How does Mrs. Peters's character change and develop over the play Trifles?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is not too much time for a character to change and develop over this short a play. However, as Mrs. Peters becomes more aware of the circumstances of Minnie Wright's life, her sense of identification and empathy with the woman increases markedly. Her compassion moves to the forefront.

Mrs. Peters begins the play by saying the men have to do their duty and mentions that she is not at all cold. But as she and Mrs. Hale explore Minnie's kitchen, Mrs. Peters's feelings start to change. For instance, she begins to understand what it would have been like to have been isolated in the farmhouse as Minnie was:

But I'm awful glad you came with me, Mrs Hale. It would be lonesome for me sitting here alone.

Mrs. Peters associates Mrs. Wright's situation with her own when isolated in the Dakotas, especially after her very young son died. Later, when the two women find the dead canary carefully wrapped up, Mrs. Peter's empathy grows even deeper:

When I was a girl—my kitten—there was a boy took a hatchet, and before my eyes—and before I could get there—(covers her face an instant). If they hadn't held me back I would have—

Mrs. Peters goes on to say she would have "hurt" the boy. She begins to feel cold as she perceives the cold, cruel environment in which Minnie lived.

By the end of the play, Mrs. Peters so completely understands why Minnie snapped and killed her husband that she joins Mrs. Hale in remaining silent about what they have pieced together. The husbands can't understand what happened, because they don't understand what it is like to be a woman. Mrs. Peters, who has gone from a sense of needing to uphold the law to feeling that Mrs. Wright has suffered enough already, has experienced the transformation that comes when one walks in another's shoes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The wife of the local sheriff, Mrs. Peters becomes torn between her loyalty to her husband's position and her growing understanding and sympathy for Mrs. Wright. Depicted as the submissive wife in the beginning of the play as she defends what her husband does--"Of course it's no more than their duty"--Mrs. Peters, nevertheless, displays her natural kindness when she notices Mrs. Wright's preserved fruit jars having cracked. Then, after she listens to what Mrs. Hale has to say about Mrs. Wright's alienation from others and her difficult life as the wife of John Wright, alone all day with no children, no telephone, no communication with others, Mrs. Peters begins to wonder about the circumstances surrounding the death of John Wright.

After the men go upstairs and leave the women to attend to their "trifles," Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale talk and grow closer in their efforts to understand Minnie Wright and protect her from chauvinistic attitudes. Mrs. Hale expresses her guilt that she did not visit Mrs. Wright more because she was so isolated; instead, she became too involved with her own family and did not think of Minnie. Then, together Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters begin to notice oddities such as the erratic stitching in the quilt. Shortly, they discover the dead canary.

MRS. PETERS Somebody--wrung--its neck. (Their eyes meet. A look of growing comprehension, of horror.....)

Then, with profound irony, Mrs. Peters replies to the question about the quilt as Mrs. Wright "was going to--knot it," but she is thinking about the rope knotted around Mr. Wright's neck, a knot she made after her cruel husband killed her canary. After she says this, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale sit at the table, not talking, but, as the stage directions state, "peering into something and at the same time holding back." Furtherthe stage directions state that the women talk

...in the manner of feeling their way over strange ground, as if afraid of what they are saying, but as if they cannot help saying it.

Intuitively, the women come to unsaid conclusions. Then, they must speak to each other to unify their feelings. In this need to communicate with each other as women, Mrs. Peters comprehends the terrible isolation of Mrs. Wright who has had no such opportunity for communication with other women. Still, she is hesitant as she remarks,

MRS. PETERS  It was an awful thing was done in this house that night, Mrs. Hale.

Soon, however, her feelings become more ambivalent as she reflects her conflicts,

MRS. PETERS    I know what stillness is....The law has got to punish crime, Mrs. Hale.

It is, perhaps, the words of the County Attorney that effect the change of heart in Mrs. Peters. For when the attorney declares that a sheriff's wife is married to the law and assumes Mrs. Peters will agree, she replies that she has not thought of her life in "that way." It is at this point that Mrs. Peters changes her mind about just going along with her husband. After she and Mrs. Hale knowingly stare into each other's eyes , Mrs. Peters tries to hide the box, but it is too big; she tries to pick up the bird, but cannot, so Mrs. Hale hides it, completing the "knotting."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team