What are the themes for Trifles by Susan Glaspell?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The development of any identified theme from Glaspell's work will require analysis and support from what you have found in the play.  I would say that the empowerment of women would be a critical theme to come out of "Trifles."  The fact that the male detectives cannot figure out what happened is one element, but when the women try to piece together the events of the crime with their own knowledge of background information and character motivations, they are discouraged with their insights deemed as "trifles" and not substantive.  Yet, Glaspell reveals that the women were actually acting more like detectives then the men were, contributing to the fact that they solve the case.  In this light, the women were depicted in a light of empowerment which allowed them to be able to do just as much, if not more, than their male counterparts.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The themes for Susan Glaspell's play "Trifles" include:

a) The social differentiation of men and women.

b) Chauvinism vs. female self-sufficiency

c) Spousal abuse

d) The mental abuse of females as a weaker gender

e) Losing your sanity

f) Depotism

epollock | Student


Susan Glaspell's play Trifles examines the agony and desperation that often occur in life. It also explores traditional male attitudes toward women, together with the expression of female responses to these attitudes. The key irony in the play, of course, is that the two women characters successfully accomplish what the men cannot; they solve the problem of motive based on the evidence of “trifles,” and they pass judgment on the murderer based on both the crime and the context.

Although the play is set on a Midwest farm and concerns a family murder, it is really about marriage, society, and the relationship between men and women. These subject concerns are repeated on three levels: the history of the Wrights’ marriage, the traditional repression of women, and the conflict between the men and women in the Wrights’ kitchen. In each case (and in general), woman is the protagonist and man the antagonist. In the context of the play, we find resolution in the women’s decision to suppress the evidence against Minnie Wright.

So while the play deals with many subjects of gender, justice, oppression, roles, and relationships, agony, despair, and attitudes, several themes ( a universal truth expressed as a sentence) can be seen:

1) Women often have greater senses than men.

2) Sometimes, people can often find a true sense of justice.

3) Bias and prejudice can blind us to what we really need to know.

These themes can all be uncovered from the dialogue between the women, the men, the attitudes of each, and the evidence that they each discover.