What is the theme of the play Trifles by Susan Glaspell?

One theme of "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell is the unequal treatment of women in society. This is explored through Minnie Wright's husband abusing her and through the male investigators being condescending and dismissive to Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters.

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Out of the many themes that this story expands upon, the most salient is gender inequality. A lot of topics surface under the umbrella of this theme. Among many other subthemes that exist within the theme of gender inequality we can find:

  • spousal abuse (husband to wife)
  • social expectations of females
  • women in patriarchal societies
  • women roles in the family
  • isolation 
  • marital expectations

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are two women who are asked to join their husbands in looking for items to take back to accused husband killer, Minnie Wright. At the time the action begins, Wright is being held at the county jail. This is why she made requests to bring some things back to her that she needs.

There, we can see the first example of differentiation of gender. The accused killer is a female, hence, the men in charge of investigating the scene leave it up to other females, their own wives, to "take care of her." Moreover, Sheriff Peters assumes that his wife would be "scared" of embarking in such a mission, and he requests for her the company of Mrs. Hale, a former friend of Minnie Wright and the wife of the farmer who witnessed the scene of the crime.

We see more instances of gender inequality throughout the story. For example, the title "Trifles" refers to the descriptor that the men investigating the scene use to refer to the different items found around the house, which belonged to Minnie Wright. However, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters unveil that the so-called trifles were actually very important clues that could explain Mrs. Wright's state of mind at the time of the crime. Those "trifles" were in fact very telling.

Had the men been more clever, and less critical of Minnie Wright's lifestyle, they could have used those clues to build a strong case against Mrs. Wright that would have been an easy win for the county attorney, who was likely to work for the prosecution of Mrs. Wright. Instead, they continuously make sarcastic remarks and unfair jokes about things such as Minnie's stitching, her frozen compotes, and the state of her house. 

One important factor about gender inequality in the story is that Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters know that Minnie is an abused wife who will still fall through the cracks of the system. They know that, even though John Wright caused tremendous psychological distress to his wife, no jury will care about the causes that led her to snap and kill her husband, especially in a society led mainly by men. This is why they join forces and become accomplices in concealing any evidence that could be used to bring Minnie down. As such, their gender inequality is at least strengthened by their mutual solidarity, and their support of Minnie. They can at least help to save whatever is left of Minnie's life. 

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The two primary themes of "Trifles" are gender differences and isolation.  First, gender differences is important because women were treated differently during the time period in which this story is set.  Women's duties were in the household and their opinions weren't taken seriously many times by men.  Men thought that women were concerned with nothing but "trivial" things like cooking, cleaning, gossip, etc.  Women's intelligence was underestimated by men, so when they had "intelligent" thoughts or expressed their opinions about "serious" subjects, they weren't taken seriously.

Another theme is isolation.  Mrs. Wright led a very isolated life at home.  She wasn't able to "bloom" like she wanted to through her music, for example.  Mr. Wright suppressed the things his wife loved and prevented her from having her own interests, etc.  The fact that Mr. Wright killed her beloved canary was the last straw. This sent Mrs. Wright over the edge:

...Minnie Foster’s whole life changed when she married John. They lived in a gloomy farmhouse ‘‘down in a hollow’’ where Minnie couldn’t even see the road. No one came to visit, and she did not go out. The couple was childless, and John killed the only other life in the house: the canary his wife bought to sing to her and ease her lonely mind.

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