Susan Glaspell’s one act play Trifles epitomizes the differences between men and women. The time period--set in the early twentieth century’s plight of women prior to gaining the vote and more independence from men--exacerbates these differences.
The drama’s subject is murder. John Wright has been murdered in his bed by a rope tightened around his neck. His wife Minnie has been placed in jail accused of killing her husband. The crime was discovered by a neighbor Mr. Hale.
The other characters include the county attorney, the Sheriff, Mrs. Peters, and the neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Hale.
Thematically, the name of the play provides the author’s emphasis on gender differences. Men thought that women only concerned themselves with trivialities, which included housecleaning, sewing, mending, cooking, canning, quilting, and taking care of the children. Of course, the women’s lives also included subservience to men and their needs.
Early in the play, the men begin to show their chauvinistic attitude toward Minnie Wright, the accused, by commenting on the mess in the kitchen. From the few things out of place, the county attorney decides that she is a poor housekeeper.
The men exhibit their belief that women are incapable of thinking about anything but unimportant things. It is obvious that the men believe that women do not have the logic or reasoning ability to decipher the hints that might lead to the solving of the crime.
Oddly, the men do a poor job of investigating the crime. They spend their time looking at the rope, deciding from where the rope came, and discussing the murder in general. Their actions are inept from the time the murder was reported.
The women in the play are treated with insensitivity. The men condescendingly comment on what women are used to thinking about:
Hale: Well, women are used to thinking about trifles.
County Attorney: And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?
Choosing to use tactics that reflect their conventional approach to life, they treat the women and even Minnie Wright with no sensitivity. When the County Attorney hears the women discussing Minnie Wright’s quilt, he sardonically comments on one of the discussion of the quilt. He does not realize that there is more to the quilt discussion than the knotting or quilting it to finish it. The bird cage sits there with the obvious door twisted off the hinges, and the County Attorney asks about a cat. He misses the entire scenario of the missing bird, the anger involved, and fails to ask the appropriate questions to understand what happened to John Wright.
What qualities do these men share?
Unprofessionalism, insensitivity, chauvinism, sarcasm, poor judgment, condescension
As the group leaves the house to return to the jail, the women have decided not to share their knowledge of the motive for the crime. Minnie Wright would never get a fair trial based on the attitudes of the men in the play.
The County Attorney, still making fun of the women, ends the play with the comment:
(Facetiously) Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to –what is you call it, ladies?
Too bad, the men did not pay more attention to what the women found in their investigation.