Why did Mrs. Wright kill her husband? She killed him over a small bird.

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Susan Glaspell's one-act play Trifles examines how men and women communicate with each other. Men are often oblivious to what women are trying to communicate because they consider themselves superior to women. For example, the men in this play constantly denigrate the women for their focus on Minnie Wright's...

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Susan Glaspell's one-act play Trifles examines how men and women communicate with each other. Men are often oblivious to what women are trying to communicate because they consider themselves superior to women. For example, the men in this play constantly denigrate the women for their focus on Minnie Wright's domestic life, but this focus leads Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to an understanding of what has happened. At the same time, the men focus on matters that provide them with no understanding of why John Wright is murdered.

The motive for the crime lies in Minnie Wright's sad and isolated life. This isolation is imposed by her hard and silent husband. When he kills her canary, he is figuratively killing her contact with her past self—a woman full of life and song.

She used to wear pretty clothes and be lively, when she was Minnie Foster, one of the town girls singing in the choir. But that, oh, was thirty years ago.

This foreshadows the change that Minnie Wright undergoes as the wife of a man who refuses to get a party-line telephone because, according to Mr. Hale, Wright says "folks talked too much anyway, and all he asked was peace and quiet." As the evidence discloses, Mrs. Wright eventually rebels against this "peace and quiet."

After finding the broken bird cage and dead canary, with its neck broken and carefully wrapped in silk, both women are disturbed by their growing suspicion that Minnie Wright's actions might have something to do with the dead canary, but they need to examine their own history to understand Minnie Wright's actions. Mrs. Peters recalls an episode from her childhood:

When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes. ... If they hadn't held me back I would have—(catches herself, looks upstairs where step are heard, falters weakly)—hurt him.

The emotional power of this scene—a memory that still is visceral to Mrs. Peters—triggers in Mrs. Hale an understanding of Minnie Wright's desperate loneliness:

I wonder how it would seem never to have had any children around. No, Wright wouldn't like the bird—a thing that sang. She used to sing. He killed that, too.

The realization of John Wright's brutality—first killing the life in his wife and second killing the symbol of that life, the canary—creates in the women an unspoken agreement that Minnie Wright, if she is to be charged with murder, will not be charged with their help.

Mrs. Hale, having known Minnie Wright since she was a girl, keenly feels that she failed in her duty to a lonely neighbor and puts the "crime" in a perspective that neither of the women could ignore:

I wish you would have seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress, with blue ribbons, and stood up there in the choir and sang. ... Oh, I wish I'd come over here once in a while! That was a crime! That was a crime! Who's going to punish that?

When the women entered the Wright's house, it was to gather some things to take to Minnie Wright in jail. Through their discovery and analysis of the evidence and, more important, their memories of loss and loneliness, they have become what we would call co-conspirators in a murder of revenge.

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Yes, the strangled pet bird was the motive for the murder of Mr. Wright—the piece of evidence the sheriff and county attorney were looking for in all the wrong places. However, the bird does not tell us what was going on in Mrs. Wright's mind—why her husband's killing of the bird drove her to kill him. Like Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, readers can only conjecture what must have driven the lonely housewife to such a desperate act. One can think of at least three possibilities.

First, the murder could have been a revenge killing. If Mrs. Wright was very attached to the bird, she might have wanted to pay her husband back for killing her pet. This simple explanation is probably what the sheriff, attorney, and all-male jury would have concluded if they had seen the bird. This rationale seems inconsistent with what we know about Minnie Wright's personality and background. She seems to have been a very sweet girl who was not domineering or forceful by nature. Someone who had the personality to commit a revenge murder would probably not have remained in the house after the deed but would have run away.

A second explanation could be "temporary insanity." The killing of the beloved pet might have triggered so much rage in the otherwise calm woman that she simply snapped and killed her husband in a fit of passion. What can be argued against this conclusion is the fact that the murder occurred in bed during the night, not right after the death of the bird. Usually a passion killing would be immediate. However, her bout of insanity may have lingered on until she could do away with her husband in a way that her tortured mind might have considered most appropriate—by strangulation.

A third possibility is that Minnie's actions were a form of self-defense. The bird's death and bent cage indicate that Mr. Wright was capable of anger and violence. Perhaps Minnie feared for her life and saw no good options for preventing a similar fate from befalling her. Perhaps Mr. Wright even threatened her with death if she displeased him. To save her own life, she might have calculated that she must take her husband's. This decision would not stand up in a court of law as self-defense, because she could have fled. If Minnie felt she had no way out, she might have chosen to get rid of the immediate threat of her husband and face any other dangers later. 

Whatever Mrs. Wright's underlying motivations, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale felt they had enough merit to cause them to withhold the evidence that would have subjected her to a male-dominated legal system.

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Mrs. Minnie Wright is the unseen main character in Susan Glaspell's "Trifles", which deals with the story of a woman who seems to have lost control of her emotions and snaps, killing her abusive husband.

Her motive for murder goes far beyond the killing of her bird. The canary is also more than just a symbol. Minnie is known for her radical change after she gets married to her husband, John. During her youth, she is apparently a woman who is full of life and who loves singing and dancing. Once she marries John, she seems to disappear even from the people who know her well. Later, she begins to show signs of self-deprecation: She does not wear nice clothes anymore, does not take care of hear appearance as much as she usually does, and she becomes isolated from everybody.

Long after this isolation, John shows up dead and she is the primary suspect, being that she is on location when it all takes place. However, it is through the "trifles"-those little things that do not seem to mean much- that are found by Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, that we come to realize that Mrs.Wright was under a horrid amount of trauma.

The trifles include Mrs. Wright's disparate stitching. This is abnormal because the women in the story speak of stitching as an activity for leisure. Therefore, we can argue  that, between the isolation, the trauma and the loneliness, Minnie's canary could be the only living thing that she could connect to...and her husband kills it, making her snap completely.

 

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