Why don't the men in Susan Glaspell's Trifles understand why Mrs. Wright would have killed her husband?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The title of Susan Glaspell's play, Trifles, is a meaningful clue to the reason that the men do not find the evidence of Mrs. Wright's having killed her husband. For, it is the small, apparently meaningless things that the women discover. And, having discovered these items, along with their women's intuitions, they are also able to realize the significance of these "trifles" and connect "the missing pieces."

Trifles is a murder mystery play that has as a motif the gender divide. One of the men's ironic remark, "Well, women are used to worrying over trifles,’’ is central to the difference in the approach to finding evidence that the men and the women take.  For instance, when the County Attorney, Sheriff and Mrs. Peters, and Mr. and Mrs. Hale arrive, the County Attorney asks Farmer Hale what has transpired. Mr. Hale explains that he found Mrs. Wright sitting in the kitchen; he also mentions that she moved from one chair to another.  Yet, the sheriff is convinced that nothing important was in the kitchen. Perfunctorily, the County Attorney does look around the kitchen, opening a door of cupboard closet, inspecting a shelf. But, although he makes a comment about the broken fruit jars, he dismisses the kitchen as unimportant. In fact, he is patronizing to the women as he tells Mrs. Hale, who excuses Mrs. Wright's dirty kitchen by saying there is much to do on a farm,

COUNTY ATTORNEY (with a little bow to her)

"Ah, loyal to your sex, I see...."

After the men go upstairs to look around, the women inspect the kitchen: Mrs. Peter goes to a small table, Mrs. Hale eyes a loaf of bread that is outside the bread box. They talk about the murder method, how odd it is that Mr. Wright was strangled when there was a gun in the house. Then, Mrs. Hale notices that one half of the table is clean and the is not as if Mrs. Wright stopped for some reason. Further small things are noted by the women: Mrs. Wright has been making a quilt and the stitching is odd in places; Mrs. Hale wonders why she was nervous. Then, they find a birdcage which has a hinge pulled apart. After this discovery, the women make another important discovery in the sewing basket--there is a bird wrapped in silk, its neck wrung. When they hear the men coming down the stairs, they hide the bird under the quilt pieces.

After the men leave, Mrs. Peters says meaningfully,

"My, it's a good thing the men couldn't hear us.  wouldn't they just laugh. Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a --dead canary.  As if that could have anything to do with--with--wouldn't they laugh!

It is the women who understand the loneliness of Mrs. Wright, her anger, grief and highly charged reaction at losing the songbird, the single thing that brings her any joy, a "trifle" that men would miss.

 

 

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Susan Glaspell's Trifles, the men in the play show a distinct lack of concern for the lives of the women and the difficult existence they lead to keep a house running smoothly and cleanly. They very much take for granted what they consider to be "trifles," like putting up preserves (jelly), which is a long and uncomfortable process during the hot summer months—one of the many things that fill a woman's waking moments.

MRS. PETERS

[To the other woman.]

Oh, her fruit; it did freeze. 

She worried about that when it turned so cold. She said the fire'd go out and her jars would break.

SHERIFF

Well, can you beat the women! Held for murder and worryin' about her preserves.

COUNTY ATTORNEY

I guess before we're through she may have something more serious than preserves to worry about.

HALE

Well, women are used to worrying over trifles. [The two women move a little closer together.]

Here Mr. Hale refers to this difficult job as a trifle: something of little importance. He is unaware of the work Mrs. Wright (or any woman) invests to be able to put fruit up as preserves that will last through the colder months until fruit is abundant again. As he makes his thoughtless comment, the women move close. The women are affronted by this attitude towards Mrs. Wright's hard work; they must also realize that their hard work will also seem unimportant to the men. (And one of the women is Mrs. Hale.)

The County Attorney is critical of the dirty towels in the Wright's kitchen.

COUNTY ATTORNEY

...Dirty towels!...
Not much of a housekeeper, would you say, ladies? 

MRS. HALE [Stiffly.]

There's a great deal of work to be done on a farm.

His comment simply reinforces the sense that he is clueless about how hard it is to keep a nice house. Mrs. Hale responds stiffly: all of this conversation shows that the men have no regard for any woman's hard work. Mrs. Hale is quick to defend Mrs. Wright, therefore defending all women.

When the men hear Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale speaking about the quilt Mrs. Wright was making, the Sheriff makes a joke and the other men laugh—once again demonstrating a lack of interest in, and appreciation for, the work women do.

MRS. PETERS

She was piecing a quilt. 

MRS. HALE

It's her log cabin pattern. Pretty, isn't it? I wonder if she was goin' to quilt it or just knot it?...

SHERIFF

They wonder if she was going to quilt it or just knot it! [The men laugh, the women look abashed.]

In essence, the men imagine that the women who keep their homes and care for their children lead lives filled with unimportant tasks that require little work. They have no regard for the dedication and physically drudgery of keeping a farm house, as Mrs. Hall has pointed out. 

The ‘‘trifles’’ of the play embody the possessive, patronizing attitude men sometimes have toward the lives of women.

With this patronizing attitude and the lack of regard the men have for the worries and work of women, they would likely see John Wright as the perfect provider and husband to his wife. It would never occur to them that Mrs. Wright could be unhappy enough with such a "good" man to have any reason to kill him. This is what would puzzle the men about Minnie Wright strangling her husband.

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