What are some elements of realism in the play Trifles?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In its presentation and content, realistic drama strives to preserve the illusion of real, everyday life. Susan Glaspell's Trifles, first performed in 1916 and based upon a true story of a woman who lived an isolated life on a farm in Iowa and killed her husband, includes many realistic elements. 

Here are some realistic elements in Trifles:

Characterization

  • Mr. Wright is presented as a rather taciturn man, a man who is also unconcerned with the "trifles" that would matter to his wife, such as a party telephone line. So, when Mr. Hale comes to the Wright's house and asks John Wright if he would like to go in with him on a party-line phone, Wright abruptly replies that "people talk too much anyway." Hale adds,

"I went to the house and talked about it before to his wife, though I said to Harry that I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John—"

  • As Mrs. Wright talks, she pleats her apron nervously, distracted from the things around her, but rather hysterical, too. The dialogue between Mr. Hale and Mrs. Wright is certainly realistic:

"Can't I see John?"
"No."
"Ain't he home?"
"Yes, he's home."
"Then why can't I see him?"
"'Cause he's dead."
"Dead?" 
She just nodded her head, not getting a bit excited, but rockin' back and forth. . .
"Why, what did he die of?"
"He died of a rope round his neck."

Setting and Social Situation

  • It is certainly realistic that people's lives would be lonely if they lived on a farm, especially in the winter. (Mrs. Hale comments that the Wright home seems "a lonesome place.")
    In such a lonely setting, ownership of something like a canary could easily become more important to its owner than under normal circumstances.
  • In 1916, women were often repressed, as Mrs. Wright is. Because of the divide between the sexes at that time, it is, perhaps, more credible that Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale are so sympathetic to Mrs. Wright that they conceal evidence.