not have a cat.
  3.  Again Mrs. Peters notices a pretty box. She opens it and discovers the dead bird with its neck wrung.  From these clues, the women deduce what happened the night that John Wright was killed.

The bird was singing.  It annoyed John.  He told Minnie to shut the bird up.  Of course, that was impossible.  He yanks open the bird cage door.  Minnie was sewing at the time.  He takes the bird out of the cage and swiftly breaks its neck. 

This was the one thing that Minnie loved. She had no children.  It kept her company.  After many years of emotional abuse, Minnie may have snapped and decided to seek revenge for John’s cruel actions. She puts a rope around his neck and while he sleeps tightens the noose.

Both women identify with the hardships of Minnie Wright. They do not share their discoveries with the men.

Mrs. Hale says, “I might have known [Mrs. Wright] needed help!  I know how things can be – for women. … We live close together and we live far apart.  We all go through the same things – it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”