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:


  • 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?"
"Ain't he home?"
"Yes, he's home."
"Then why can't I see him?"
"'Cause he's 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.
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, Susan Glaspell's Trifles is realistic because it, and the companion short story "A Jury of Her Peers," is based on a true case. Beyond that fact, the play portrays realistic scenarios and realistic characters. 

The characters are all average people, though a couple of the characters are town officials and so have slightly more power than some other members of the community. The sheriff and lawyer conduct a realistic investigation of a crime scene. Their wives come along to gather items for the suspect, who is the wife of the murder victim. They make observations about the very average home in which the Wrights live. The only thing remotely sensational about the story is that a murder has occurred in what appears to be an otherwise common and quiet midwestern town. However, we are not given any sensational or violent details about the murder. The play is more a character study and an examination of gender roles and norms. The female characters are sympathetic with the murderer, Minnie Foster Wright, because they learn through their observations about her home that her husband killed her bird (in addition to oppressing her throughout their marriage). The "trifles" referred to in the title also give the play a realistic feel since it is the small details of everyday life that may not otherwise seem important that end up cracking the case (by the women, at least). Due to its understated examination of a somewhat extraordinary event in the lives of ordinary people, Trifles can be considered a work of realism.