What are the literary elements used in Trifles by Susan Glaspell?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Susan Glaspell wrote the play Trifles in 1916. The dialogue centers on two women who come in to help Mrs. Wright,  whose husband has been murdered.  The play centers on the psychological study of these two  women and their abilities to see into situations with a different view than their male counterparts.  The county officials do not find clues in the scene that the women found in the course of their work.

The title has a twofold meaning:  the clues that the women find are considered as unimportant and irrelevant because the women found them; in addition, the title refers to the men’s view of women as trivial and their observation as unimportant.  The title may also refer to the bird that the murder victim regarded as annoying and unnecessary.  To Mrs. Wright, it probably brought great joy.

The setting of the story is the early twentieth century in the winter. The entire action takes place in the kitchen of the Wrights.  Mrs. Wright has been taken to jail, and Mr. Wright has been murdered.  The women have come to clean up.  Initially, the women stand close together at the door.

The characters include the sheriff, the county attorney, and a neighboring farmer. These men begin the dialogue of the play. During the initial dialogue, the details of the murder are provided for the audience.  The neighboring farmer ‘s wife Mrs. Hale and the Sheriff’s wife Mrs. Peters begin to work in the kitchen . 

The dialogue in the play suggests that Mrs. Wright’s husband, though honest and clean-living, was a taskmaster and a miser who made life miserable for his wife.

The ladies discover a canary in Mrs. Wright’s sewing  kit.  It has had its neck wrung. Apparently, the husband twisted the neck of the bird that his wife kept in a cage to sing and brighten her dreary life. In retaliation, Mrs. Wright may have killed her husband in a similar fashion, wringing his neck with a rope.

Mrs. Hale-She liked  the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box.

Mrs. Peters-When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes--and before I could get there—If they hadn’t held me back I would have …hurt him.

Mrs. Hale-I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around.  No, Wright wouldn’t like the bird—a thing that sang.  She used to sing. He killed that, too.

The theme of the play comes from the idea that women need to cast off male oppression.  In these early days of the twentieth century, women were still subservient to men.  The woman’s place was to take care of the home, raise the children, and be at the disposal of the man.  The woman spent her days cooking, baking, canning, and preparing three meals a day for the husband.  She received little or no help in her chores. 

Mrs. Wright goes to the extreme to free herself.  On the other hand,  Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters are rebellious in their own way.  They understand Mrs. Wright’s sad life. They decide to withhold evidence that the county officials need to establish a motive for Mrs. Wright’s alleged murder of her husband.