In what sense is the process of making a quilt an appropriate metaphor for the plot of Trifles by Susan Glaspell?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Quilting involves piecing sections of cloth or fabric together and connecting them. In Trifles, Susan Glaspell's characters Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters piece together the evidence in the Wrights' home to solve the murder of Mr. Wright. The quilt serves as a crucial piece in the mystery and also as an appropriate metaphor for the women's discovery of the motive and guilty party.

Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters go along with their husbands, police and city officials, to the Wrights' home, the crime scene. Mr. Wright has been murdered and the men are there to investigate the scene, hoping to find signs of motive and evidence of guilt. The women accompany their husbands to collect some requested items for Mrs. Wright, who is being held in the local jail.

As the women look around the house, they start to notice things that lead them to make inferences about Mrs. Wright's activities and state of mind before the murder. There is unfinished work in the kitchen—bread and fruit that needs to be put into jars—so the women notice that Mrs. Wright was interrupted in her work. Next, they observe the quilt, which has some poor stitches. This indicates Mrs. Wright was upset or disturbed in her work. Mrs. Hale even undoes the stitches and corrects them, effectively covering up evidence.

The women decide to bring Mrs. Wright her sewing and go on to look for scissors, which they find in a "pretty box." Also in the box, though, is a dead bird with a broken neck. In a related piece of evidence, the bird's cage has been damaged. By looking at this evidence and recalling details about Mrs. Wright, formerly Minnie Foster, who was a friend of the other ladies, the two women infer that Mrs. Wright's husband killed her bird and so Mrs. Wright reciprocated by killing him. They have solved the case, but they do not tell their husbands and even help to cover up the crime to protect Mrs. Wright. The men do not pay much attention to their wives anyway and think their areas of interest are mere "trifles."

The way the women connect the dots to discover the killer's identity and motive is an apt comparison to the act of quilting. The metaphor is even more effective because an actual quilt serves as a key prop in Glaspell's play.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The process of making a quilt is an appropriate metaphor--an explication of one thing by a reference to another--for the plot of Trifles because Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters piece together the small occurrences and the details that complete the design of the murder of Mr. Wright.

While Mrs. Hale, the neighbor, and Mrs. Peters, the wife of the sheriff, wait for their husbands, who are upstairs with the county attorney, Mrs. Hale finds a quilt on which Mrs. Wright has been working. Discovering some erratic stitching, Mrs. Hale impulsively pulls it out and re-sews it. Then, Mrs. Peters gathers up the articles of clothing requested by Mrs. Wright, who is in jail. As she looks for some paper and string with which to wrap these things, Mrs. Peters discovers a bird-cage that has the hinge on the door torn apart. Examining it, the women wonder about the bird that was in it. But, it is not long before they discover the canary enclosed in a pretty box which they thought might contain scissors.

MRS. HALE.  But, Mrs. Peters--look at it. Its neck! Look at its neck! It's all--other side to.
MRS. PETERS.  Somebody wrung--the--its neck.

Later, the women piece occurrences together as if they have been quilting their thoughts:

  • The rope around Mr. Wright's neck that has been used to choke Mr. Wright to death is the Wright's. So, probably no one has entered their house.
  • Mrs. Wright must have been sewing her quilt when Mr. Wright angrily and cruelly silenced the canary after pulling open the cage.
  • This little bird and its pretty song have brought her the only joy that Mrs. Wright has had in her isolated life. The significance of this bird to the lonely Mrs. Wright has probably been tremendous. Its death, then, may have caused her to become unhinged emotionally, and her thoughts have become much like the erratic stitching on the quilt.
  • She has probably killed her husband in the same manner that her pretty songbird had been killed.