Susan Glaspell wrote the one act play, Trifles, after working as a reporter. The play is based on an actual account of a murder. Working as a reporter on a newspaper, Glaspell covered a similar murder case in a small town in Iowa.
Before the play begins, there are several important events that have already occurred. John Wright, a farmer, has been found dead in his bed. Someone strangled him with a rope. The only other person in the house was Minnie, John’s wife. The police are going to charge Minnie with murder. Mrs. Wright [Minnie] never appears on stage; yet, she is discussed throughout the play.
The play takes place somewhere in the midwest in the early twentieth century. The time is the day after the murder. The entire play takes place in the kitchen of the Wright home. The kitchen seems to have been left with unfinished work. The bread has been left out; a dish towel in on the table; and there are unwashed dishes.
Women Characters Dominate Play
Mrs. Wright is accused of killing her husband.
Mrs. Hale is a neighbor who has not been to see Mrs. Wright in over a year. Her guilt dominates her character.
Mrs. Peters proceeds in looking at the scene with a less empathetic face and a more logical approach. Her character changes as the play exposes her to Mrs. Wright’s life.
Men’s Dismissive Attitude Toward Women
It exposes the attitude of the male in thinking that the women are only interested in the unimportant, trivial aspects of life.
HALE: Well, women are used to worrying over trifles........ And yet, for all their worries, what would we do without the ladies?
COUNTY ATTORNEY: Not much of a housekeeper, would you say ladies?
This is only one of the disparaging comments made by the men to lessen the importance of women.
Mr. Wright was an abusive husband. Mrs. Wright suffered under his dominance for years. He went one step too far and pushed his wife over the edge of rationality.
Mrs. Wright was alone. Her husband did not like anything that she liked. They had no children. Mr. Wright killed the only thing that she loved.
When the men go upstairs to search for information, the women hurriedly try to clean the kitchen. Minnie was not a messy housekeeper. Something happened to keep her from doing her work.
The men have already implied that the women are only interested in trifles. These are the vital details that the women find:
- Bread that has been left out of its box.
- An unfinished quilt.
- A half clean / half messy table top.
- An empty bird cage.
The most important clue is found by Mrs. Peters who has not until this point been sympathetic to Minnie. In a pretty little box, Mrs. Peters finds the canary that Minnie loved so much with its neck wrung. Minnie was going to bury it in the box. Obviously, Mr. Wright had killed her bird, the only thing that Minnie really cares about in the house. She loved to hear it sing.
In her despair, Minnie paid her husband back by wringing his neck as well. The women realize that Minnie killed her husband not just because of her unhappy and abusive marriage, but from her husband suppressing any happiness that she could find. The women serve as an impromptu jury and choose to dismiss the charges in the name of justice.
When the men return to the kitchen, the women do not share what they have found. Still dismissive of women, the men are only concerned about what they have failed to find.