This small play, adumbrated by Eugene O’Neill’s work in the same time period (1916), was rediscovered in the Feminist movement, and serves as a wonderful metaphor for the insensitivity and brutality of a male-dominated society. The subtle way the plot unfolds (the main character does not actually appear on stage), and the setting of a woman’s “world,” the kitchen, give this play its dramatic power.
Mrs. Wright has been arrested for the strangulation of Mr. Wright, because she is the only person who could have been in the house, although the sheriff sees no motive and no clues. The kitchen is inhabited by neighborhood women, whose similar daily injustices let them realize the subtle clues, the “trifles,” of everyday womanly life, so that the motive and the killer’s identity are clear to them. The songbird is the central clue and the central metaphor. The woman, reveal in their conversation that Mrs. Wright, too, used to be cheerful and singing ( "She was kind of like a bird herself – real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid and – fluttery. How – she – did – change.") but had become poor company, had “stopped singing.” The ladies note to themselves that there is an empty birdcage. Where is the bird? When they discover the dead bird tucked away, gently wrapped in silk, they realize what has happened: Mr. Wright, in a fit of anger over the bird’s cheerful song, has strangled it, and Mrs. Wright has done the same to her husband as he slept. The women, one of whom is actually the sheriff’s wife, all agree not to show the bird to the men. It is a collective act of solidarity by women against the brutality of men. Since this play, the “caged bird singing” has become a universal symbol for women’s oppression.