What is the significance of the kitchen as a setting for Glaspell's Trifles?
The kitchen in Glaspell's Trifles has a specific significance as the setting for the play.
Minnie Wright is accused of murdering her husband in his sleep. When officials come to look for evidence, two women come along to take a few of Mrs. Wright's things to her in prison. This story speaks to the male-dominated society, in which females are delegated to their kitchens. The men judge them by how they keep house; they are dismissed as having nothing important in their lives: how difficult is it (they infer) for a woman to cook and wash dishes.
The activity in the kitchen highlights the attitudes of the men and women's strengths, and exposes the violent nature of Mr. Wright.
The men are dismissive of the hard work a woman faces in maintaining a home. For example, preserving jelly is a long process done on hot summer days when the fruit is ripe, and its success helps to feed a family in the colder months. When Mrs. Wright's preserves break, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters realize what a loss this is. The men dismiss it as a "trifle."
MRS. PETERS (to the other woman). Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. (To the Lawyer). She worried about that when it turned so cold. [...]
HALE. Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.
One of the men complains that the towels in the kitchen are dirty; he criticizes Mrs. Wright's ability to keep a clean house.
COUNTY ATTORNEY (...Starts to wipe [his hands] on the roller towel...) Dirty towels!...Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies?
MRS. HALE (stiffly). There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm. [...] Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men's hands aren't always as clean as they might be.
The men judge Mrs. Wright not on the person she is, but on her ability to keep her house clean. Later the women discover a clue in the kitchen: the broken birdcage.
MRS. PETER. (looking in cupboard). Why, here's a birdcage. [...] Why, look at this door. It's broke. One hinge is pulled apart.
MRS. HALE. (looking, too.) Looks as if someone must have been rough with it.
The cage foreshadows the discovery the women make relating to Mr. Wright demeanor. There is no bird, the cage is broken—the cage's door is half ripped off—and then the women find the dead bird in Mrs. Wright's sewing box, wrapped as if she planned to bury it. Wright wrung the bird's neck. This then seems to be what drove Minnie Wright to kill her husband.
The men dismiss the work done in the kitchen. Knowing it is the woman's domain, they ignore it—rejecting the notion that anything of any importance could be found in the kitchen.
SHERIFF. Nothing here but kitchen things.
Ironically, there is a great deal that is extremely important to the case in that room.
Women spent their lives working in the kitchen for the benefit of home and family. The men disregard a woman's work there. This reflects how women were treated: they lingered on the edges of society and lost themselves in the care they gave others. They were dismissed as inferior beings. In terms of keeping a home as opposed to a house, everything of importance took place in the kitchen.
In the play, the men are "brash" and "self-centered." The women are "intuitive" and observant:
It is these differences that allow Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale to find the clues needed to solve the crime.
At home in the kitchen, the women make important discoveries—the men pompously pass the kitchen by, missing the very things they are searching to find.