What are three examples in Trifles by Susan Glaspell that show dramatic irony?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dramatic irony occurs when the words and actions of the characters in literature have a different meaning to the audience or reader than the characters in the work.  The audience or reader has been given additional information or knowledge that the characters do not have. 

A crime has occurred.  Minnie Wright is charged with the murder of her husband John.  It is unclear why Minnie might have committed this crime.  The county attorney; Mr. and Mrs. Hale, the neighbors; and the Sheriff and his wife Mrs. Peters come to look for clues and find things that might make Minnie Wright’s stay in the jail less harsh.

The men in the one-act play Trifles by Susan Glaspell believe that women are incapable of the logic and reasoning necessary to solve a murder mystery.  One of the men even states that women are interested only in “trifles.” The audience knows as the drama progresses that the women become more attuned to the clues which provide the motive for the crime. The men are clueless.

The men do not search the crime scene nor adequately look into the obvious items the women find.  In fact, when the women mention the quilt, the men make fun of the discussion that the women have about it.

COUNTY ATTORNEY (facetiously). Well, Henry, at least we found out that she was not going to quilt it. She was going to—what is it you call it, ladies!
MRS. HALE (her hand against her pocket). We call it—knot it, Mr. Henderson.

If the men paid more attention, they could have seen that something happened which caused Minnie Wright to ruin her perfect stitches in her quilt.

When the men discover that the women have found an empty bird cage, they have no inkling of the importance of it to the murder.  The County Attorney  sees the cage and asks about the bird.  He mentions was there a cat in the house.  The women tell him that the Wrights did not have a cat.  That is the extent of his evaluation of the cage.  What does he overlook that the audience already knows about from the women’s discussion?

  • The cage door has been ripped from his hinges in obvious anger
  • The bird came from a man who sold canaries the year before
  • The bird would have been company for Minnie since she had no children
  • There was no cat
  • The body of the bird was discovered with its neck wrung
  • The box and the wrapping indicated that Minnie had intended on burying the bird

The County Attorney indicates that Minnie was a poor housekeeper.  Mrs. Hale begins to look around and discovers that Minnie has been baking bread.  She left a few dishes dirty probably because of the death of the bird and her grief.

The County Attorney further implies that Mrs. Hale was not a good neighbor because she has not visited Mrs. Wright in over a year. His judgmental attitude makes Mrs. Hale angry; and she later points out to Mrs. Peters that John Wright was a hard man who would have been hard to live with for any person.  Mrs. Hale discovers that the table has been wiped to a certain point and then stops with the other half messy.  Something stopped Minnie from finishing her work.

When the County Attorney points out that juries are usually easy on women unless there is something specific that they can tie to the woman with regard to the murder, the women exchange looks because they know that Minnie killed her husband because of years of abuse with the final straw the killing of her bird.