In Trifles, what does "the law has got to punish crime" mean and why was it said?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Mrs. Peters says "the law has got to punish crime," it is a statement of how she perceives structure in the world.  At the drama's exposition, Mrs. Peters speaks of such structure and order.  She is not in favor of tampering with the crime scene and articulates a vision that embraces the way things are. She indicates this with her belief,  ‘‘I don’t think we ought to touch things."  This paradigm is one where Mrs. Peters speaks of how the function of the law is to punish those who do wrong.  Mrs. Peters starts off the drama seeing reality in a binary opposed manner.  There is right.  There is wrong.  When one does wrong, the law is the force to make it right.

However, as Mrs. Peters learns of Minnie's life and engages in a reconstruction of what happened in Minnie's marriage, it becomes clear that ambiguities and doubt present themselves.  Mrs. Peters understands that the role of the law, in the form of the men, might not fully address the issue of justice.  Her empathy and compassion for Minnie grows both in recognizing the challenges in her life and her own.  It is in this light where she changes, and Mrs. Peters understands that the function of justice might even supersede that of the law. In this light, her statement acquires meaning because it represents from where to where she has come in her thinking and her analysis.