In Trifles by Susan Glaspell, the setting is the kitchen of a crime scene. This is typical of a one act play which has few characters and covers only one event. More than one setting would probably require that the play have more than one act. The purpose of the one act play is to limit the focus to one isolated incident.
The kitchen in the now abandoned farmhouse of John Wright, a gloomy kitchen, plainly left without having been put in order—unwashed pans under the sink, a loaf of bread outside the bread-box, a dishtowel on the table—other signs of incomplete work.
This serves as the background for the action of the women who are left to work while the men go upstairs to discuss the scene and the rope that was used in the murder.
Mrs. Hale, Minnie’s neighbor, and Mrs. Peters, the sheriff’s wife, begin to pick up for Minnie since the men made negative comments about her housekeeping. They are also going to take some things back to her in the jail.
The men indicate that the women only concern themselves with trivialities: cooking, washing, cleaning, and sewing. The insinuation is that the women would be unable to be of any help in figuring out why this crime occurred.
As the women begin to look around the room, they find several trifles which when added together explain the motive for the murder:
- the unkempt kitchen
- Minnie’s shabby clothing
- the quilt with the last stitches skewed
- the bird cage with the door ripped off at the hinges
- the box
- the dead bird with its neck wrung in the box
All of these clues lead the women to discuss what probably happened in the home on the night of the murder.
Mrs. Hale knew Minnie when she was a girl. She remembers that she was a pretty, timid girl, who had a good singing voice. She always dressed in nice clothes. From Mrs. Hale, it is also learned that Minnie had completely changed. Minnie did not go anywhere. The Wrights had no children. John Wright was not a nice man.
The women believe that John Wright emotionally and verbally abused his wife. Minnie was lonely since there were no children. Last spring, she must have bought the canary from a salesman. The beautiful song bird gave her some company, and she probably enjoyed listening to it sing. John told her to shut the bird up or he would. She did not hush the bird; so Wright wrung its neck. Afterwards, Minnie prepared a box to bury the bird.
Wright had pushed his wife too far. She may have been temporarily insane or just over the edge from reality. Whatever it was, Minnie paid her husband back for the years of abuse and, in particular, the killing of her bird.
With the limited time of a one-act play, the one setting provides the needed area for the action which takes place. Everything that is important to understanding Minnie Wright is found in the kitchen area.